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.
If you want to make zoodles (zucchini noodles), you will need a spiral vegetable slicer. For instructions on how to make zoodles, check out my recipe for Zoodles with Shrimp in Pink Sauce.
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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!
I love adding a whole, unprocessed and healthy twist to classic recipes. My food is often grain-free, usually gluten-free, and always unprocessed.
These look great! Have to try them soon - healthy comfort food...
Let me know how you like them AJM!
Mushrooms! I never would have thought of that, great idea! Definitely going to be trying this, I've been craving meatballs
I just found you on Reddit. This recipe is just what I was looking for and I plan to make it today and also to find other great recipes in your website for the future. Thanks!
So glad you found me 🙂 I hope you enjoy the meatballs!
This is my absolute favorite meatball recipe. We do NOT miss regular meatballs. I add some extra garlic but that is because we are garlic fiends!
That's awesome! Thank you, we love them too.
these are excellent. not missing the bread. I found a two inch ball (large cookie/muffin scoop) did not even come close to yielding 48 balls. i used the small cookie scoop about 1 1/4" ball and made 50.
What holds the meatballs together instead of bread I want to try and make these I'm afraid they may fall apart thanks for the recipe
Egg is the binder, but they are more fragile than bread crumb meatballs which is why you should not freeze the meatballs in the sauce, otherwise the meatballs will fall apart when you reheat them. Freeze the meatballs separately, and defrost them in the refrigerator overnight.