These Grain Free Italian Meatballs are light and full of vegetables. Great with your favorite marinara over zoodles!
I first learned to make meatballs when Pops, (my husband’s grandfather) was alive. He shared Nonnie’s recipe with me. First of all, you must find perfectly stale bread. He and Nonnie would go to the grocery store and feel the Italian bread to find the loaves that had the least give. According to Pops, these made the best breadcrumbs for meatballs.
Pops and Nonnie were ahead of their time in terms of their eating habits. They both watched their sugar and fat intake, so rather than a mix of veal, pork, and beef they just used lean ground beef in their meatballs. Also, rather than frying them in oil, they baked theirs in the oven.
Nonnie’s meatballs were out of this world! I think the only time I had meatballs to rival hers were at Rao’s restaurant in New York city. And still… it was too close to call. I have had the privilege of eating at Raos twice, and their food is amaaaaaaazing! It’s also quite a scene. The first time we went there, I got to meet Payton and Archie Manning. I can tell you that those fellas are TALL! Here are some grainy cell phone shots of Ron (my husband) and me at Rao’s.
I should also mention that Rao’s marinara is my go-to jarred sauce. It’s got a pretty clean ingredient list, and it’s really tasty. I also love my homemade sauce but this is a great shortcut, especially on a weeknight.
My meatball recipe is grain-free so it does not contain Italian bread, (no need to molest any loaves). You will use mushrooms and onions in place of the breadcrumbs. The veggies add some body, so you don’t get dense globs of meat. These meatballs also have a lighter texture than ones made with breadcrumbs. I’ve made them for company and no one noticed that they were grain free. I LOVE it when that happens!
I used to make these using all grass fed, pasture raised beef, they were good but I think the addition of pork rounds out the flavor. You can use all beef if you prefer. Turkey might even be good but I have not tried that yet, so can’t make any promises.
Note! Do not freeze the meatballs in the sauce. The meatballs will fall apart when you reheat them, I know because it happened to me. It made a delicious Bolognese, but in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi, “These are not the meatballs you’re looking for”. Freeze the meatballs separately, and defrost them in the refrigerator overnight. There is not enough glue, ahem.. I mean gluten, to hold them together otherwise.
For step-by-step instructions with photos, scroll down past the recipe.
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 8-oz package of baby bella mushrooms (or your favorite mushrooms)
- 1 large yellow onion (1&1/4 cup food processor)
- ½ cup flat parsley leaves, loosely packed
- ½ cup basil leaves, loosely packed
- 5 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup Parmesan grated, (omit for dairy-free)
- ½ cup Pecorino Romano grated, (omit for dairy-free)
- 2 eggs lightly beaten
- 1 tsp fine ground sea salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- I recommend using organic ingredients when possible.
- Yields 48 two-inch wide meatballs.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Process the mushrooms until they are minced, then remove them to a large mixing bowl.
- Next process the onion, and it to the mixing bowl.
- Next process the parsley and basil, and them to the mixing bowl.
- Finely mince your garlic; or use a garlic press.
- Add the next five ingredients to the bowl and mix with your hands to combine. Be careful to not over mix or the meatballs will become too dense.
- Roll the meat into 2” balls. Be careful to keep them roughly the same size so they all cook at the same rate. Place the balls on two parchment lined baking sheets; you should get approximately 48 meatballs.
- Bake the meatballs in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until they are no longer pink on the inside.
- Some of the moisture from the mushrooms, as well as some fat will leach out while baking. It will collect in the pan around the meatballs. Remove the meatballs from the pans with tongs, and add them to your favorite marinara, or cool to freeze for another day. Do not let the meatballs rest in the liquid, as it cools, the liquid will solidify around the meatballs.
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Step-by-step instructions with photos:
You will need a food processor for this recipe unless you are awesome with a knife and can chop things reeeeealy reeeealy small!
Process the mushrooms until they look like this:
Next process the onion, I got 1 & ¼ cups of minced onion. Add it to the mixing bowl.
While you have the processor out, you may as well let it chop your herbs.
They almost look like pesto!
Finely mince your garlic; I used a press.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and mix with your hands to combine. Be careful to not over mix or the meatballs will become too dense.
Roll the meat into 2” balls. Be careful to keep them roughly the same size so they all cook at the same rate. Place the balls on two parchment lined baking sheets; you should get approximately 48 meatballs.
Bake the meatballs in a 350 degree oven for 20 minutes, or until they are no longer pink on the inside.
Some of the moisture from the mushrooms and some fat will leach out while baking. It will collect in the pan around the meatballs; this is normal. Remove the meatballs from the pans with tongs, and add them to your favorite marinara, or cool to freeze for another day. Do not let the meatballs rest in the liquid! As it cools, the liquid will solidify around the meatballs and form a gelatinous skin, yuck!
Serve with marinara over zoodles or spaghetti squash!