When Tim and I met, we quickly realized that we shared a history of having moms who liked cooking, and this was in turn because they had moms who liked cooking themselves.
We grew up in homes where our families got super jazzed about dinner, and would build holidays around what to eat and where.
It’s such a wonderful thing to have an Italian grandma who makes homemade sauce from the tomatoes in her garden (you can read more about growing your own tomatoes on our sister site, Gardener’s Path), and who always has food on hand that she’ll offer you when you come by.
And it’s such a treasure to have a close relationship with a grandmother or a mom, or an aunt, or a friend who always said, going back to your earliest memories, that her house is your house and you can always go there and feel safe.
I’m still shocked that we have a kid of our own, a new person who will grow up eating the foods our grandmas made, and hearing about the traditions they cherished. Taking care of him is work in the same way that cooking for other people is work, but it’s a rich type of work that’s so rewarding.
Providing for those you love, and sitting down to a plate of something good to eat when you’re hungry, is one of the sweetest and most rewarding parts of life. Over time, these simple moments become the bulk of our days, and we will be able to look back and remember the ways we loved each other, through food.
Food is so practical. It’s so necessary. But at times, it is also extravagant, a form of entertainment and fun that you can share with those you love.
I’ve posted a lot of recipes that remind me of my grandma or that come from my grandma, and I’ve posted at least one or two that come from Tim’s. Today, here’s one more.
These meatballs are made the way Tim likes them, with a cooking method that I’ve also come to love. They’re adapted from a cookbook that Tim’s grandma liked, one from whence I’ve been told she pulled a lot of her cooking secrets. But their proportions and the finer details have been tweaked as they’ve evolved over the years, since being passed down to Tim.
They still maintain the classic charm of his grandmother’s recipe, without going too far off the beaten path. I’ve made variations to this recipe, one time with inspiration from Moroccan cuisine, but Tim adores when I stick to tradition.
We recommend making the meatballs, adding them to the sauce as it reduces, and then serving the whole thing over a bed of roasted vegetables.
You can also serve them with any sauce you like atop pasta, or add them to an Italian wedding soup. They also make a delicious filling for meatball sandwiches.
If you don’t want to eat all of them right away, but you don’t want to halve the recipe, feel free to freeze some in zip-top bags. Store the sauce separately.Print
Play Italian grandmother with these savory meatballs swimming in red sauce, served with flavorful roasted vegetables.
- 6 cups simple marinara or jarred marinara sauce
- 6 tablespoons olive oil, divided (plus more for searing)
- 1/2 medium sweet onion, chopped
- 4 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons coarse salt, divided
- 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, divided
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 pound ground beef (preferably 80% lean, 20% fat)
- 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs (like panko or unseasoned Italian)
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup grated Pecorino cheese, divided
- 2 small zucchini, thinly sliced into long strips
- 2 small yellow squash, thinly sliced into long strips
- 1 medium eggplant, thinly sliced into long strips
- 1/2 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rings
- Place the marinara in a large, wide stew pot over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce heat to low, and then cover with a lid.
- In a large cast iron or nonstick skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and garlic, season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and red chili flakes, and cook until translucent, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the tomato paste and whisk to combine. Cook for an additional minute, then transfer to a small plate to cool to room temperature.
- Add the ground beef, cooled onion mixture, breadcrumbs, parsley, eggs, 1/4 cup Pecorino, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper to a large mixing bowl. Gently fold together. Using about 2 tablespoons as your size guideline, form the mixture into 20-24 equally-sized meatballs.
- In the same pan used to cook the onions, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Add as many meatballs as you can without crowding the pan. Working in batches, sear the tops and bottoms until a golden-brown crust forms, 30-45 seconds per side. Add more oil to the pan for each batch as needed.
- Place the browned meatballs in the marinara and cover with the sauce so they are completely immersed. Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until the meatballs are cooked through, 25-30 minutes.
- While the meatballs are simmering, preheat the oven to 425°F.
- On two large baking sheets, toss zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and red onion with the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and season with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Place in the oven and roast, tossing once halfway through, until lightly charred and tender, about 15 minutes.
- Divide the roasted vegetables among four dishes and top with equal portions of the meatballs and marinara. Garnish with the remaining Pecorino and serve immediately.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 50 minutes
- Category: Dinner
- Method: Stovetop, Roasting
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: meatballs, roasted vegetables, red sauce
Cooking By the Numbers…
Step 1 – Prep and Saute Aromatics and Sauce
Chop the onions and garlic.
Add the onions and garlic, season with a pinch of salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes, and cook until translucent, for about 2-3 minutes.
Add the tomato paste and whisk to combine. Cook for an additional minute, and then transfer to a small plate or bowl to cool to room temperature.
Don’t toss your pan into the sink – you’ll use it again later.
Place the marinara in a large, wide stew pot over medium heat. Bring to a gentle simmer, reduce heat to low, and then cover with a lid. You can also choose some of our homemade sauces, if jarred isn’t your style. Try our oven-roasted tomato sauce or creamy tomato sauce.
Step 2 – Chop Parsley and Form Meatballs
Chop the parsley. Feel free to save to the stems to add to a batch of homemade vegetable stock!
In a large mixing bowl, add the ground beef, cooled onion mixture, breadcrumbs, parsley, eggs, 1/4 cup Pecorino, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper.
Gently fold the mixture together.
Using about 2 tablespoons as your size guideline, form the mixture into equally sized balls.
Step 3 – Sear
In the same pan that you used to cook the onions and garlic, heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat.
Add as many as you can without crowding the pan. This is important, because you want them to get a brown crust on the outside. Placing too many in the pan at once will cause them to steam instead.
Working in batches, sear the tops and bottoms of the meatballs until a golden-brown crust forms, about 30-45 seconds per side. If they do not release easily from the pan when you try to flip them, wait 15 more seconds or so.
Add more oil to the pan between batches, as needed.
Step 4 – Finish in Sauce
Using a slotted spoon, remove the browned meatballs from the pan and transfer them to the marinara. Spoon sauce over each one so they are completely immersed; this will help them to cook evenly.
Cover the pot and simmer over low heat until they are cooked through, for about 25-30 minutes.
Step 5 – Slice and Roast Vegetables
While the meatballs are simmering, preheat your oven to 425°F.
Trim the ends off of the zucchini, squash, and eggplant. Slice them lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick strips. Slice the onion into 1/4-inch-thick rings.
On two large baking sheets, toss the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and red onion with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, and season them with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Make sure the veggies are arranged in a single layer without being overcrowded. Much like the meatballs, they’ll steam instead of roasting if they’re packed in there too tightly.
Toss once halfway through, and roast until lightly charred and tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove pans from the oven.
Step 6 – Plate and Serve
Divide the roasted vegetables among four dishes.
Top with equal portions of the meatballs and marinara.
Garnish with the remaining Pecorino and serve immediately.
Pour Some Red Sauce on Me
Okay, I know that’s not exactly how the song goes. But don’t you want to be doused in a garlicky pool of tomato sauce too, after reading this recipe?
If baking is your go-to method for meatballs, I urge you to give this sear-and-sauce trick a spin instead. The golden-brown crust locks in all of the juices, and as the rounds bubble away in their marinara bath, they soak in every bit of that sweet and savory flavor that they possibly can.
Not to mention, they’re holy tender, Batman!
Since we skipped the pasta and opted for roasted veggies instead here, serving an enormous, rustic loaf of garlic bread alongside this dish is completely and totally encouraged. Or, just skip the carbs. It’s totally up to you!
Keep the comfort food cravings going strong with these riveting red sauce-inspired recipes:
- Easy Tomato Cream Sauce
- Goulash with Turkey Meatballs
- Ricotta, Pecorino, and Mozzarella Lasagna with Mushrooms and Broccoli
Which carby vessel do you turn to for dabbing up every last drop of red sauce? A crusty baguette? Fluffy yeast rolls? Share your bread-swiper of choice in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.
Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published on January 10, 2015. Last updated February 23, 2020. With additional writing and editing by Fanny Slater and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.