Homemade Meatballs with Mortadella

By Jeri Mobley-Arias
March 15, 2024 | Updated on March 15, 2024

Homemade meatballs are succulent and flavorful; infused with a blend of herbs, spices, and a trifecta of meats including mortadella, pork, and beef. This freezer-friendly meatball recipe is perfect as an appetizer or entrée for a variety of meals.

If you love meatballs, you should try more Italian-inspired recipes. Check out my Mushroom Polenta, Baked Cannelloni, and Pasta al Limone.

overhead view of a plate of homemade meatballs

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You’ve never had homemade meatballs quite like this! Basic meatball recipes are cool but when you’re ready to elevate this classic dish, you have to try meatballs with mortadella.

Gently brown them in the oven before steeping the meatballs in a robust homemade tomato sauce. Pair them with a quick and zesty lemony whipped ricotta for a refreshing contrast that elevates every bite.

Why This Homemade Meatballs Recipe Works

  • Freezer-Friendly – These store well and taste just as good as the day they were made. Make these in advance and reheat them for an easy weeknight dinner.
  • Versatile – Party appetizers, subs, or spaghetti; there are so many ways to serve these homemade Italian meatballs.
  • Better than Store-bought – Once you try this recipe, you’ll never be tempted by those frozen aisle meatballs again! These have more flavor, no mystery ingredients, and aren’t rubbery gray mounds of meat.
a plate of homemade meatballs

Tools You’ll Need

meatballs on toast with whipped ricotta and parmesan and basil

Ingredients You Will Need for Homemade Meatballs with Mortadella

Making meatballs from scratch allows for full control over ingredients, ensuring each bite is bursting with the savory blend of mortadella, pork, and beef, complemented by aromatic herbs and spices.

Meatballs

  • Focaccia breadcrumbs – Breadcrumbs ensure the meatballs retain their juices for a moist finished dish. You can can use sourdough breadcrumbs instead.
  • Whole milk – Dairy enriches the meatball mixture.
  • Egg – This is the binding agent that holds the meatballs together, giving them structure.
  • Quality olive oil – This adds richness to the meatballs and adds depth of flavor.
  • Yellow onion – Finely diced onions add some sweetness to balance the savory ingredients.
  • Grated parmesan – Nutty and salty, this cheese enhances the overall taste. Freshly grate it for the best results.
  • Herbs – Italian parsley and dried basil impart fresh, aromatic notes.
  • Garlic – Freshly grated garlic adds a pungent, savory taste. Skip the bottled stuff.
  • Seasoning – Add Diamond Crystal to taste along with freshly cracked black pepper.
  • Red chili flakes – This adds a subtle heat.
  • Meat – The best meat for Italian meatballs is a mixture of ground pork, ground beef, and finely chopped mortadella. Mortadella is an emulsified pork sausage that contains pistachios, pepper, and myrtle berries. This cured meat contributes to the flavor and moisture.
homemade meatball ingredients in a bowl before mixing

Meatball Sauce

  • Quality olive oil – Use this to cook the garlic.
  • Cloves garlic – Thinly sliced garlic infuses the sauce with more flavor.
  • Fresh basil – Add for a fresh, herbaceous taste and aroma.
  • Crushed tomatoes – This provides a rich and tangy base for the sauce, with San Marzano tomatoes offering a sweeter and more intense flavor.
  • Spices – Use red pepper flakes and dried oregano.
  • Kosher salt – Add Diamond Crystal to taste.
  • Sugar – Balance the acidity of the tomatoes with some natural sweetness.
ingredients for meatball sauce in a pot before being mixed

Lemony Whipped Ricotta

  • Whole milk ricotta – This is the creamy, tangy base of this dish. Ensure it is very cold and drain any excess liquid before mixing.
  • Quality olive oil – Oil helps the whipped ricotta achieve a rich, silky texture.
  • Clove garlic – This infuses the whipped ricotta with garlic flavor.
  • Lemon zest – Fresh lemon adds a vibrant citrus taste that complements the ricotta.
  • Kosher salt – Use Diamond Crystal to enhance the taste.

Garnish

  • Parmesan
  • Fresh basil

How To Make Homemade Meatballs

Learn how to make meatballs with these in-depth instructions.

Breadcrumbs

  1. Place stale bread in a food processor and process until you get fine crumbs.
meat mixture in a clear mixing bowl

Lemony Whipped Ricotta

Add all ingredients for whipped ricotta to a food processor and blend on “high” until fluffy. Set aside.

Sauce

  1. Add olive oil and garlic to a hot dutch oven over low heat. Cook for 4 minutes to infuse olive oil with garlic. Do not allow garlic to brown. Reduce heat, if necessary. Carefully add basil (it may splatter a bit) and cook for 1 minute.
  2. Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, and sugar then stir. Add ½ cup water to the tomato can, give it a swirl, and pour into the sauce. Once mixture comes to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. Cover and keep warm.
close up view of raw meatballs on a parchment lined baking sheet

Meatballs

  1. Add breadcrumbs and milk to a bowl (this is known as a panade). Allow panade to sit for about 8 minutes.
  2. Place oven rack in the middle and preheat oven on BROIL mode.
  3. Add egg, olive oil, onion, parmesan, parsley, garlic, red chili flakes, salt, pepper, and mortadella. Mix to combine well. Add panade to the egg mixture and mix well. Add beef and pork and gently mix well to combine. DO NOT OVER-MIX or you will end up with tough meatballs.
  4. Carefully portion out 14 meatballs until perfectly rolled and shiny and arrange on an oiled baking sheet, leaving space in between. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 12-14 minutes or until tops of meatballs have browned. Keep a close eye on meatballs the entire time.
  5. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 12-14 minutes or until tops of meatballs have browned. Meatballs will not be cooked through, rather, browning will allow meatballs to hold their shape and develop more flavor and will continue to cook in the sauce.
  6. Remove from the oven then carefully transfer to the sauce. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then drop to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
meatballs cooking in a homemade tomato sauce

Tips and Tricks for the Best Homemade Meatballs

  • If you decide to substitute one of the meats, the texture and flavor will vary. Different meats have varying amounts of fat and taste that will impact the finished dish. For example, ground turkey or ground turkey have less fat so they won’t be as moist as Italian sausage. For beef, be sure to use at least 20% fat.
  • Use quality ingredients. Use quality olive oil and purchase cut pieces of parmigiano reggiano, straight from the wheel. Process in a food processor until you get fine crumbs. I promise, you will taste the difference.
  • Use breadcrumbs from stale bread for more tender meatballs. This is better than using store-bought breadcrumbs. Again, if you use good quality ingredients, your meatballs will shine.
  • When rolling meatballs, lightly oil your hands to prevent sticking and ensure uniform shapes.
  • Do not overmix the meat mixture. When making the meatballs, gently combine the ingredients. Otherwise, the final product will be tough, not tender.
a plate of homemade meatballs

Whipped Ricotta Tips

  • Make sure the ricotta is cold before whipping. Similar to when making whipped cream, the ricotta must be very cold just before whipping as this helps to incorporate air into it.
  • Remove as much moisture from ricotta for best results. This will give you fluffy whipped ricotta that feels as light as a cloud.
  • Use whole milk ricotta. Not only will it taste better but it will also whip up fluffier.
close up view of homemade meatballs mortadella garnished with fresh basil and parmesan

How to Serve Meatballs

  • Spaghetti and Meatballs – Cook some noodles and top them with these meatballs for a family favorite meal.
  • Toasted Bread Enjoy meatballs atop a slice of toasted bread for a hearty snack. Serve it with some fresh arugula for a balanced lunch.
  • Meatball Sub Slice a crusty baguette, and add these meatballs. Top with melted mozzarella cheese for the ultimate sandwich.

How to Freeze Meatballs

Allow the meatballs and sauce to cool before transferring them to an airtight container or ziplock bag, removing excess air. Freeze flat for up to 2 months, then thaw them in the fridge overnight. Reheat by simmering for 10 minutes before serving.

close up view of meatballs on a plate

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it better to bake or fry homemade meatballs?

Baking meatballs is the better option because it requires less oil to prepare and I find it to be less messy. You can achieve the same rich crust of pan-fried meatballs by broiling them.

What is the secret of a tender meatball?

The key to achieving tender meatballs is maintaining moisture as you cook. Opt for meats with a higher fat content, incorporate eggs, and utilize soaked breadcrumbs, known as a panade, to enhance moisture retention and tenderness.

How do you keep homemade meatballs from falling apart?

To help meatballs maintain their structure, use ingredients like eggs and breadcrumbs (known as binders for the meatballs). Without them, the meatballs will likely fall apart.

plated close up view of homemade meatballs mortadella garnished with fresh basil and parmesan

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overhead view of a plate of homemade meatballs

Homemade Meatballs with Mortadella

Homemade meatballs are succulent and flavorful; infused with a blend of herbs, spices, and a trifecta of meats including mortadella, pork, and beef. This freezer-friendly meatball recipe is perfect as an appetizer or entrée for a variety of meals.
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 3 people
Author Jeri Mobley-Arias
Course Appetizer, Lunch, Main Course
Cuisine Italian

Equipment

  • Food Processor
  • 4 quart dutch oven
  • ½-baking sheet,
  • mixing bowls

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • ½ cup focaccia bread, stale, can use sourdough
  • cup whole milk
  • ounces mortadella, finely chopped
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon quality olive oil
  • cup yellow onion, finely diced
  • ½ cup freshly grated parmesan
  • 2 tablespoons, packed italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon garlic, grated, not from bottle
  • teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste, Diamond Crystal
  • ½ teaspoon red chili flakes
  • ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • ½ pound ground pork
  • ½ pound ground beef, 20% fat

Sauce

  • tablespoons quality olive oil
  • 7 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 2 sprigs fresh basil
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, I use San Marzano tomatoes
  • ½ – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • teaspoons dried oregano
  • teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste, Diamond Crystal
  • teaspoons sugar

Lemony Whipped Ricotta

  • 12 ounces whole milk ricotta, very cold, excess liquid drained
  • ½ tablespoon quality olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • ¾ teaspoon lemon zest
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt, Diamond Crystal

Garnish and To Pair

  • sliced sourdough bread, toasted
  • 1 clove garlic, halved
  • parmesan, freshly grated
  • fresh basil

Instructions

Breadcrumbs

  • Place stale bread in a food processor and process until you get fine crumbs. Set aside.

Lemony Whipped Ricotta

  • Add all ingredients for whipped ricotta to a food processor and blend on "high" until fluffy. Set aside.

Sauce

  • Add olive oil and garlic a hot dutch oven over low heat. Cook for 4 minutes to infuse olive oil with garlic. Do not allow garlic to brown. Reduce heat, if necessary. Carefully add basil (it may splatter a bit) and cook for 1 minute.
  • Add crushed tomatoes, oregano, red pepper flakes, kosher salt, and sugar then stir. Add ½ cup water to the tomato can, give a swirl and pour into the sauce. Once mixture comes to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally. 
    Cover and keep warm.

Meatballs

  • Add breadcrumbs and milk to a bowl (this is known as a panade). Allow panade to sit for about 8 minutes.
  • Add egg, olive oil, onion, parmesan, parsley, garlic, red chili flakes, salt, pepper, and mortadella. Mix to combine well. Add panade to the egg mixture and mix well.
    Add beef and pork and gently mix well to combine. DO NOT OVER-MIX or you will end up with tough meatballs.
  • Position over rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven on BROIL mode.
  • Carefully portion out 14 meatballs until perfectly rolled and shiny and arrange on an oiled baking sheet, leaving space in between. Transfer to the oven and cook for about 12-14 minutes or until tops of meatballs have browned. Keep a close eye on meatballs the entire time.
    Meatballs will not be cooked through, rather, browning will allow meatballs to hold its shape and develop more flavor, and will continue to cook once in the sauce.
  • Remove meatballs from the oven then carefully transfer to the sauce. Bring the mixture back to a boil, then drop to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
  • Serve with toasted bread and whipped ricotta or as spaghetti and meatballs with whipped ricotta.
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overhead view of a plate of homemade meatballs

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jeri-mobley

Hey, I'm Jeri!

At Whisper of Yum, we explore ALL cuisines - comfort foods, classics, elevated originals. If you love food like me, I invite you to settle in to this place, where swoon-worthy food is attainable + inspo for your next meal awaits.

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