These baked meatballs in a rich tomato sauce could be whipped up in a matter of minutes! The perfect weeknight meal!
I am particularly pleased with this recipe for baked meatballs for three reasons.
- They are such a crowd pleaser.
- They are inexpensive but don’t look like a cheap meal.
- They are a snap to make, especially if you use store-bought meatballs!
Are baked meatballs better than fried meatballs?
The answer is not so straighforward as each method has their advantages.
Let’s start with baked meatballs.
- If you bake them in the oven, you can place quite a few meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet at once while you’d have to fry them in batches to avoid overcrowding. So baking meatballs instead of cooking them in a pan is a time saver.
- You don’t need oil when you bake meatballs in the oven, so you end up with less calorific meatballs.
- They remain perfectly round while frying meatballs can leave them misshapen.
- You avoid oil splatters when baking your meatballs in the oven.
What are the advantages of fried meatballs?
You get this perfectly seared exterior on your meatballs that just won’t happen if you bake them.
Is it worth the hassle? Sometimes but most often, it’s not! Either way I provide both methods in the recipe card below and you can choose for yourself.
These baked meatballs, swimming in the most flavourful tomato sauce imaginable, are a riff off another popular recipe on my blog, Baked Shells with Pesto, Mozzarella and Meat Sauce.
How to make the best tomato sauce for baked meatballs
The short answer is Pesto!
What sets this recipe apart from other meatball and tomato sauce recipes is the combination of a tomato sauce and a basil pesto for a creamier and more flavourful MEGA SAUCE.
Prepared pesto is a such an amazing ingredient to have in your arsenal.
Apart from using it straight up in pasta dishes, it could also be used as a flavour enhancer in a variety of ways as the mix of basil, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese is a real winner!
How to make these baked meatballs a bit better for you
I’ve also added some peppery arugula for a complexity of flavour and a bonus health boost as well as fresh cherry tomatoes.
Mini mozzarella balls take these baked meatballs to another level of deliciousness!
Recommended substitutions for this baked meatball recipe
- Use prepared store-bought meatballs to make this meal even quicker and easier. Just make sure the meatballs are of the highest quality you can afford.
- Use canned chopped tomatoes, crushed tomatoes or tomato passata to make the sauce.
- Feel free to used regular-sized fresh mozzarella or even shredded mozzarella!
- I recommend using the combination of pork and beef but these meatballs could be made with 100% beef or 100% pork. Keep the rest of ingredients the same.
- You can substitute breadcrumbs with crustless bread, soaked in milk or water first, or oats.
- Finally, spinach can work well in place of arugula.
Enjoy and let the rest of your week be equally delicious!
If you love these baked meatballs as much as we do, may I recommend more meatball recipes?
I would love to see your creations once you make them. Simply tag @vikalinka in your Instagram snaps for me too see!
For the meatballs
- 1 lbs beef extra lean
- 1 lbs pork extra lean
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp of each dried basil and oregano
- 3/4 cup/75g breadcrumbs
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
For the sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2-3 garlic cloves minced
- 4-5 fresh basil leaves chopped
- 2 X 14 oz/400g cans chopped tomatoes
- 3 tbsp basil pesto
- salt to taste
- 2 cups/100g arugula/rocket
- 1/2 cup/125 g fresh mozzarella balls small
- 4 cherry tomatoes halved
- 4-5 basil leaves optional
- Preheat the oven to 400F/200C
- In a large bowl combine beef and pork, beaten egg, basil and oregano, breadcrumbs and salt, mix well and shape into 20 meatballs. (Alternatively you can use store-bought meatballs and skip this step.)
- (Baking method) Place meatballs on a parchment paper lined rimmed baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven at 200C/400F for 10 minutes. (The meatballs will not be baked all the way through.)
- OR....(Frying method) Heat olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the meatballs over medium heat but don't cook all the way through. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- To the same pan add 1 tbsp of olive oil, chopped garlic and basil and cook briefly for 1 minute, then add canned tomatoes previously processed in a blender until smooth or leave chunky for extra texture if desired. Then add 3 tbsp of basil pesto and salt, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let it simmer for approximately 5-7 minutes.
- Return the meatballs to the pan with the sauce, add arugula and mix, then scatter mini mozzarella balls, halved cherry tomatoes and basil leaves on top.
- Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes until the sauce is bubbly and mozzarella is melted and golden.
- Serve with pasta or a side of your choice.
Post originally published on 05/2017, updated 10/2018.