Saucy Italian Meatballs + Orzo

Saucy Italian Meatballs + Parmesan Orzo – a delicious spin on the traditional spaghetti and meatballs recipe that your whole family is going to love! They are packed with flavor and easy enough to make on busy weeknights for dinner!

These juicy and tender Italian Meatballs are packed with all of the traditional flavors that you know and love! Made with key ingredients, like ground meat, breadcrumbs, an egg, onion, garlic, parmesan cheese, and all the best Italian seasonings!

The Best Italian Meatballs

As we were growing up, traditional spaghetti and meatballs were a staple in our house! We loved the flavorful meatballs covered in sauce and served with al dente noodles. This meatball recipe is a little spin on that classic dinner recipe. For our family this is our favorite way to enjoy homemade meatballs and they are easy enough to make even on busy weeknights! A great addition to our classic family recipes!

What You Will Need

  • ground meat – we love using a combination of ground beef and ground pork, it really keeps them juicy and tender but feel free to only use ground beef if that is what you have.
  • parmesan cheese, sweet yellow onion, & fresh garlic – traditional ingredients that are always a must when making Italian meatballs for all the added flavor!
  • large egg & fresh bread crumbs – the binding agents in these meatballs to hold everything together.
  • Italian seasoning, kosher salt, & ground black pepper – simple seasonings that are perfect for amping up that flavor.
  • lemon zest – a little bit of acidity always helps to enhance the flavors that are already there.
  • butter – just a bit in the skillet to sear the outside of your meatballs. You could also use olive oil.
  • marinara sauce & diced tomatoes – the perfectly saucy base, option to grab some marinara sauce from the grocery store or make our easy homemade marinara sauce!
  • parmesan orzo – the recipe card below includes instructions for making a simple parmesan orzo for to serve with the saucy meatballs, but you could also serve with spaghetti noodles or zoodles.
  • optional toppings: basil pesto, fresh herbs (like basil & oregano), parmesan cheese, and/or grilled bread!

How To Make Italian Meatballs

To get this easy meatball recipe started, you can place all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl.

Mix to fully combine with a spatula or just use your hands! For best results, use a cookie scoop or ice cream scoop to roll about 2 tablespoons of the beef mix into meatballs. Option to damp hands with a little water, if needed. Set them aside on a plate.

Now bring a large skillet to a medium heat, add butter to melt, then add the uncooked meatballs to sear on all sides in a single layer.

Add the marinara sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet, cover, and simmer on a medium-low heat for about 15 minutes.

If you are serving these easy Italian meatballs with the parmesan orzo, you can prepare this while the meatballs simmer. This can easily be done by bringing the chicken broth and water to a boil, add the orzo and cook until al dente, about 8-10 minutes.
Drain the pasta and be sure to reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water! While keeping the pan off the heat, add the parmesan cheese, butter, salt, pepper, and lemon zest to the orzo.
Use a large wooden spoon to mix until everything has melted and fully combined to the perfect creaminess. Option to add splashes of the reserved pasta water, if needed.

How To Serve Italian Meatballs

Obviously, the traditional way to serve homemade Italian meatballs are with spaghetti noodles, but sometimes you need to shake things up! That’s where this perfectly creamy parmesan orzo comes into play. It is a delicious spin on the classic recipe.

We also love to top this dish with some freshly grated parmesan cheese, basil leaves, oregano leaves, and/or a dollop of pesto basil! Add a little grilled bread or garlic bread on the side and it is the perfect bowl of comfort food.

Recipe FAQ

  • storage: these juicy meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
  • freezing meatballs: you can easily store these tender meatballs in a freezer-safe container, leave room for expansion during the freezing process, and store for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat on the stovetop or in the microwave. This can only be done for the meatballs, not the parmesan orzo.

Made this recipe and loved it?! We would love it if you would take a minute and leave a star rating and review – it is also helpful if you made any substitutions or changes to the recipe to share that as well. THANK YOU!


Saucy Italian Meatballs + Parmesan Orzo is the BEST bowl of comfort food! Juicy and delicious meatballs in red sauce with creamy orzo!


Saucy Italian Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground beef (80/20)
  • 1/2 lb ground pork
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 heaping teaspoons Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
  • 1/4 cup yellow onion, grated
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs (regular or gluten-free)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 24 oz marinara sauce
  • 15oz can diced tomatoes

Parmesan Orzo

  • 3 cups water
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cup orzo
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • reserved pasta water


  • additional grated parmesan cheese
  • dollop of basil pesto
  • chopped fresh basil
  • fresh oregano leaves
  • fresh parsley
  • grilled bread


Saucy Italian Meatballs

  1. Combine ground beef, ground pork, Italian seasoning, lemon zest, grated onion, garlic, egg, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper to a large mixing bowl. Stir to combine.
  2. Take approx. 2 tablespoons of the meatball mixture at a time and form into a meatball. Set aside on a plate until all the meatballs are formed.
  3. Bring a 12 inch cast iron skillet to medium-high heat. Add butter and let melt; swirl to coat the pan. Add meatballs and sear on all sides. Add marinara sauce and diced tomatoes. Cover and let simmer 15 minutes.

Parmesan Orzo

  1. Meanwhile, add chicken broth and water to a medium-saucepan.
  2. Cover and bring to a boil.
  3. Add orzo and let simmer, uncovered, 8-10 minutes or until cooked al dente.
  4. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
  5. Drain and return orzo to the pan but remove from heat.
  6. Add butter, salt, pepper, a little lemon zest and cheese. Gently stir to combine – the cheese will take a minute to fully melt. Add splashes of the reserved pasta water to thin out and make the consistency more creamy.
  7. Taste and add any additional salt, pepper, or lemon zest.

Build Your Bowl

Place your desired amount of Parmesan Orzo in each bowl along with some Italian Meatballs and plenty of sauce (when that sauce combines with the creamy Parmesan Orzo … it’s sooo good)! Garnish with additional grated parmesan cheese, maybe a dollop of basil pesto or just some fresh basil leaves! Serve with Grilled Bread for the ultimate dinner!


  • Parmesan Orzo: of course feel free to skip the Parmesan Orzo if you need to and just serve with pasta (regular or gluten-free) – you could also serve with some zoodles if you wanted!
  • Serving: love serving this with some Air Fryer Broccolini, Steamed Broccoli or Grilled Asparagus!
  • Storage: store leftover meatballs and orzo separately (otherwise the orzo will soak up the sauce and get mushy) – store both in airtight containers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.