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Sicilian Meatballs with Fresh Basil Marinara

France Ruffenach © 2011

Yield: Makes 6 large meatballs

These baseball-sized meatballs are a mainstay of the Bi-Rite market’s deli case. One is enough for most appetites, but have two if you’re ravenous.


  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup whole milk
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, more for sprinkling
  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 2 Tbs. chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 4 large cloves garlic, minced
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • Sugar, as needed
  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil


  • Put a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 375°F. Line a large rimmed baking pan with parchment or a nonstick liner and set aside.
  • Put the breadcrumbs and milk in a large mixing bowl, stir to blend, and set aside for 5 minutes. With your hands, squeeze and mash the breadcrumbs so that they make a smooth paste. Add the egg and whisk, then add the Parmigiano, ketchup, parsley, oregano, thyme, half the onion, half the garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Stir to blend.
  • With your hands, break the beef into small chunks and add to the bowl. Mix gently but thoroughly; overmixing will make the meatballs tough and dry. When all the ingredients are evenly combined, shape the mixture into 6 balls and arrange on the baking sheet.
  • Bake until an instant-read thermometer reads 165°F at the center of a meatball, 40 to 45 minutes.
  • While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the remaining half onion and 1 teaspoon salt and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining half garlic and cook until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, bring to a boil, and lower the heat to maintain a vigorous simmer.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced to a thick sauce, 
10 to 15 minutes. Taste the sauce and add a pinch or two of sugar if it seems too tangy, and season with more salt if necessary. Stir in the basil and keep warm until the meatballs come out of the oven.
  • Spoon the sauce generously over the meatballs and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Garnish with a sprinkling of Parmigiano.

Add some capers, anchovies, and olive oil to the marinara for a puttanesca sauce or a pinch of chile flakes for arrabiata sauce.

Slice up any leftover meatballs, reheat in the sauce. and put them in the middle of a good crusty roll. Then top with mozzarella or provolone.



Reprinted with permission from Bi-Rite Market’s Eat Good Food by Sam Mogannam & Dabney Gough, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.


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Reviews (6 reviews)

  • krueg42 | 02/05/2014

    Loved this recipe! I used 3 day old bread from a local bakery (1 + 1/2 slice) and was perfect to let it soak for 10 mns in the milk. I edited the recipe a bit and changed it to more traditional Sicilian!Instead of using the oven use a frying pan and beautifully brown the meatballs first in a few tbls of olive oil. After well browned on both sides take out the meatballs, pour out 1/2 the fat and deglaze the pan w/ a touch of cognac or Marsala wine. The alcohol will mostly cook off but will give a great sweetness to the sauce! Now use this same pan for your marinara! Add the diced onion and simmer until just translucent. Next add the 28 oz can of crushed "San Marzano tomatoes". These are the best! Use these or make your own. Once this is simmering add the meatballs back to the pan and slow simmer/ steam in the marinara sauce on low, low covered for 20 minutes! Creates such moist and delicious meatballs where as the oven can dry them out.My blog is the tasty side to life

  • ashley4224 | 12/28/2012

    Ketchup does not belong in meatballs. No if and or but.

  • Robincyn | 11/02/2012

    Delicious. The taste is pure and wonderful, full of flavor. The meatballs are tender and tasty without any aftertaste that stays with you (like some meatballs). I made the recipe exactly as written. Fresh herbs make the recipe delectable.. This will be my go to meatball and marinara ~ tossing out all other recipes! Enjoy!

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