Served in a homemade tomato sauce of basil, garlic, and chili peppers, these spicy meatballs are simply seasoned, gluten-free, and recommended as a stand-alone dish, served traditionally over pasta or as a meatball sub.
Whenever we get cravings for meatballs there are two ways we imagine it going down. Of course, we’d be lying if we didn’t say Lady and the Tramp style; Philip rolling a meatball over with his nose and us ending the night with a kiss as we share a single spaghetti noodle. And the other, a little less messy but equally as dramatic, is a giant pan filled with Spicy Meatballs Baked in Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella.
Served in a simple and fresh tomato sauce with basil, chili peppers, and garlic, these spicy meatballs are the perfect size to serve as a shared appetizer or the main course with a few pieces of grilled crostini. Smear a spoonful of tomato sauce on your bread, place one spicy meatball on your crostini and cut it open to enjoy.
Chef Sous Chef
How to Make Our Spicy and Gluten-Free Meatballs
Before we get into the recipe, a few quick notes on meatballs and tips for cooking them different ways.
Meatballs are typically made with a mixture of meats (beef, pork, and veal), bread, egg, and spices. This results in a delicious meatballs that forms a consistent shape and holds up well to a variety of cooking methods.
We were making these meatballs to serve in a group that included a gluten-free person so we made adjustments so everyone could enjoy them without having to make a whole separate recipe. Because the meatballs are the star of this dish, we opted for grass-fed beef, forming it into balls and then delicately rolling them in salt and pepper (no egg or bread crumbs) allowing the flavour to really shine from our homemade tomato sauce.
There are three common ways to cook meatballs, pan-fried, oven-baked and braised.
How to Cook Meatballs on the Stove
Cooking meatballs on the stove is simple, but you just need to make sure they are cooked through, especially if using any meat other than beef or binding ingredients. The key to great stovetop meatballs is getting a good sear, which is accomplished by using a heavy-bottomed pan and extremely high heat. Place the pan on medium-high heat with a touch of olive oil. Once the oil is smoking then place golf-ball-sized meatballs in the pan, leaving at least an inch between each, and sear for 2 minutes per side. After 8 minutes, the meatballs should be perfectly cooked through and seared all around.
Chef’s Tip: When making gluten-free meatballs, ensure to let the meat set in the fridge after rolling so they hold there shape better when frying.
How to Cook Meatballs in the Oven
Cooking meatballs in the oven is probably the most fool-proof but doesn't always yield the nicest looking results. Challenges include keep the meatballs perfectly round and getting an even sear all around. But, if you're looking for something hands-off, it is a good way to go. Preheat your oven to 425° F. Arrange meatballs on a lightly oiled baking sheet and place in the preheated oven to bake for 12 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and cook an additional 7-8 minutes until cooked through.
How to Cook Meatballs in Sauce
When we're not loading our meatballs up with cheese, this is our go-to method, but really involves both searing and braising for best results. What we like best about braising the meatballs is that we can make large and still get perfect results.
Make a quick tomato sauce or use your favourite variety if your prep time is limited. Get the sauce simmering, then sear the meatballs on all sides in a smoking hot skillet. Once seared all around, place the meatballs in the simmering sauce. Gently turn them a few times until cooked through.
Ingredients you'll need for our spicy meatball recipe
Good quality ground beef, canned San Marzano tomatoes, Parmesan, mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
How to Make the Tomato Sauce for Our Spicy Meatballs
Heat a saucepan to medium-high with 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil. While the oil is heating, open the tomatoes. Once oil just begins to smoke, add garlic and chilis, and sauté for 20 seconds. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, pour in the tomatoes, then stir in ½ tsp of salt and pepper and half the basil leafs roughly torn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened.
How to Prepare Gluten-free Meatballs for Frying
There are a couple of things to consider when making gluten-free meatballs. A combination of bread and eggs help bind meat for frying but with the absence of these ingredients, allowing the meatballs to set in the fridge will help them hold there shape.
Start by dividing the meat into 16 even-sized pieces, then roll them into balls. Wet your hands to prevent the meat from sticking to your skin. Place the meatballs on a cooling rack set above a baking sheet and place in the fridge for 30-40 minutes. This step is optional but yields the best results.
Since the meatballs will be topped with cheese and finished in the oven, choose an oven-safge skillet to fry off the meatballs. We prefer a cast-iron skillet for even cooking. Oh, and this is a good time to preheat the oven - 450° F.
Heat the skillet with a tablespoon (15 ml) of olive oil. Liberally season with meatballs with salt and pepper. Once the oil in the skillet begins to smoke, gently place each meatball in the pan, being careful not to crowd the pan. Sear the meatballs for 2 minutes, then carefully turn the meatballs a quarter turn. Repeat until the meatballs are seared all around, about 8 minutes total. Drain any excess fat from the pan once the meatballs are cooked.
Make them Cheesy
Cover the meatballs with the tomato sauce. Tear the mozzarella into chunks scatter throughout the meatballs. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese then broil for 5 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
How to Style our Spicy Meatballs to Make them Beautiful
There is something special about eating in a group and having a huge plate of steaming food set in the centre of the table for all to enjoy. This is a dish that deserves that treatment. Fresh out of the oven, set the meatballs down in the centre of your table. Sprinkle with a handful of freshly grated Parmesan and fresh basil. Serve with toast on the side for dipping or sandwiches, or a simple pasta for a more traditional option.
Helpful Tools for Making Our Gluten-Free Spicy Meatballs
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Spicy Meatballs Baked in Tomato Sauce and Mozzarella
- 2 lbs good quality ground beef
- 1 can San Marzano tomatoes D.O.P. designation preferred
- ¼ cup fresh grated parmesan cheese, plus additional
- 5 oz fresh mozzarella cheese
- 10 leaves basil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 tsp red pepper flakes
- Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
- Preheat the oven to 450° F.
- No. 2 | Heat a saucepan to medium-high with 1 tbsp olive oil. While the oil is heating, open the tomatoes. Once oil just begins to smoke, add garlic and chilis, and sauté for 20 seconds. As soon as the garlic starts to brown, pour in the tomatoes, then stir in ½ tsp of salt and pepper and half the basil leafs roughly torn. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened.
- Meanwhile, heat heavy bottom, oven safe skillet on medium high heat with 1 tbsp olive oil. Divide the meat into 16 even pieces and roll into balls. Sprinkle with ½ tsp of salt and pepper and roll them around until they are well coated. When oil begins to smoke, gently place each meatball in the pan, being careful not to crowd the pan. Sear the meatballs for 2 minutes, then gently shake the pan to roll the meatballs a quarter turn. Repeat until the meatballs are seared all around, about 8 minutes total. Drain any excessive fat from the pan once the meatballs are cooked.
- Cover the meatballs with the tomato sauce. Tear the mozzarella into chunks scatter throughout the meatballs. Sprinkle with the parmesan cheese then broil for 5 minutes, until the cheese is golden and bubbly.
- Before serving, top with remaining basil. Enjoy with a loaf of bread, a sandwich, pasta or just by themselves.