Saucy Italian Meatballs

No, Italian style tomato sauces aren't off the menu if you can't tolerate tomatoes! These Saucy Italian Meatballs from are juicy and tender, swimming in a delicious fragrant sauce with lots of hidden veggies. Win-win!

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For the sauce:

For the Italian Meatballs:

  • 1/4 cup / 60 ml chicken or beef broth
  • 2 tsp / 5 g powdered gelatin
  • 1/2 a medium red onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 oz / 56 g pancetta or bacon, optional (see notes)
  • 2 tbsp / 3g fresh parsley, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1/2 lb / 225 g ground beef
  • 1/2 lb / 225 g ground pork sausage (see notes)
  • Avocado oil, for frying

Optional, to garnish:


  1. CARAMELIZE: Add the olive oil to a 4.5 quart dutch oven or oven safe skillet on the stove top over low-medium heat. While the oil is heating up, peel and dice the onion finely. Smash the garlic cloves with the back of a heavy knife and discard the skin. Add the sliced onions and garlic cloves to the hot oil. Cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to take on a light golden color, about 10 minutes or so.
  2. SOFTEN: Coarsely grate the carrots. Add them to the pan, along with the red wine, 1 cup / 240 ml of the broth and the salt. Bring the wine and broth mixture to a simmer, then partly cover the pan with a lid, leaving space for steam to escape. Cook the carrots until they soften, about 15 minutes or so.
  3. BLEND: Carefully transfer the cooked vegetables and cooking liquid to a blender, along with the last 1 cup / 240 ml of the broth, butternut squash puree, sliced beets, red wine vinegar, lemon juice, Italian seasoning and basil. (Make sure to reserve the beet juice when you’re draining the beets). Blend – making sure to leave space for steam to escape the pitcher – until completely smooth.
  4. SIMMER: Return the blended liquid to the dutch oven or skillet, over low heat. Add the bay leaf. Bring to a gentle simmer, enough to keep warm and bubble gently, but not high enough for the sauce to thicken or evaporate too much, stirring often while the flavors develop, about 15 – 20 minutes. Taste and add additional seasoning if you like. Remove and discard the bay leaf. If you like, you can thin with additional broth or add additional beet juice for color (see notes). You’ll need about 3 cups / 720 ml – 3 1/2 cups / 840 mls of sauce in total. Keep warm on the stove top.
  5. BLOOM: While the sauce is simmering, add the broth to a bowl and sprinkle with the gelatin powder. Set aside for later.
  6. GRATE: Peel the onion and cut off the root end. Use the Medium / Coarse grater attachment in your food processor to grate the onion. Remove the grater attachment and replace the S blade in the food processor bowl.
  7. PULSE: Add the pancetta or bacon and garlic to the bowl and pulse until the bacon has a consistency similar to roughly ground meat. Add the parsley, oregano, basil, salt and meat to the bowl, then add the reserved bloomed gelatin on top. Pulse until the meatball mixture is just combined and you can see the seasoning flecked throughout. Don’t over process!
  8. ROLL: Divide the meatball mixture into roughly 12 – 13 meatballs, using a 4 tablespoon scoop and roll them into smooth balls.
  9. BROWN: Add enough avocado oil to come almost halfway up the sides of the meatballs to a skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, working in batches if needed, cook the meatballs until evenly browned on all sides.
  10. SIMMER: Add the browned meatballs to the warm sauce and bring to a simmer, cooking until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce is hot, about 15 minutes.



If you’d like a redder sauce that looks closer to traditional tomato sauce, you can add extra beet juice (reserved from the can) a tablespoon or so at a time until the color is deeper. Please note that the more beet juice you add, the stronger the beet flavor will become. Personally, I prefer a less pretty color with less of the beet flavor, but the choice is yours! To get the color you see here, I added a total 1/4 cup / 60 ml of additional beet juice.

Adding the pancetta or bacon helps increase the fat content for a juicier meatball. If you can’t find pancetta, you can use bacon but smoked bacon will add a noticeable smoky flavor to the meatball. If you’d rather not have that smokiness, use an unsmoked bacon, if possible.

Standard grocery store ground pork is way too lean for this. You’ll want to use a fattier ground pork, like the kind that’s used to make sausage. Something like ground pork shoulder like my grocery store uses to make their sausage would work well. If you can’t find pork like this, you can make the meatballs with all ground beef, preferably at least 20% fat.