Pesto and Red Pepper Italian Meatballs pack rich flavor into one bite. Serve them with marinara and spaghetti, on a hero sandwich, layered in lasagna or simply with a side of veggies.
These pesto and red pepper Italian meatballs are no-fail, easy to make and pack in the flavor. They take less than 30 minutes to prepare and are tender and delicious thanks to a special combination of ingredients.
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You can never go wrong with classic Italian meatballs. I love to put them on sandwiches, with spaghetti or eat them with salad or veggies. I love their heartiness, and they make any dish more satisfying.
I’m a meatball fan in general! Try my other recipes:
If you follow Tara Teaspoon, you may have caught on that I love to add new flavors to classic dishes, which is exactly what I have done with these Pesto and Red Pepper Italian Meatballs.
In this recipe I combined the sweet spice from red peppers and the savory richness from pesto (homemade pesto) and added them to the classic meatball. The result is a smooth, and savory meatball that makes my mouth water just thinking about it.
Ingredients for Pesto and Red Pepper Italian Meatballs:
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 small onion
- ½ cup finely diced roasted red pepper
- 1/3 cup prepared pesto
- ¼ cup part-skim ricotta
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp ground black pepper
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs
Whether you like Italian meatballs crispy, simmered in sauce, or on top of spaghetti, you’ll want them tender and flavorful.
There are several ingredients that can make or break meatballs. You don’t want to end up with tough, rubbery meatballs, so take note!
Why put ricotta or milk in meatballs?
The protein in meat makes it shrink when it’s cooked. This results in tough meatballs, so we need to add moisture and binders to break up those proteins but still hold everything together.
Some recipes call for making a panade, or mixture of milk and bread to add to the meat. I simplify this step and use breadcrumbs and ricotta in place of milk. The bread acts as a binder, helping to keep everything together. The milk or ricotta adds moisture so the mixture doesn’t completely dry out when cooked.
Store bought pesto has a lot of salt. If you use store bought, eliminate the salt from this Italian meatball recipe.
I want meatballs with lots of flavor. Meatballs that don’t rely on the sauce to make them tasty.
Herbs, garlic and other seasonings are perfect as additions. I streamlined the recipe and added pesto! Pesto is the perfect mix of herbs, garlic and nutty cheese. I make homemade pesto and keep it in the freezer so it’s handy.
Adding roasted red bell peppers to this recipe did two things. It added moisture to the mixture without adding actual liquid (which is good to help the meat proteins from drying out and shrinking during cooking), as well as adding a little piquant taste. They also look quite pretty!
Choose the right pesto.
I make homemade pesto, but you may want to grab some prepared pesto from the store. I like to choose a prepared pesto with simple, whole ingredients. Look for olive oil, nuts, cheese and herbs. You don’t want a lot of fillers or flavorless oils.
Store bought pesto also has a lot of salt. More than you may put in a homemade recipe. If you use store bought pesto you can eliminate the salt from the recipe below.
Make a lot and freeze!
This recipe makes over 40 meatballs! What a dream. If you aren’t making them for a party, you’ll for sure have extra that you can freeze and use for a second meal.
I roll all the Italian meatballs and place the extra ones on a small tray in the freezer for about half an hour. Then put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them for up to a month.
Easy meal solved! You can pull them out to thaw for about 30 minutes before cooking them. Add a few minutes to the cooking time if you are preparing them from frozen.
How to make Pesto and Red Pepper Italian Meatballs:
- Combine and mix together ground beef, onion, red pepper, pesto, bread crumbs, ricotta, salt and pepper in a large bowl.
- Roll meatballs into 1 ½ inch diameter balls. Freeze or cook right away.
- Sauté on stove in canola oil over medium heat 8 to 10 minutes, turning frequently to brown on all sides.
- Or bake in 350ºF oven about 25 minutes.
You can sauté or oven-bake the meatballs, whichever you prefer. I like to bake mine, giving me time to clean up or make my accompanying dish. They take about 25 minutes in the oven, or about 8 to 10 minutes on the stovetop, with some turning involved.
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 1 small onion finely diced
- 1/2 cup finely diced roasted red pepper
- 1/3 cup prepared pesto homemade or storebought
- 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
- 1/4 cup part-skim ricotta
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
In a bowl combine the ground beef, onion, red pepper, pesto, bread crumbs, ricotta, salt* and pepper. Mix together well.
Roll meatballs into 1 1/2 inch diameter balls. You can freeze them or cook right away.
To saute meatballs on the stove, heat 2 tsp canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add a few meatballs (taking care not to overcrowd the pan). Cook, turning frequently to brown on all sides, until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
To bake meatballs, heat oven to 350ºF. Place meatballs single file on a rimmed baking sheet or in a glass baking dish. Bake until cooked through, about 25 minutes.
Serve with marinara and spaghetti, try them on a hero sandwich, layered in lasagna or simply with a side of veggies.
• *If the prepared pesto you buy is salty, reduce the kosher salt in the recipe or eliminate it altogether.
• If you freeze the meatballs to cook later, plan to defrost them before cooking, or defrost slightly and just bake, giving them several extra minutes of baking time to cook all the way through.
• Nutrition facts are a close calculated estimate based on the weight of the ingredients.
Written by Anne Marie Miller. Recipe, food styling, photography: Tara Teaspoon