Homemade Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Keto, Gluten Free)
A simple Italian meatball recipe without breadcrumbs for a lower carb gluten free dinner! Served with a quick homemade tomato sauce these meatballs are satisfying and full of flavour!
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Italian meatballs and tomato sauce are a straight comfort food. Traditional recipes use breadcrumbs causing the carb count to creep up and making them unsuitable for anyone on a gluten free or low carb diet.
My Italian meatballs follow a similar method and recipe to traditional Italian meatballs but they are lower in carbs so you can enjoy them without worry!
Why You Will Love This Recipe
- A simple method for making any type of meatball without breadcrumbs
- These meatballs are extremely satisfying and full of flavour!
- Low carb high protein meal perfect for keto
- No gluten!
- Can be made in large batches perfect for meal prep
Below is a deeper dive into the steps and ingredients used in this recipe. If you want to skip ahead and make this recipe now, use the jump to recipe button below.
The general problem with low carb meatballs is the lack of binder (usually breadcrumbs) that can make the meatballs fall apart or become overly dense.
This recipe starts with a slurry of the meatball ingredients which not only helps keep the meatballs together during cooking, it helps keep them from becoming too compact and dense.
Tips for forming low carb meatballs
- Start with a simple slurry to keep the meatballs together
- Use a higher fat ground meat, the fat helps bind the meatballs together while keeping them juicy and tender
- Keep the mix slightly on the colder side while forming
- Form them like you would a snowball in your hands, gently tossing from palm to palm to compress
Choosing the Meat
These meatballs are half ground beef and half Italian sausage or ground pork. This mix seems to have the most flavour and enough fat to keep these meatballs tender.
Avoid using lean or extra lean ground beef as it’s harder to form into meatballs without binder. Try medium ground beef instead. A lot of the fat will render off into the pan anyways.
Keep the meat slightly on the colder side while forming. Not so cold it hurts your hands, but cold enough so the fat isn’t runny and soft.
Preparing the Meatball Ingredients
I love adding things like garlic, onions, and parsley to my Italian meatball mix for extra flavour.
It’s important to make sure that your ingredients are very finely chopped, diced, or minced. You don’t want to bite into a huge chunk of onion in a meatball, and if the pieces are too big it becomes harder to bind the meatballs together.
If you aren’t able to achieve this with a knife, try using a hand chopper.
Starting with a Slurry
This is an idea I saw in a cooking show and it has completely changed the way I make meatballs. The best part is that this works well without breadcrumbs and you can use this to make any type of meatballs.
Start by adding a few tablespoons of whatever sauce you are going to serve the meatballs with. For this recipe it’s pureed tomato, but if you were making Thai meatballs for instance you could use a few tablespoons of coconut milk.
Mix the finely chopped onions, garlic, parsley, and parmesan (whatever you are adding to your meatballs) into the tomato puree until a thick slurry has formed. You don’t need much but this will be the starter for your meatballs.
It helps bind the meatballs together while also evenly distributing the flavours throughout the meat.
Forming the meatballs
After mixing the meats with the slurry you are ready to start forming your meatballs.
I like to use a large spoon or cookie scoop to make uniform meatballs that are 2-3 oz each, but you can free hand it as well.
Take a good chunk of the meat mixture and begin rolling and forming it into a ball with cupped hands.
At this point I like to take the formed ball and kind of toss it with some force into the palm of my other hand. Don’t get crazy, just toss from hand to hand until the meat compacts a bit. The slurry will help prevent the meat from becoming too compact and dense.
Set the formed meatballs aside for frying and sprinkle with salt.
Cooking the meatballs
There are a few methods for cooking meatballs, from baking, to deep frying. For this recipe I prefer pan frying because I want the drippings in the pan for the sauce.
Oil the pan very lightly, there is a lot of fat that will render from the meatballs.
Fry on one side for 3-4 minutes until the surface has browned. Flip with tongs to fry on as many sides as possible until cooked through.
If the meatballs are falling apart a bit in the pan when you try to flip them, turn down the heat a bit and cover with a lid. The steam will cook the top of the meatballs firming them up so you can flip them.
Once you think they are ready, cut one open to make sure it’s cooked. This is a good time to give it a taste to test for seasoning.
Making a Low Carb Tomato Sauce
This is of course optional, you could stop here and just enjoy your low carb Italian meatballs. But I just love these meatballs swimming in a rich tomato sauce.
This sauce is started in the pan the meatballs were fried in, all those drippings are full of flavour.
Choosing the tomatoes
There is really no wrong choice here for tomatoes. There are higher quality canned tomatoes, but any you can find will work. I prefer canned tomatoes over fresh for sauce, they just work better and the flavours are concentrated.
There are some considerations when it comes to carb content.
For this recipe I like to use whole, or halved canned tomatoes which I then puree with a blender or an immersion blender. This might seem strange, why not just use crushed canned tomatoes?
Simple answer is carbs.
If you aren’t worried about the carbs from tomatoes, then ignore this, and use whatever tomatoes you want!
Most canned tomatoes come in 28 oz cans, a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes contains significantly more carbs than a 28 oz can of whole tomatoes. This is because there’s a lot more tomato and less water in a can of crushed tomatoes.
Whole canned tomatoes that you puree yourself have less tomato but still lots of tomato flavour so you can reduce the amount of carbs in the sauce without sacrificing flavour.
This also means I can use the whole can and I don’t have half a can of tomatoes leftover to go moldy in the fridge
You can still use crushed tomato but you might want to use less.
Red wine vs. Vinegar in sauces
Generally I opt for red wine in my tomato sauce, however, this is not always suitable for everyone and not every likes wine in their sauces.
You can replace the wine with a mixture of water and vinegar. I like to use a mix of white and red wine vinegar.
Take the amount of wine you would have used, and it with a mixture that is half vinegar, and half water.
Just like wine make sure it cooks off for a few minutes before covering to simmer otherwise the flavour can be a bit pungent.
Italian Meatballs (Low carb, Gluten Free)
- Knife and Cutting Board
- Frying Pan
- cookie scoop optional for shaping meatballs
- ¼ cup canned tomato pureed (see notes)
- 1 small onion finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese grated
- 2 tablespoons parsley finely chopped
- 1 pound Italian sausage/ground pork
- 1 pound ground beef
- salt and pepper
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 3 cup canned tomato pureed (see notes0
- 3 tablespoons red wine or vinegar red wine vinegar or white vinegar
- salt and pepper to taste
- parsley for garnish
Easy Italian Meatballs
- Blend the tomatoes into a puree. Using an immersion blender or a blender, blitz the canned whole tomatoes into a smooth puree. Add 1/4 cup of the tomato puree to a large bowl and set the rest of the tomato aside for making the sauce.¼ cup canned tomato
- Create a slurry for the meatball mix. Add the finely diced onion, garlic, parmesan cheese, and parsley to the bowl with the 1/4 cup of pureed tomato and combine well. This slurry is the base of your meatballs.1 small onion, 3 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons parsley, salt and pepper
- Add the meat to the slurry and combine. Add the ground beef, and Italian sausage to the slurry, season with salt and pepper and combine well.1 pound ground beef, 1 pound Italian sausage/ground pork, salt and pepper
- Form the meatballs. Using your hand or a large cookie scoop, grab a handful of the meat mixture (2-3 oz) and begin forming it into a ball with you hands. Firmly toss the meatball into the palm of your hand to compact the mixture into a nice round ball. Season the surface with salt and pepper and set aside. Repeat for the remaining meat mixture.
- Fry the meatballs until cooked through. Lightly oil a large frying pan and place over medium heat. Once hot add the meatballs to the pan and allow them to cook for 2-3 minutes per side, rotating occasionally until the meatballs have browned and cooked through. Remove the cooked meatballs from the pan and set aside.
Simple Low Carb Tomato Marinara
- Fry garlic in oil and meatball drippings. Add olive oil to the pan the meatballs were in and add minced garlic to fry. Careful to avoid burning, cook until the garlic just begins to brown.3 tbsp olive oil, 3 cloves garlic
- Add the tomatoes and wine/vinegar and simmer. Add the remaining pureed tomatoes and the wine or vinegar. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer for 1-2 minutes to cook down and the cover to simmer for at least 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.3 cup canned tomato, 3 tablespoons red wine or vinegar
- Add meatballs to the sauce. Add the cooked meatballs to the pan with the sauce and toss to coat. Season with salt, pepper, and chopped parsley before serving.salt and pepper, parsley
What to Serve with Italian Meatballs
Serve these alongside any of your favourite low carb sides.
Instead of mashed potatoes, try these over a bed of my low carb cauliflower mash!
These also pair very well over zoodles, palmini noodles, and fried cabbage noodles.
These are satisfying enough to be served as a high protein low carb meal alongside a Caesar salad, or roast vegetables.
5 Quick Tips to Master This recipe
- Avoid overly lean meats. Choose medium ground beef to avoid dense meatballs
- Start with a slurry of the meatballs ingredients to help bind the meatballs in the absence of breadcrumbs
- For a lower carb sauce, use whole or halved tomatoes rather than crushed
- If the meatballs are falling apart a bit in the pan, turn down the heat a bit and cover with a lid. The steam will cook the top of the meatballs firming them up so you can flip them
- Be sure to simmer the meatballs in the sauce before serving to enhance the flavours