Italian meatballs in a thick marinara sauce is one of the many delicious layers of this pasta bake recipe. Juicy, crunchy meatballs.
A truly flavor packed Slow Cooked Marinara Sauce with my herbed white sauce béchamel, grilled melanzane and some ingredients that really stepped up the deliciousness.
If you love juicy tender meatballs with a bit of crunch and cheese, veggies and creamy sauce then this recipe is definitely for you!
Every single recipe of mine that includes a tomato sauce I've always said slow and low and left to simmer yields the best thick sauce. Another must do is to cook the onions for a long time so caramelize them almost and don't be in a hurry to add the rest of the ingredients.
These meatballs were added to this Slow Cooked Marinara Sauce as one of the layers and then the whole dish was left to bake till golden brown.
So you layer all the ingredients into a large enough baking dish, finish off with cheese and bake until it all looks crisp and golden brown.
Remember that is doesn't take long once in the oven because everything is already cooked that's the best part and now all you have to do is layer it all!
Meatballs - Just a few reminders:
- Don't overcook them you want tender and juicy not hard and rubbery.
- When mixing the ingredients use your fingers rather than a spatula, your hands do a pretty good job in getting everything together much quicker! The less you handle the meat mix the better so mix, roll and cook without over fiddling.
- Grate not chop the onion especially if you don't want bits of onion when you bite into the meatballs. Bits of cheese yes bits of onion maybe not!
- Use a spoon to get them into more or less the same size and then shape each one into a round about circle.
FRY OR BAKE
Even though I'm not big on frying anything if it's not an egg and even then I go with poached or scrambled. For meatballs however I do prefer frying and as long as you don't use tons of oil, they will not be oily. You can also let them drip any fat dripping on kitchen towel paper once they leave the pan.
Remember that the meat is a combination of beef mince and pork mince so they already have their own fat and flavor so you really don't need much oil. Also personally, I find that the fried meatballs hold more juices and flavor. There is no splattering if you're not in a hurry and your stove is on medium!
I have an existing meatballs recipe on this blog but these have a few other ingredients that make them different and definitely make them irresistible Italian Meatballs!
In celebration of reminiscing, life, health, food and food sharing I decided to make this pasta bake.
I've leveled it up a little😉 with toasted crushed almonds and mozzarella. Absolutely tender and crunchy with cheese in the middle all at the same time, so good!
is a sauce necessary?
One hundred percent NO a sauce is not necessary.
These meatballs hold very well and even if you don't add them to a sauce they make a fantastic snack!
Red Sauce - Use your favorite red sauce recipe for these meatballs or you can get take a look at the recipe used in this pasta bake which is my Slow Cooked Marinara Sauce
Nothing quite like a thick red sauce on slow simmer, something magical about that aroma and atmosphere in the house.
The best part of this recipe is that it's very customizable! See something you don't like? Swop it for something else. Get your favorites into a baking dish and bake, depending on what veggies you use you can also use frozen. You can microwave the frozen peas it helps cut the time down.
- Grilled eggplants
See the recipe card below for the full recipe.
MORE family RECIPES
- Easy Italian Homemade Pizza Recipe
- Italian Tomato Pancetta 5 Ingredients 30 Minute Recipe
- Basil Pesto Recipe
- Pesto Pasta Recipe
- Porchetta Stuffed and Roasted Pork Belly
- Saucy Meatball Pasta – Italian South African Recipe
If you enjoyed this recipe then you must see my Easy Slow cooked Marinara Recipe!
Italian Meatballs Pasta Bake
For the meatballs
- 1 kilo ground beef or 500 grams each of beef and pork
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- ¼ cup parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon Salt & Pepper
- ¼ cup milk
- ¼ cup cup finely chopped onion
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt and black pepper to taste
- fresh basil leaves for garnish (optional)
For the mozzarella filling
- ½ cup mozarella cheese, grated
For the sauce
- 1 can crushed tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon dried basil + dried oregano OR 1 teaspoon garlic and herb spice
- salt and black pepper to taste
- ¼ cup fresh basil chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Prepare the Meatball Mixture: In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground beef, breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan cheese, milk, finely chopped onion, minced garlic, egg, dried oregano, salt, and black pepper. Mix the ingredients until well combined.1 kilo ground beef or 500 grams each of beef and pork, ½ cup breadcrumbs, ¼ cup parmesan cheese, 1 teaspoon Salt & Pepper, ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup cup finely chopped onion, 2 cloves garlic, minced, 1 egg, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, salt and black pepper to taste
- Form the Meatballs: Take a small amount of the meatball mixture in your hand, and flatten it in your palm.Place a mozzarella cheese ball or cube in the center of the meat and encase it with the meat mixture, shaping it into a round meatball. Ensure the cheese is well sealed inside the meatball. Repeat for the remaining meat mixture.½ cup mozarella cheese, grated
- Cook the Meatballs: Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook for about 3-4 minutes per side until they are browned and have a nice crust. This initial searing will help keep the cheese inside.
- Prepare the Sauce: In a separate saucepan, combine crushed tomatoes, dried basil, dried oregano, salt, and black pepper. Heat over medium heat until the sauce begins to simmer.1 can crushed tomatoes, salt and black pepper to taste, ½ teaspoon dried basil + dried oregano OR 1 teaspoon garlic and herb spice
- Simmer the Meatballs:Transfer the seared meatballs into the sauce.Cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes, allowing the meatballs to cook through and the cheese to melt.
- Garnish and Serve:Just before serving, sprinkle fresh chopped basil leaves over the meatballs.Serve the mozzarella meatballs hot over cooked pasta or with crusty bread. Enjoy the delightful combination of tender meatballs and gooey mozzarella cheese.¼ cup fresh basil chopped