Meatballs & Marinara


Recipe codeveloped by Mehreen Karim

Serves 5




2 tablespoon olive oil 

2 tablespoons butter

1 medium onion, diced

4 garlic cloves, smashed

3 tablespoons tomato paste, 

2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes 

¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper

2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon thick, aged balsamic vinegar or honey, optional


1lb 80/20 ground beef 

¼ cup plain breadcrumbs

2 oz parmesan cheese, grated 

2 tablespoons milk or water 

1 egg 

1 small yellow onion, grated

3 garlic cloves, grated

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 ½  teaspoons kosher salt

Cracked black pepper, to taste

1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil 


  1. For the sauce: begin by adding the olive oil and butter to a large heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven on medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and garlic. Season with kosher salt, stir, and cook for around 10 minutes or until the onions are translucent and the garlic is slightly browned around the edges. Add the crushed red pepper flakes and the tomato paste and cook for about 5 minutes to caramelize the tomato paste. Add the canned tomatoes, season with kosher salt, and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or so. In the meantime, prepare your meatballs. 
  2. For the meatballs: begin by combining all the ingredients besides the ground beef and olive oil in a large bowl, and set aside for 5 minutes or so before adding the ground beef. This will ensure the breadcrumbs are hydrated and don’t steal any moisture from the ground beef. Add the ground beef, and mix just until combined, being careful not to overwork the meat. 
  3. Preheat the broiler setting on your oven to high. Separate the meat into ¼  cup portions, roll into balls between your palms (you should have 12 meatballs), and place on a foil-lined baking sheet for easy clean up . Drizzle with olive oil and place the meatballs under the broiler for around 12-15 minutes, or until browned completely.
  4. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce, stir to coat, and allow the meatballs to simmer with the sauce for about 10 minutes. 
  5. Taste the sauce and adjust for salt and acidity. If it tastes too acidic for your liking, add the honey or thick balsamic vinegar, and stir. 
  6. Serve over pasta with extra chili flakes and lots of parmesan cheese. 


Notes on the Inspiration:

There’s something undeniably satisfying and comforting about meatballs and marinara.  Tender, and well juicy meatballs can change your life—ok, that’s a little dramatic—but we’re not being dramatic when we say you’ll be shocked by how quickly this dish comes together. These moist and flavor-packed meatballs sit in a glorious homemade marinara that’s beyond versatile. Seriously, feel free to use it for lasagna, chicken parmesan, eggplant parmesan, and literally just about anything that calls for a marinara sauce. This recipe makes enough marinara to easily serve these meatballs over a beautiful pile of spaghetti. But if you have leftovers, it also freezes beautifully so you can indulge stress-free in a few weeks. 

Notes on the Technique:

Don’t be fooled by how quickly this recipe comes together—it’s full of little tricks  that help ensure you’ll end up with the juiciest meatballs without sacrificing any  flavor. The egg to breadcrumbs ratio in this recipe yields a moist meatball that won’t break apart when they get finished off in your marinara, and using grated onion as opposed to finely chopped onion also guarantees a juicy, homogenous meatball mixture that can easily be formed into meatballs. 

As for the marinara, it calls for two types of tomato products because we’re not skimping the bright and tangy flavors. Using tomato paste gives the sauce extra body and an underlying pure and concentrated tomato flavor—the kind that you’d otherwise get from simmering a sauce for hours and hours. Depending on the brand of crushed tomatoes used, you may need to mellow out the acidity of the sauce with a sweetener. We call for thick balsamic vinegar or honey as an alternative to the direct, and sometimes overbearing, sweetness that can come from adding pure sugar.

About Lunch Group:

Lunch Group is an operations, curation, and impact consultancy for mission-driven food/beverage businesses that want to lead authentic change within their communities through their partnerships and content or within their organization. Lunch Group helps reimagine their work through equitable frameworks.

Their newsletter, Lunch Rush, focuses on initiatives at the intersections of identity, accessibility, social impact, and food & drink, especially those with collaborative and creative bents. They  highlight folks with dynamic projects that support those who have been historically undervalued, overworked, and underpaid in an industry that wouldn’t exist without them.

Lunch Group works closely with SheChef Inc., a professional and educational organization for Women-Identified Chefs of Color and their allies co-founded by Elle Simone Scott and Chimere Ward. SheChef aims to bridge the gap of equity and diversity in the food/beverage, media, and hospitality industries through resources, mentorship opportunities, and impactful conversations.

Lunch Group produces SheChef’s 2021 Digital Event series, which centers around access and visibility: how gathering together our community can provide resources, information, inspiration, and a strategic roadmap for Women of Color seeking to enter into the industry. 

SheChef’s next event Meat Camp with butcher Michelle Sanchez of Niman Ranch and Chef Anita Cartagena is on May 13, and centers on women in butchering, humane farming practices, and sustainability.


May 6, 2021

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