A panade (bread crumbs soaked in milk) and medium ground beef are the secret ingredients that make these meatballs so tender. While the meatballs are tasty enough on their own that you can skip the pasta, garlic bread for dunking into the slow-cooked sauce is highly encouraged.
Related: Tomato Confit Pasta With Ricotta
Substitute a 32-ounce jar of prepared tomato sauce instead of making your own for this recipe.
For the meatballs, in a large bowl combine the milk or ricotta and breadcrumbs. If using milk, let bread crumbs sit to absorb the liquid while you prep the other ingredients, 30 minutes. If you are using ricotta, you do not need to let the mixture rest.
To the breadcrumb mixture, add onion, egg, garlic, parsley, parmesan and stir to combine. Add the ground beef, sausage, salt and pepper and mix into other ingredients with your hands until well combined.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Form meat mixture into large balls, lightly packing with your palms. Avoid over-handling the meatballs to prevent them from becoming tough when cooked. Repeat until all the meatball mixture has been used. You should have 12-14 meatballs total. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and transfer meatballs to the refrigerator to chill, 30 minutes to 1 hour. This helps the meatballs firm up so they don’t fall apart during cooking.
Preheat oven to 450⁰F. Remove meatballs from the fridge, and bake on the middle rack of the oven until browned, but not cooked through, 12-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, for the tomato sauce, in a medium bowl stir together the crushed tomatoes, garlic, salt, red pepper flakes and oregano.
Remove meatballs from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 350⁰F. Cover the bottom of a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with half the tomato sauce. Carefully transfer meatballs to the baking dish, arranging in a single layer, and cover with the other half of the sauce. Cover tightly with foil and bake on middle rack of the oven until edges are beginning to bubble and the meatballs are cooked through and very tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Remove dish from the oven and uncover. Sprinkle grated mozzarella and Parmesan in an even layer over the surface, return to the oven and cook until cheese is melted and starting to brown, 10-15 minutes more.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle with chopped parsley or basil. Allow to cool slightly before serving alongside crusty bread or garlic bread.