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Closeup horizontal image of roasted zucchini, eggplant, and red onion with tomato sauce, meatballs, and grated cheese, garnished with a sprig of basil, on a white ceramic plate.

Italian Meatballs with Red Sauce and Roasted Vegetables

  • Author: Shanna Mallon
  • Total Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4 servings (20-24 meatballs) 1x


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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Add the tomato paste and whisk to combine. Cook for an additional minute, then transfer to a small plate to cool to room temperature.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. While the meatballs are simmering, preheat the oven to 425°F.
  8. 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.
  9. 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