Meatball Pesto Pasta is a delicious dinner recipe that is the perfect weeknight dinner! Succulent, juicy beef meatballs, smothered in a homemade pesto sauce paired with chewy al dente pasta is a winning combination. A family favorite that they will ask you to make again and again and again! Pesto spaghetti and meatballs is a recipe that the whole family will love!
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Budget friendly: mince or ground beef is one of the cheapest cuts of meat you can buy. Pasta has a range of products available with an array of prices from low to high. This recipe will help to keep the cost of dinner manageable.
- Simple ingredients: the remaining ingredients are easy to get your hands on at the local grocery store. Some of them pantry staples that will result in making this pesto meatballs recipes even easier.
- Taste and texture: it is a delightful experience piercing your fork into a juicy beef meatball with a layer of creamy pesto sauce smothering it. The fork twirling through the chewy spaghetti another reason why its an easy option. Pasta and meatballs will tick both the taste and texture boxes.
- Comfort food: pasta dishes with meatballs have to be one of the best comfort foods around town. Reminiscent of growing up, hearty food that is satisfying and delicious!
- Family friendly: a great alternative to spaghetti bolognese or spaghetti and meatballs, this beef meatballs with pesto recipe will be loved by the whole family!
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Olive oil: we use this to cook the meatballs.
- Salt and black pepper: to season the meatballs.
- Egg: this helps the meatballs to stick together.
- Garlic powder: goes into the meatballs. A great alternative to using fresh garlic cloves or minced garlic.
- Panko breadcrumbs: we add these to the meatball mixture to help absorb some of the moisture.
- Ground beef (beef mince): an economical beef product that is readily available at supermarkets and your local butcher. This can be purchased when on special and frozen to keep the budget friendly. It is an excellent, versatile ingredient to cook with.
- Dried parsley: a pantry staple which we use as a herb in the meatballs adding a touch of flavour.
- Onion powder: as above. This ingredient saves us peeling and chopping an onion.
- Spaghetti: doesn't have to be the pasta for the recipe. I like it as it comes back to that traditional 'spaghetti and meatballs' ideal. You can, however, use your favorite pasta be it from the pasta aisle or refrigerated cold section of the supermarket.
🍖 Meatballs with Pesto Sauce
- Lemon juice: this gives the pesto a lovely citrus lift.
- Garlic: fresh cloves are best for the pesto.
- Olive oil: this ingredient helps the pesto to stick together.
- Pistachio nuts: to give the pesto a robust nut that also adds a little texture.
- Pecorino romano cheese: a sweeter flavored cheese than parmesan. This is made from sheep's milk.
- Basil leaves: leaves on, stems can be discarded.
Tasty Tip: I like to provide you with a number of substitutions and variations giving you an array of options when making the recipe. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section (further below) before jumping into the instructions on how to make the recipe which are coming next 😉👌.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the recipe. We start by making the basil pesto. You will need a food processor for this process.
- Add basil, garlic, pistachios and pecorino romano (Photo 1)
- Blitz then add olive oil (Photo 2)
- Add lemon juice (Photo 3)
- Combine then transfer to bowl (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Meatball Pesto Pasta
We start the recipe by making the pesto. Add the basil leaves, pistachio nuts, pecorino romano cheese and garlic to the bowl of a food processor then pulse for 10 seconds to combine.
Next use a spatula to push down the pesto from the insides of the bowl. Then slowly drizzle in the olive oil and blitz again.
Taste the pesto at this stage using a teaspoon. Then pour in half of the lemon juice, taste again and add the other half of the lemon juice if desired. Once the pesto is done, you can use the spatula to scrape it out of the food processor and into a small bowl. Set it aside or place it in the fridge until we are ready to use it.
Next we set about making the meatballs. These are the star of the show 😉👌! You will need a medium bowl and chopping board.
- Add the meatball ingredients to bowl (Photo 5)
- Using clean hands, combine the mixture (Photo 6)
- Roll into balls (Photo 7)
- Cook (Photo 8)
Add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, egg, salt and pepper to bowl.
Using clean hands, combine this until the mixture is consistent.
Then use a soup spoon and scoop out a small amount of the mixture. Use your 2 hands to roll this into a meatball and then place it onto a clean chopping board. Repeat this process till the mixture is used up.
Depending on the size you make them, you will get about 23-25 meatballs out of the beef mince mixture.
Next, we want to cook the meatballs. Place a large saute pan on the stove and use high heat. Pour in the olive oil and give it a swish around in the pan. Use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs into the pan and let them cook.
Use a wooden spoon to gently move them around during this time and kitchen tongs to rotate them from one side to the other. It will take around 10 minutes for them to cook. Once done, you can remove them to a paper towel lined bowl.
You can also use the time that the meatballs are cooking to cook the pasta. Place a medium sauce pan on another element, fill with water, add a pinch of salt and allow it to come to the boil. Then read and follow the package instructions to cook it.
Moments before it is ready use a heatproof jug to scoop out 1 to 2 cups of the pasta water. Then use a colander to drain the rest of the pasta and discard the remaining water.
- Add cooked drained pasta (Photo 9)
- Add pesto to pasta (Photo 10)
- Then add the cooked meatballs (Photo 11)
- Pour in reserved pasta water (Photo 12)
Next without rinsing or cleaning the pan we cooked the meatballs in, add the cooked pasta. The dollop in the pesto as shown in the photos above.
Drop the cooked meatballs in, then pour in ½ cup (125ml) of the reserved pasta water.
Gently toss this using a wooden spoon and or kitchen tongs until the pasta, pesto, starchy pasta water and meatballs are combined.
- Garnish for serving (Photo 13)
Once the pasta is tossed and combined, you can get your garnish on with a generous sprinkling of black pepper, grated pecorino romano cheese and fresh basil leaves.
These add great pops of colour and tie into the basil pesto sauce.
Once done the dish is ready to be served so grab some forks and spoons and everyone can dive on in.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
If your having a family dinner, this shall more than suffice as a meal in one with bellies full and satisfied.
Otherwise, you are good to go with the garnishes listed above, the use of which you can see in the photos above and below.
Forks and spoons are helpful when serving the dish, everyone loves to get their twirl on with a little spaghetti wrapped around their fork 😉.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Next day leftovers taste even better!
Store leftovers of the meatball pesto pasta in a sealed, airtight container in the fridge. They can be refrigerated for 3 days and are best consumed hot.
How to Freeze
Allow the dish to fully cool. Then portion into air tight containers or zip lock bags, squeeze the air out then seal. Frozen portions of the dish can be kept in the freezer for 3 months.
How to Reheat
Allow frozen portions to fully thaw in the fridge overnight or on the bench during the day before reheating. Reheat in the microwave (fastest) covered for 2 to 3 minutes. Or you can add the cooked meatball pasta back to a pan on the stove, turn to medium heat and stir till the pasta is heated through.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- Parmesan cheese can be used in place of the pecorino romano if you have it but not the other (equivalent amount).
- You can use your favorite pasta for this recipe. Whilst the post has photos of spaghetti, there is a wide variety of pasta types that will work. Fusilli, penne, rigatoni or fettuccine are all good choices.
- Or use zucchini noodles for a low carb option.
- In place of the dried parsley you can use freshly chopped parsley (1 tablespoon). Or used dried oregano, dried basil or dried Italian herbs (1 teaspoon).
- You can use fresh minced garlic in place of the garlic powder (1 tablespoon) for the meatballs.
- You can use dried onion flakes in place of the onion powder (1 tablespoon).
- Or you can use regular breadcrumbs (equivalent amount) in place of the panko breadcrumbs.
- If you would like to try alternative proteins pork, ground turkey or chicken meatballs will also work for the recipe.
- If all else fails and you want a quicker option, try taking the casing off Italian sausage chopping it into small chunks and use those as your 'meatballs. They will cook a little quicker that the beef meatballs as they will be smaller.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- If you haven't tossed a lot of sauces with pasta. I recommend leaving the meatballs out, then tossing the pesto, pasta and sauce to ensure it is thoroughly combined. Then add the meatballs back and stir them in gently. If you are too heavy handed, you risk the meatballs breaking up as you toss them otherwise. Oh no 😭🤣!!
- I sometimes find that larger leaf home grown basil can be a little bit more bitter than store bought smaller leaf younger basil. This is where tasting the pesto and adding the lemon juice comes into place. An extra squirt of lemon juice will help balance any bitterness from the basil, something for you to keep in mind 😉👌.
- You can place the combined pesto into the fridge whilst you are making the meatballs and cooking the pasta to keep it fresh and ready.
- If you really want all of your meatballs to be the exact same size without 'guess-timating' you can use a mini cookie scoop to portion. However, one thing to keep in mind is that this makes the meatballs a little bit smaller and more piece of sausage like than chunky meatball like. You my friend, however, can do what suits you 😘.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to fry or bake meatballs?
This comes down to personal preference as both are good options. If frying the meatballs the juices left in the pan can then help to create a depth of flavour in the recipe you are creating. If feeding a crowd and serving as an appetizer baked meatballs are good as you can also leave them in the oven, keeping warm till ready to serve.
What is the most important ingredient in pesto?
Basil is the most important ingredient in pesto. Each of the remaining ingredients can be substituted for example pine nuts with pistachio nuts. Or pecorino romano cheese for parmesan cheese. Yet for basil pesto, the basil is essential.
What kind of oil do you use for pesto?
Olive oil is the best go to for making pesto. It helps to bring the other ingredients together, acting like the glue or binding agent.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
I love to give you lots of options when it comes to dinner. Including an array of proteins or carbs, cooking methods, times and techniques. Here are some ideas that I hope you will love:
- Grilled Chicken Alfredo
- Salmon Fettuccine
- Mexican Ribs
- Garlic Pepper Beef
- Rigatoni Alfredo
- Mongolian Beef Noodles
- Italian Short Ribs
- Penne Alfredo
- Penne Bolognese
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets
Easy Meatball Pesto Pasta
- 1 Food processor
- 1 Spatula
- 1 Teaspoon
- 1 Small bowl
- 1 Soup Spoon
- 1 Chopping board
- 1 Large saute pan
- 1 Wooden spoon
- 1 Kitchen Tongs
- 1 Paper towel
- 1 Bowl
- 3 cups basil leaves leaves only, stems discarded
- ⅓ pistachio nuts Note 1
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese Note 2
- ½ cup/125 ml olive oil
- 2 tablespoon lemon juice
- 500 grams/16 oz ground beef (beef mince) makes around 24 meatballs
- ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 egg free range
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 500 grams/16 oz spaghetti
- ½ cup/125ml reserved pasta water Note 3
- Basil pesto: add the basil leaves, pistachio nuts, garlic and pecorino romano cheese to the bowl of a food processor and blitz for around 10 seconds to combine. Remove the lid, scrape down the insides of the bowl, then slowly pour in the olive oil, put the lid back on and pulse to combine. Use a teaspoon to taste the pesto. Then pour in half of the lemon juice. Pulse for a couple of seconds then taste again and add the remaining lemon juice if desired. Use a spatula to transfer the combined pesto into a small bowl, then set aside.
- Meatballs: add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried parsley, egg, salt and pepper to a medium bowl. Use clean hands to combine. Then take a soup spoon and portion out a small amount of the mixture. Roll this into a meatball using the palms of your hands then place onto a chopping board. Repeat this process till all of the mixture is used up.
- Cook meatballs: place a large sauté pan on the stove, turn the heat to high and add the olive oil. Then use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs into the pan. Cook them, using a wooden spoon to move around the pan and kitchen tongs to flip to the other side for 10 to 12 minutes. Once cooked remove the meatballs and place them in a paper towel lined bowl.
- Pasta: read and follow the instructions on the package for the pasta to cook it in a medium saucepan of boiling salted water. Moments before it is ready, use a heatproof jug to scoop out 1 - 2 cups of the pasta water and set aside. Then use a colander to drain the spaghetti and discard the remaining water.
- Pasta, pesto and meatballs: without cleaning or rinsing the pan you cooked the meatballs in add the cooked drained spaghetti. (Not heat required). Then dollop in the pesto. Use the tongs to place the cooked meatballs in also. Next pour in ½ cup (125ml) of the pasta water. Use kitchen tongs to toss and combine. Allow to heat through on medium- low heat if necessary.
- Serve: garnish the dish with a liberal amount of black pepper, pecorino romano cheese and basil leaves. Provide forks and spoons for eating.
- Note 1 - Pistachio nuts: you can use pine nuts, cashews or walnuts to the equivalent amount in place of the pistachio nuts.
- Note 2 - Pecorino romano cheese: you can use parmesan cheese to the equivalent amount if you have it and not pecorino.
- Note 3- Reserved pasta water: I usually scoop out 1 to 2 cups as it is easier than having less than you need. The amount we pour into the pasta sauce however, is a specific ½ cup (125ml).
- Note - Serving size: you can decrease the portion sizes to increase the volume of servings. The recipe makes 23-25 meatballs so there is plenty of pasta and meatballs to go around!