Cheesy Gnocchi and Meatballs — True Italian comfort food with these beef and pork homemade meatballs along with pillowy gnocchi. Everything is covered in homemade tomato sauce , smothered with cheese, and baked! Easier than it looks, and an instant family favorite that everyone will beg you to make again!
Cheesy Gnocchi Bake with Meatballs
When I think of comfort food, especially in the winter, things like pasta, cheese, and beef come to mind.
In the case of this recipe for homemade meatballs with cheese, homemade red sauce, gnocchi, and cheese, there’s comfort food and then some!
The meatballs are juicy and succulent combination of beef and pork, Parmesan cheese, and plenty of Italian-inspired seasonings to give them fabulous flavor.
There’s a homemade red sauce with tender and pillowy gnocchi tossed in to smother those lovely little meatballs.
Since I am a die-hard cheese fan, this dish not only has Parmesan in the meatballs themselves, but everything is topped and covered with broiled mozzarella.
Homemade cheesy pasta with meatballs is perfect for your next Sunday or big family dinner. Of course, you can always make this recipe in advance so that it’s ready to go when you are. Details provided below.
Tip:This is a longer post with lots of photos. If you’re a pro, scroll right on by my explanations and tricks and cut right to the recipe.
Ingredients for Gnocchi and Meatballs
To make these cheesy and crave-worthy homemade meatballs, you’ll need the following common ingredients:
- Ground beef
- Ground pork sausage
- Parmesan cheese
- Dried basil
- Dried oregano
- Dried parsley
- Italian seasoning
- Olive oil
Making homemade tomato sauce which you’ll use to smother those meatballs is a cinch! You’ll just need the following pantry ingredients for the tomato sauce:
- Olive oil
- Tomato paste
- Diced or crushed tomatoes
- Fresh basil
- Italian seasoning
- Red chili flakes
- Granulated sugar
How to Make Gnocchi and Meatballs
Homemade meatballs are easy to make and are worth the slight bit of effort it takes in my opinion. However, all the ingredients get mixed by hand in just one bowl to keep things super basic!
To make them, follow these easy steps:
Step 1: Add ALL the ingredients to one bowl and mix gently to combine.
Step 2: Using a large cookie scoop or ice cream scoop form evenly sized meatballs.
Step 3: Add the oil and fry the meatballs.
Step 4: Brown all the meatballs. Don’t overcrowd the pan and brown in stages if necessary.
Step 5: Set the browned meatballs aside.
Tip: Although browned, the meatballs may not be fully cooked through at this point but will cook through as they simmer in the tomato sauce a bit later. Don’t do any taste-testing at this point!
How to Make Tomato Sauce for Gnocchi
Now that you’ve got your meatballs browned, it’s time to make the fast and easy homemade tomato sauce.
Step 1: Add olive oil to a skillet and sauté onions and garlic before adding tomato paste.
Step 2: Add the crushed tomatoes, seasonings, salt and pepper and simmer before adding the meatballs and gnocchi and simmer everything together.
Simple as that!
Assembling the Cheesy Gnocchi Bake
You’re about to see the finish line with your cheesy gnocchi with meatballs when you assemble it by following these simple few steps:
Step 1: Add the meatballs, tomato sauce, and gnocchi to an oven-safe baking dish.
Step 2: Add mozzarella cheese and broil briefly until the cheese is lightly browned.
Step 3: Dig in and serve your masterpiece!
Can I Use Store-Bought Meatballs?
Yes you can. I realize that not everyone has the time nor desire to make homemade meatballs and you can cheat and use store bought that have already been cooked and frozen.
Make sure to thaw them fully, and add them to the simmering red sauce for about 5 minutes so they can absorb the flavor before adding the gnocchi. Top with cheese and broil as directed.
Can I Use Store-Bought Gnocchi?
I used store-bought refrigerated gnocchi but homemade gnocchi would be amazing if you’re up to the task.
Store-bought dry gnocchi can be found either in area where dry pastas and noodles are kept. Or you can check the refrigerated sections where fresh pasta is kept, which is my go-to.
What Kind of Cheese Is Best?
Cheese is used twice in the cheesy gnocchi and meatballs recipe.
First, Parmesan cheese is used in the homemade meatball portion of the recipe. The dry quality that Parmesan possesses helps to bind the meatballs as well as obviously lend a cheesy flavor aspect.
Secondly, mozzarella cheese is sprinkled over the top of the casserole dish before briefly broiling it. For this purpose, mozzarella is perfect because it melts smoothly, easily, and gives you those pizza-cheese-ooey-gooey type of vibes.
Apart from that, mozzarella also browns up nicely and coming from a cheese fan herself, I can tell you that lightly golden browned cheese is almost unstoppable.
For anyone wanting to make cheesy meatballs and gnocchi recipe in advance, you definitely can.
I know that this is the type of meal that can take a bit longer to fully prep and make and it can be very helpful to be able to do most of the work one day, and then bake it off later.
My suggestion for making this in advance is as follows:
- Make the meatballs, brown them, and put them in the baking dish.
- Make the red sauce, add gnocchi, pour over the meatballs.
- Add the cheese. (If making in advance, stop here. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 36 hours before baking.)
From there you can either:
- Broil as directed in the recipe as written; and then portion into containers and refrigerate or freeze. OR…
- Freeze your entire baking dish until you’re ready to consume. Then thaw, broil, and serve.
I recommend option number one because it’s easier to store individually portioned freezer-safe containers than storing one large baking dish in the freezer.
Plus, if you go that route you can enjoy a few servings right out of the oven and freeze the rest.
How Long Will Gnocchi with Meatballs Keep Fresh?
As cuisines go, Italian cuisine gets very high marks for the storage aspect in my opinion.
Red sauces tend to get better with time as flavors meld and marry so you’re in for a real treat with your meatballs and gnocchi.
Plus, both pasta and meatballs keep quite well and will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months.
Tips for the Best Cheesy Meatballs with Gnocchi
Although I explained thoroughly how to make homemade gnocchi with meatballs and cheese, here are a few more pro tips:
Ground beef: When selecting the fat percentage of your ground beef, I recommend not going too low-fat is advantageous because fat will help the meatballs hold together. 80/20 ground beef is what I use.
Shaping the meatballs: When you’re mixing the meatball mixture together, don’t ovemix. Use a wooden spoon or a gloved hand to just barely combine the ingredients, but don’t overdo it. This ensures the meatballs stay moist and juicy.
I prefer to use a large cookie scoop or ice cream scoop to form evenly sized meatballs. However, you can make them by hand, but be sure to grease your palms so they don’t stick.
Browning the meatballs: When you’re browning the meatballs, note that they don’t stay perfectly round and will flatten a bit on one side. Don’t worry about it as this is perfectly normal.
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- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 pound ground pork sausage
- ½ cup white or yellow onion, diced small
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly whisked
- ½ cup parmesan cheese, shredded
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- ½ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, or to taste
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ medium white or yellow onion, diced small
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 28 ounces diced or crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon red chili flakes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
- 1 pound gnocchi (refrigerated, dry, or homemade)
- 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
- To a large bowl, add all the ingredients (except the oil), and using a wooden spoon or a gloved hand, mix together all ingredients. Don't overmix.
- Using a large cookie scoop or ice cream scoop, form the meatballs. If desired, add a bit of oil to your hands and then roll the meatballs into nice round balls, although straight off the cookie or ice cream scoop is fine too.* (See Notes)
- To a large skillet, add the oil, meatballs, and cook over medium-high heat until browned on all sides, flipping as necessary to ensure even cooking.** (See Notes) Tip - Do not overcrowd the pan. If necessary, cook the meatballs in batches.
- Set cooked meatballs aside on a plate.
- To a large skillet or saucepan, add the oil, onion, garlic, and saute over medium heat for 3 minutes, stir nearly constantly.
- Add the tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.
- Add all remaining ingredients (except gnocchi) and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the browned meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 10 minutes to ensure they are fully cooked through.
- Add the gnocchi (refrigerated, dry, or homemade) and cook for 5 minutes or until tender and done.
- Preheat your broiler to high (or 400F) and place an oven rack on the top or second to the top rung.
- To a spayed or greased oven-safe casserole or baking dish, transfer the meatballs, sauce, and gnocchi into it.
- Evenly top with shredded cheese.
- Broil until the cheese is lightly golden browned and bubbly, about 5 minutes. Tip - As always when broiling anything, keep a very close eye on it, don't leave the kitchen, and set an alarm. Food can go from underdone to burnt when under a broiler in a matter of one minute and the last thing you want to do now is burn it!
- Serve immediately with French bread, garlic bread, or a salad.
*Cooked meatballs often don't stay perfectly round anyway and may flatten on one side as they cook which is why rolling them between your palms before browning them isn't truly essential. Plus, they will be covered up with sauce and cheese so it will be hard to tell anyway later on if they are "perfectly" round.
**The meatballs may not be completely cooked through in the center after they've been browned in step 3 and this is okay because they will continue to cook when they're in the tomato sauce (step 8).
Storage: Extra will keep airtight in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 4 months. For make-ahead and freezing suggestions, please read the blog post section addressing this in detail.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 730Total Fat: 41gSaturated Fat: 14gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 23gCholesterol: 181mgSodium: 1276mgCarbohydrates: 48gFiber: 5gSugar: 9gProtein: 43g
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