Soft, light, juicy baked Italian meatballs, in a rich tomato sauce and served with soft cheesy polenta. This is comfort food at it's very best. The meatballs are so tender and packed full of flavour!
It is no secret that I love pasta! And I have bought my boys up to love pasta. If we go to eat out, Mr 8 will always check to see if they have spaghetti and meatballs. He loves it and requests it at least once a week!
Last week I made the boys spaghetti with smoked salmon and rocket. A creamy delicious dish that was demolished so quickly I didn't get any photos! They were so hungry! It was after hockey practise so they had missed out on their after school snack, then we had to pop to the shops so by the time we got home they were at that great cranky stage of hunger. So I went for a 10 minutes on the plate dinner. The recipe will be up on the blog next week as it is a great quick dinner! And tastes like something you would get in a posh Italian! Check back here next week 🙂
Anyway when the following day Mr 8 asked for spaghetti and meatballs, I balked at pasta two nights running. Not that I mind, I would eat it most days too, but I don't want them to get stuck in a food rut, where they only ever ask for one or two dishes. We had that about a year ago when Mr 5 only ever wanted sausage and mash. It is still one of his favs but at least we have passed the stage of wanting it every night!!!
So I suggested baked Italian meatballs and mash....thus pleasing them both. Then I realised that I was out of potatoes!!!! Which for a house that eats potatoes as often as they eat pasta, was a disaster!!! Plan B Polenta! Cheesy polenta to ensure the kids ate it. Job done, crisis averted and potatoes on the shopping list!!!!!
A big batch of tomato sauce, a plateful of Italian meatballs and we were set. Plenty for the boys, for Stew and I and leftovers for Stew to take to work. Seriously he gets so many leftovers for lunch 😉
These meatballs are super light thanks to a great tip that I have been using every since I read an amazing book by Marcella Hazan - The Essentials of Classic Italian Cook Book. There on page 423 is her tip for moist light meatballs! Bread. Not bread crumbs but plain normal bread. It acts like a sponge, sucks up all the liquid and keeps it locked inside the meatball. Then as they cook it fills the balls with moisture and plenty of air. Light juicy meatballs. Job done. Thank you Marcella 🙂
p.s if you get her book please also try her Baked Apples with Amaretti biscuits. YUM!
I use my homemade marinara sauce for this, but the meatballs have plenty of flavour so you could substitute in tinned tomatoes and some dried Italian herbs. Don't leave out the butter though. It adds an amazing richness and creaminess to the sauce.
The cheesy polenta is such a great accompaniment to these baked Italian meatballs, but they work fabulously with pasta.
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Meatballs with Tomato Sauce and Cheesy Polenta
For the Meatballs
- 2 slices white bread
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 450 g /1lb beef mince
- 200 g /7oz pork mince
- 2 eggs
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 2 tbsp dried parsley
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp dried sage
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground fennel
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp butter
- 3 cups marinara sauce
For the Polenta
- 500 ml milk 1 pint
- 600 ml boiling water 1.2 pints
- 180 g instant polenta 6.3oz
- 2 tbsp butter
- ⅓ cup grated parmesan
- Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC (360ºF).
- Cut the crusts off the bread and tear it into small pieces.
- Place the bread into a large bowl and pour over the milk.
- Mush this together until you have a thick sludge.
- Peel the onion and garlic and then grate them into the bread mixture. (Or use a food processor to chop the onion- see notes)
- Add the beef and pork mince, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, sage, salt, fennel and pepper.
- Use you hands to squish and mix the mixture together.
- Take a small portion of the mixture and roll it lightly into a 2cm (1 inch) diameter ball.
- Repeat with remaining mixture.
- Heat the olive oil in a large oven-proof frying pan or sauté pan.
- Cook the meatballs over a medium-high heat for 3 minutes until well browned.
- To ensure you get an even colour every now and then jiggle the pan about to get the meatballs rolling.
- Add the butter and the marinara sauce and bring to a simmer.
- Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes until bubbling and cooked through.
- While the meatballs are cooking make your polenta.
- Place the milk and 600ml (1.2 US pints) of water into a large pan and bring to the boil.
- Add the instant polenta in a steady stream whilst stirring continuously.
- Stir for a further 3 minutes over a medium heat.
- Add the butter and grated parmesan, then season generously with salt and pepper.
- Serve with fresh basil (or parsley) and extra parmesan if you want it.
If you are using the food processor ensure you have a onion mush rather than chopped onion. If you haven't made any marinara sauce you can sub in two tins of chopped tomatoes + 1 tbsp dried Italian herbs