I’ve made a lot of gluten-free meatballs over the years, but this beef meatball recipe might be the most classic. Flavored with the Italian trio of basil, onion and garlic, and bound together with egg and ground oats, then tossed in a dairy-free spicy harissa tomato sauce, they are my go-to for quick weeknight meals.
Writing my new cookbook has taken a major toll on my creative output, so this fall on the blog, I’ve decided to get back to basics. There are staple recipes that I truly cannot believe I’ve never covered on the site, gluten-free beef meatballs being a huge one.
How to make a classic beef meatball
Most Italian meatballs use a combination of ground beef, veal and pork. But if you’re a purest, as I am (thanks to laziness), it’s very easy to choose beef out of those three to focus on.
Since the pork usually adds some extra fat, along with Parmesan (also omitted from this recipe to make it dairy-free), I try NOT to go with the leanest ground beef I can find. If you see 87% that’s a good ball park, but you don’t want less fat than that.
Of course, there are other ways to keep the moisture in with a leaner meat. In these gluten-free chicken meatballs, I simply add a few tablespoons of olive oil directly to the meat mixture before rolling it into balls.
I also love adding more herbs (basil, mint or parsley) and a healthy amount of onion or shallot to lighten the beef meatballs, while tomato paste (instead of ketchup!) is a low sugar way to add some sweetness and richness that will blend well with the tomato sauce.
Why bake your beef meatballs
Most classic Italian meatballs are pan-fried, but to save on time, my preferred method is to bake my beef meatballs on a sheet pan in the oven. Sure, you can probably make them in a pan on the stovetop in less time, but that is active work.
Baking these meatballs in the oven for 20 minutes saves time by allowing you to get other dishes for dinner ready (like say, a sauce or side) while they bake.
What makes these beef meatballs gluten-free
As I’ve spoken about before on the blog, my favorite binder to replace the usual gluten-y breadcrumbs in a meatball is whole gluten-free oats.
Oat flour is a bit fine, but if you coarsely pulse your own gluten-free oats in a food processor, you’ll get a texture that will hold the meatballs together but melt away in the same way as breadcrumbs.
You can of course use regular gluten-free breadcrumbs as a substitute. I prefer to make my own from a whole grain seed bread. Store bought gluten-free breadcrumbs tend to be too dry—more along the lines of a flour.
Other gluten-free meatball binder options:
- 1/3 cup quinoa flakes (in the breakfast cereal aisle)
- 1 tablespoon chia seeds for paleo and egg-free beef meatballs (just omit the egg)
- 1/3 cup almond flour for paleo beef meatballs
- 1/3 cup ground gluten-free pretzels (pulsed in a food processor)
The best sauce for beef meatballs
I’ve included a dairy-free spicy harissa tomato sauce in this gluten-free beef meatball recipe, but you can substitute any of your favorite gluten-free pasta sauces. I like something with a tomato base for this recipe, but pesto would work as well.
The harissa sauce is spicy by design. If you’re sensitive to heat, start with 1 tablespoon of the harissa and go from there. Every brand will have a different potency. I use the Mina harissa spicy and 3 tablespoons was the perfect kick for me. The mild version has hardly any heat, but will give you a nice sweet red pepper flavor. So you can always opt for that.
How to make these gluten-free beef meatballs even quicker
You can pulse your herbs, onion and garlic in a small food processor to save time chopping. Just make sure to pulse your oats first while the bowl is dry. This speeds up the prep time even more.
How to make the meatballs Low FODMAP
These meatballs are already gluten-free and dairy-free, so they are fairly easy to adapt to also be low FODMAP. Simply omit the garlic and onion to make these low FODMAP meatballs.
Harissa usually has some garlic in it, so use a low FODMAP tomato sauce and just add red pepper flakes to taste to make it spicy.
What to serve with these gluten-free baked meatballs
My favorite way to eat beef meatballs is to toss them with some gluten-free spaghetti. This recipe makes enough sauce to coat 12 ounces of brown rice or quinoa spaghetti. Here are more tips on how to cook gluten-free pasta properly.
For a paleo alternative, you can also use spaghetti squash or eat them “naked” with a simple green side salad like this kale salad recipe!
More gluten-free meatball recipes
If you’re looking for other quick weeknight dinners using gluten-free meatballs, there are two of my favorites that can also be low FODMAP:
- Ginger-Sesame Low FODMAP Meatballs
- Paleo Sheet Pan Meatballs with Vegetables
- Moroccan Lamb Meatballs
- Gluten-Free Turkey Meatballs
Read on for the recipe for my 25 minute gluten-free beef meatballs with spicy tomato sauce!
With health and hedonism,
25 Minute Gluten-Free Beef Meatballs
For the meatballs:
- ½ cup gluten-free rolled oats
- 1 large egg beaten
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- ¼ cup finely chopped basil or mint
- 1 garlic clove minced or pushed through a press
- 1 large shallot or ¼ small onion minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 pound ground beef preferably 87% or less lean – you want some fat!
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a small food processor, pulse the oats until coarsely ground. Add to a large mixing bowl.
- To the same bowl, add the egg, tomato paste, basil or mint, garlic, shallot, paprika, and salt. Mix with a fork until the ingredients are well distributed.
- With clean hands, mix the ground beef with the other ingredients until loosely combined. You don’t want to overly break up the meat. Form the beef into a dozen 2-inch balls (an ice cream scoop works well for portioning) and roll in your hands until round and smooth. Arrange the balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake in the oven until cooked through and beginning to brown on the bottom, about 20 minutes.
- While the beef meatballs are baking, make the sauce: in a large saucepan, heat the oil over low heat. Add the garlic and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Off the heat, carefully add the harissa and cook for one minute more, until you have a fragrant chili garlic oil. Stir in the tomato or marinara sauce and half the basil or mint. Simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until heated through a beginning to reduce, about 3 minutes.
- Toss the baked beef meatballs with the harissa sauce and garnish with the remaining herbs. Serve immediately over pasta or on their own!