In episode 24 we learn how to make extra tender gluten-free meatballs that uses no bread crumbs and are naturally gluten-free! This authentic Italian recipe has been made for over a century, and makes meatballs that are juicy, flavorful, and only require 4 simple ingredients! Join Melissa, as she shares many easy, pro tips, plus the best ingredients and methods for success. This audio recipe for gluten-free meatballs will help you enjoy your favorite Italian dishes again!
Recipes and Resources Mentioned
Don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletter! Besides receiving an immediate GLUTEN-FREE BAKING BONUS, this weekly newsletter gives you direct access to the newest recipes, helping you with menu planning and exclusive tips!
Hey everyone, I’m Melissa Erdelac, host of the Gluten Free Recipe Challenge podcast and creator behind the gluten free website MamaGourmand. Here we take beloved recipes you thought you’d never enjoy again and transform them into easy copycat versions just as good as the originals.
This week’s episode is one of those beautifully heavenly instances of when a dish you absolutely adore and would be impossible to live without is actually, gluten free. Today I’m going to teach you how to make Grandma Amabile’s meatballs, which is an absolutely legendary recipe in my Italian family.
When my mom’s parents came over from Italy, they were first hosted by family in Chicago Heights, Illinois, and then they eventually made their way to Gary, Indiana, where they owned a convenience store. After my grandpa died, grandma moved to our town, which was a county over, and even though she technically had her own apartment, she basically was our live-in grandma.
Except on weekends when my sisters and I would have sleepovers at her apartment. We’d sleep on the world’s worst pull out sofa. And every weekend we’d fall asleep watching Golden Girls and Hunter. So when Grandma was… around, she was the foreman of making the meatballs, the sauce, and the homemade pasta.
But, we were always around her, so she passed this process on to all of us. After she died, mom took over as the foreman and actually could replicate the recipes exactly. Fast forward… 2020, when I wrote my gluten free cookbook, I told my mom I wanted to include the meatballs recipe, and she responded with a little bit of disbelief because, as she said, we don’t actually measure anything.
Well, I turned her just add a little of this and a few of that into a bona fide recipe that I published in the cookbook, and then eventually I put on my website as well. And just like my mom did, I am going to walk you through the recipe with a lot more specifics.
So first let’s circle back to why these meatballs are naturally gluten free. Typically meatballs have breadcrumbs in them. And they do that because it binds the meatballs together, and it also absorbs the juices from the meat, which prevents them from becoming tough or dry.
Grandma’s meatballs actually only contains the beef, a little Parmesan cheese, which acts as the binder, and a few seasonings. But, they are ridiculously tender. Actually, more tender than meatballs that I remember having with breadcrumbs.
So, how? That’s the magic I’m going to share with you.
So, to cook the meatballs, it’s actually a two part process, and the first part starts in the oven.
You’re going to preheat an oven to 350 and put a little bit of olive oil on a baking sheet, which for technical recipe purposes a tablespoon of olive oil, and you place that baking sheet in the oven with the olive oil to preheat. So you want your baking sheet to be nice and hot when you put the meatballs on.
Then while that’s preheating, you’re gonna mix together the meatball mixture.
You will need two pounds of ground chuck, and using ground chuck in this recipe is key because of the quality of the meat and the fat content. I don’t recommend using just generic ground beef or leaner options such as sirloin, ground chicken, or ground turkey. These will be tough and dry and disgusting, especially without adding any breadcrumbs or milk.
However, if you would like to add a little more dimension of flavor, you could replace some of the ground chuck with a little Italian sausage So you have your 2 pounds of ground chuck in a bowl, then add a half a cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, 2 teaspoons of dried parsley, 1 teaspoon of salt, a fourth of a teaspoon of pepper, and an eighth of a teaspoon of garlic powder.
Now it’s time to shape the meatballs. So you want them in about 1 1/2 inch to 2 inch size balls, which are slightly larger than a golf ball.
And when you’re packing the meat mixture, make sure you don’t overpack it or make it too condensed. So avoid squeezing it into a tight, compact ball. And instead, just gently shape it into a large ball with your hands.
Place the meatballs on your hot pan, and then bake until they’re browned but not cooked through, which takes about 10 to 15 minutes.
While the meatballs are cooking, this is when my grandma and my mom put together the sauce that the meatballs are going to cook in. In my cookbook, Frugal Gluten Free Cooking, I include the sauce recipe too, but for the purposes of today, I’m just going to say if you have a favorite sauce, you can make that sauce while the meatballs are cooking, or you can just buy meatless spaghetti sauce or marinara, which is going to be a little bit inferior, but it works. So you will need three 24 ounce jars to have enough sauce to cook the meatballs in.
Go ahead and put that in a large stock pot and bring it to a simmer. Once the meatballs are brown, then add the meatballs along with the drippings on the pan. So the oil and the meat drippings, those are going to be added to flavor the sauce as well.
Bring the sauce back to a boil, lower the heat to a gentle simmer. You want it just barely bubbling and then you’re going to partially cover it with a lid. Do not cover it all the way or the steam will collect and condense into the sauce and you will have a very runny, watery sauce that the flavor is very diffused.
So here is the magic part of why the meatballs are so tender. You cook the meatballs in the sauce. I’ll say two to three hours, but Grandma cooked them all day. I would say at least three hours. And just stir it occasionally.
And that is all you need. You do not need binders to make it tender. You just need to cook the meat for a long period of time, which makes these extremely tender and flavorful. Since these take several hours to prepare, although mostly it’s hands off time, I recommend making them ahead of time, and especially if you’re going to serve this for entertaining or a large family meal or the holidays.
Grandma very rarely made these on the day that she’d serve them. She would always make them ahead of time, and either freeze or refrigerate, depending on when we were going to eat them.
To store them, if you’re not going to enjoy them right then and there, what you want to do is use a slotted spoon and take the meatballs out and separate that from the sauce and transfer the meatballs. She just put them in a gallon Ziploc freezer bag in a single layer and she would freeze them flat.
Then you would put the sauce in another airtight container and freeze that separately. And you could do the same thing if you’re going to refrigerate it. I would just put it in two separate airtight containers.
When you’re ready to serve it, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, and then you would re warm them together in the large stock pot again.
So that’s it. It doesn’t take very much to make these, it just requires a little time and patience, and you can be enjoying these legendary meatballs.
So remember, you can… always find the full printable recipe on the show notes page. And to get to it, click on the link provided in whatever podcast app you’re listening on. Or you could go to my recipe website, mamagourmand.com, and click on the podcast tab. The show notes will include the full recipe along with any recommended ingredients. And then I will also put a link to my gluten free cookbook if you want to get the sauce recipe as well.