Meatballs and polenta is the comfort food you need in life! With juicy beef meatballs, a rich tomato sauce and buttery, cheesy polenta, this recipe will tick all of your boxes. Make it for your family, have them LOVE it and they will ask you to make it again and again and again!! Your going to want to whip out this meatballs with polenta recipe and pop it on the table whenever the whole family sit down together.
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Family friendly: everyone of all ages can and will enjoy this recipe. The flavors are not too strong or spicy as to put little ones off and adults will enjoy not just the flavor but the delicious aroma of the dish as it cooks.
- Taste and texture: we all known meatballs are great at the best of times. But popped in a marinara style sauce with tons of flavor and paired with soft polenta, they are sensational!
- Comfort food: you know how some night's call for homemade comfort food that everyone devours without barely drawing breath? This is THAT recipe. There is layers of satisfaction from the creamy polenta base to the meatballs smothered in sauce. You are going to love, love, love it!
- Not much can go wrong: I stop at saying this recipe is 'quick and easy' cause you have a few things going on. However, the things that we do to make these classic meatballs on cheesy polenta are not tricky. So taking one step at at time, we make the meatballs, then make the sauce then the polenta. You don't have to be worried that the dish will turn out a disaster 😉👌!
- Pasta alternative: polenta is a great alternative to using pasta. It is ground cornmeal and can be cooked to tick the creamy polenta recipe box at the same time. We simply add a little butter and cheese. If you want to see polenta used for other recipes you can check it out in the Beef Osso Bucco, Pork Osso Bucco or Lamb Osso Bucco.
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:
- Salt and black pepper: we use a little of each of these to season the meatballs.
- Egg: a free range egg that is around the medium to large size is perfect!
- Panko breadcrumbs: these help to lock moisture into the meatballs. They are larger than regular breadcrumbs and are a bright white color.
- Garlic powder: excellent to use for flavor and super convenient to have in the pantry at all times.
- Onion powder: same as above, a handy pantry staple. These can dry out if left in the cupboard not being used regularly. Something to keep in mind if you have the in the cupboard, but haven't used them for a while.
- Dried oregano: we are making Italian flavored meatballs, so use a trio of dried herbs to bring that unique taste to the recipe.
- Dried basil: the 2nd of the dried herbs used to season the meatballs.
- Dried parsley: the 3rd dried herb needed for the meatballs. A great herb to have at home as it is versatile and works with many flavor combinations.
- Olive oil: we use a little of this to cook the meatballs in.
- Garlic: this is the starting point for making the sauce. Chunky minced garlic is great or you can use 2-3 fresh garlic cloves.
- Worcestershire sauce: known for bringing a little oomph to recipes. It too, goes into the sauce.
- Tomato paste: thick and rich. This lovely ingredient helps us to create a depth of flavor in the meatball sauce.
- Ground beef (also known as beef mince): this is the primary ingredient used for the meatballs. It is economical and freezes well.
- Basil: for the tomato sauce. If you can, use fresh herbs for the sauce, however, dried herbs are a great alternative if you cannot.
- Parsley: same as the above. The basil and fresh parsley pair together exceptionally well in Italian style cooking.
- Diced tomatoes: purchase plain ones, so that there is no additional or unknown herbs in the recipe.
- Passata: also known as tomato puree this is an excellent ingredient to use for pasta sauces. It is smooth and a little robust in its consistency.
🧀 Cheesy Polenta Ingredients
- Salt: we use a little kosher salt (cooking salt) to season the polenta.
- Room temperature water: the polenta absorbs this as it cooks. We need 2 cups water, straight from the tap is fine.
- Butter: unsalted is best as we add the salt separately to the polenta. A creamy French butter is the way to go.
- Pecorino romano cheese: a great sweet tasting cheese made from sheep's milk.
- Boiling water: as above with the pairing of the cold water, the polenta absorbs this moisture creating its fluffy texture.
- Polenta: as much as it is not a pasta, it will likely be found in the pasta aisle at your local supermarket. Sometimes it is sold in a plastic packet and sometimes in a box. Often it is labelled 'instant polenta'. There will be instructions on the packet and we simply follow these to cook it.
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 meatballs. A bowl and chopping board are needed to kick things off.
- Gather the meatball ingredients (Photo 1)
- Combine the meatball mixture (Photo 2)
- Roll into balls (Photo 3)
- Cook the meatballs (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Meatballs and Polenta
We want to start by making the meatballs. To do this grab a large mixing bowl and add the beef mince, panko bread crumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried basil, dried parsley, salt, pepper and egg.
Use clean dry hands to mix this combination of ingredients together. Once done, portion some of the meat mixture and use your palms to roll it into a meatball, then place it on a chopping board. Repeat till all of the mixture has been rolled.
Next, place a large saute pan on the stove, add a splash of oil and turn the heat to high.
Use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs into the bottom of the pan and cook them. During this time you can use a wooden spoon and tongs to move and rotate the meatballs around so that all sides cook evenly.
The total time needed to cook the meatballs is 10 - 12 minutes.
Once cooked you can use a slotted spoon to lift the meatballs up and out of the pan and place them into a paper towel lined bowl.
Next, we want to start making the sauce. Without rinsing or cleaning the pan that we used to cook the meatballs, we add the garlic and saute it for 1 minute till golden brown.
- Cook garlic (Photo 5)
- Add the sauce ingredients (Photo 6)
- Stir to combine then reduce heat (Photo 7)
- Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce (Photo 8)
After the garlic is cooked we add the passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, basil and parsley. Stir these to combine then turn the heat down to low.
Let the sauce bubble away at a slow simmer for around 10 minutes, giving it a couple of stirs during that time.
Then add the cooked meatballs to the simmered sauce and let them heat through.
Next, we cook the polenta. You will need a frying pan or large saucepan and wooden spoon for this step.
- Add polenta and salt to frying pan (Photo 9)
- Then add both cold and boiling waters (Photo 10)
- Add butter and cheese (Photo 11)
- Cook till combined (Photo 12)
Place a frying pan on the stove, turn the element to medium-high heat then add the dried polenta and a pinch of salt. Next pour in both the cold water and boiling water.
Stir frequently as the polenta cooks and fluffs up.
When it starts to come away from the edges of the pan add the chopped butter and cheese.
Stir to combine these until they are consistently mixed in and the polenta has tripled in size.
Once done, you can get ready to serve the dish. Divide polenta over serving bowls then layer in the meatballs and sauce. Garnish with a trio of black pepper, pecorino romano and basil leaves.
🍽 Serving Suggestions
There is a lot going on and into your bowl with the recipe. You might not want or need too much else on the side.
However, it would be remiss of me not to offer!
Wine pairings are Pinot Gris for a glass of white wine or Pinot Noir for a glass of red wine. Of course, when I say glass if that means bottle, fine by me 🤣😘!
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Next day leftovers are even more enjoyable 😉👍! Store the leftover meatballs in sauce in a separate container to the polenta. Both can be kept 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. You can freeze the meatballs and sauce on their own or combined with the polenta after portioning into airtight containers. 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 meatballs and sauce back to a pan on the stove, turn to medium heat and stir till the dish is heated through. The polenta can then be microwaved for 2 - 3 minutes.
😉 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:
- If you want to use dried herbs for the sauce instead of fresh basil and parsley, you can. I recommend 1 teaspoon of each.
- If you want more texture in the meatballs peel and chop a small onion and use that then omit the onion powder.
- Basil is great to top the dish with. As you have taken many steps along the way to bring things together it is a simple way to finish it off. If however, you want an extra level of zing, gremolata which is a combination of lemon zest, parsley and garlic can be used.
- If you love the idea of this dish and want to try it but take a step or 2 out, you can use store bought meatballs.
- Or you can use a jar of marinara sauce in place of making the tomato sauce from scratch.
- Another idea is to use a different protein for example ground turkey or ground chicken and make turkey meatballs or chicken meatballs. Keeping the rest of the ingredients the same.
- Parmesan cheese can be used for the polenta and garnish in place of the pecorino romano cheese.
💡 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 want uniform meatballs that are all the same size, you can use a mini cookie scoop. One popular technique that works with meatballs is to portion all of the mixture and then roll it (2 steps). This works as an alternative to portioning and rolling 1 by one. You can see a photo of what I am talking about here.
- When we are starting the sauce, we use the leftover oil in the pan that we cooked the meatballs in to cook the garlic. So don't worry about rinsing or cleaning the pan after removing the meatballs.
- When the sauce is simmering, if you find that some of it is splashing up and out of the pan, turn the heat down further or place a lid over it.
- As we have already cooked the meatballs, we are not needing to cook them further in the sauce. Rather, we are allowing them to heat through.
- Read and follow the instructions on the packet to cook the polenta and add the butter and cheese when it looks fluffy and more dry rather than wet.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
What do you serve with polenta?
Polenta is a very versatile ingredient and can be served with a wide variety of options. Try pairing it with osso bucco, steak, grilled chicken, fish or pork chops.
What is a binder for meatballs?
Egg is the most common binder to use when making meatballs. It works as the glue and helps to stick the rest of the ingredients together.
What goes over polenta?
Meats and sauces are great to top polenta with. The creamy polenta absorbs some of the saucy liquid adding flavor and texture to the dish.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
You need to have a variety of recipes up your sleeve for dinner to suit the occasion. Some night's call for quick and easy, some for slow cooked satisfaction and some the perfect special meal.
Here are some recipes that give you this variety, through taste, texture, cook time and ticking all of your boxes:
- Crumbed Lamb Cutlets
- Red Wine Short Ribs
- Honey Sriracha Meatballs
- Pesto Pappardelle
- Spaghetti with Alfredo Sauce
- Braised Beef Ribs
- Crumbed Mushrooms
- Rigatoni Alfredo
- Mongolian Beef Noodles
- Macaroni Alfredo
- Mexican Ribs
Its time to get our polenta on my friend and use the sauce to smother the meatballs in serious bite me, yum! You can also find all of my dinner recipes in the one spot!
Meatballs With Polenta In Tomato Sauce
- 500 grams/16 oz ground beef (beef mince)
- ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs Note 1
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 egg medium-large, free range, Note 2
- 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon garlic chunky, minced
- 700 grams/24.5 oz passata Note 3
- 400 grams/14.5oz diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 tbs Worcestershire sauce Note 4
- 1 tbs parsley stems trimmed, finely chopped
- 1 tbs basil stems trimmed, finely chopped
- 2 cups dried polenta
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 cups/500ml cold water
- 2 cups/500ml boiling water
- 40 grams butter unsalted
- ½ cup pecorino romano cheese finely grated using a micro plane zester
- black pepper
- pecorino romano cheese finely grated using a micro plane zester
- basil leaves
- Italian meatballs: add the beef mince, panko breadcrumbs, garlic powder, onion powder, dried oregano, dried basil, dried parsley, salt, black pepper and egg 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 the 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 slotted spoon to flip and move them around in the pan. They will take 10 to 12 minutes to cook. Once cooked use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs and place them in a paper towel lined bowl. Note 4
- Tomato sauce: without rinsing or cleaning the pan, add the garlic and saute it for 1 minute. Then add the passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, chopped parsley and chopped basil. Stir these to combine then turn the heat to low and allow the dish to simmer (bubble away) for 10 minutes.
- Meatballs and sauce: after 10 minutes add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and allow to heat through.
- Polenta: place a fry pan on a separate element, add the dried polenta, salt and cold water then turn the heat to high. Next pour in the boiling water. Allow the polenta to cook, stirring frequently. Once the polenta starts to come away from the inside edges of the pan add the butter and cheese. Stir continuously until consistently combined.
- Serve: portion the polenta into bowls and spoon over the meatballs and sauce. Garnish liberally with black pepper, pecorino romano cheese and basil leaves. Provide forks and spoons.
- Note 1 - Panko breadcrumbs: these help to lock moisture into the meatballs. They are larger than regular breadcrumbs and are a bright white color.
- Note 2 - Egg: a free range egg that is around the medium to large size is perfect!
- Note 3 - Passata: also known as tomato puree this is an excellent ingredient to use for pasta sauces. It is smooth and a little robust in its consistency.
- Note 4 - Worcestershire sauce: known for bringing a little oomph to recipes. It too, goes into the sauce.
- Note 5 - Meatballs: you can work in batches to cook them if you find it easier.