Meatballs al Forno, or oven baked meatballs, are a majestic thing. It seems simple enough, bake some meatballs in the oven-huh? It kinda is that simple! But the trick to truly fabulous meatballs al forno is the combinations of meats that you use.
In this meatballs al forno recipe, I use a trio of meats: beef, pork, and veal. The three combined don’t just result in fabulous flavor, but the texture is really something to be reckoned with. Melt in your mouth, deliciousness.
These meatballs are a dish that I’ve adapted over the years and that I learned the basics from my Italian Mother. She would add ricotta to give it a nice, creamy texture and let them bake away in a lovely marinara sauce. I’ve richened up the recipe by adding bits of bacon, the trio of meats, some deep red wine, and fresh thyme.
The end result is the type of meatball you want to cook for your family over the holidays, or even a special occasion. They are made with love and soul and you can taste it in every bite!
Meatballs al Forno
For the Marinara:
- 1 [28-ounce] can whole peeled tomatoes preferably san Marzano tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp kosher salt or more to taste
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper or more to taste
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 tsp freshly chopped thyme leaves about 5 stems
- 1 tsp freshly chopped oregano leaves about 3 stems
- 2 tbsp freshly chopped parsley leaves
For the Meatballs:
- 1 pound ground beef 85% lean
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 pound ground veal can sub for more pork
- 1 strip of bacon very finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/2 tsp crushed chili flakes
- 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 tsp freshly chopped thyme leaves
- 1 tbsp freshly chopped parsley leaves
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup Italian style breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- pasta, cooked according to package instructions for serving
- freshly grated parmesan for serving
- freshly chopped parsley for serving
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees F.
Make the Marinara:
- Pour the can of san Marzano tomatoes in a large bowl and using your hands, squeeze the whole tomatoes so that they break apart. Set aside.
- Heat a large saucepan over medium heat with 2 tbsp olive oil. Add the garlic and gently saute, being careful not to burn, about 2 minutes. Pour in the tomatoes and stir to combine. Add the salt, pepper, red wine, thyme, oregano, and parsley and cook, simmering gently, while you prepare the meatballs.
Make the Meatballs:
- In a large bowl, combine all of the meatball ingredients (except for the olive oil). Using your hands, mix the meat until well combined and mixed evenly. Form the meatballs into 1.5 inch sized round meatballs.
- Heat a dutch oven or oven safe skillet with tall sides over medium heat with the 3 tbsp of olive oil. In two separate batches, add the meatballs in a single layer without overcrowding the pan and brown both sides, about 3 minutes a side. The meatballs do not need to be cooked through yet, just browned on each side so that they hold their shape and add flavor. Set the browned meatballs on a paper towel lined plate and continue until all of the meatballs are browned.
- Clean and wipe down the skillet or dutch oven to remove all of the browned bits on the bottom and remove from heat. Place the meatballs in a single layer across the bottom of the skillet. Pour marinara over the top evenly.
- Transfer the meatballs to the middle rack of the oven and braise for 45 minutes.
- When the cook time is complete, remove from oven and let cool for 5-10 minutes. Serve over prepared pasta and garnish with grated parmesan and freshly chopped parsley.