Mini Meatballs with Gnocchi and Zucchini is a fast dinner and a classic comfort dish that everyone will love. The meatballs are a recipe I use often. They are super tender and flavorful but still so easy to make! Combined with gnocchi and fresh veggies, you’ve got a simple and healthy weeknight dinner.
This recipe takes advantage of store-bought ingredients to speed things along. There are so many delicious prepared pasta and sauces on the market today. Add a little fresh herbs and cheese, and it will taste almost as good as completely homemade and will be ready in a fraction of the time. I like to add a splash of heavy cream to my store-bought marinara to take the acidic edge off.
When I think of simple, fast, and kid-friendly, one of the first thing that comes to mind is spaghetti and meatballs. You might think meatballs are a lot of work, but they really take about 10 minutes to mix together and roll into little balls. That’s it!
This recipe is super fast. All together it takes about 30 minutes, and if you didn’t have to wait for the water to boil, you could probably have it ready in 20! If you really wanted to make this recipe a zero-effort weeknight meal, you could make the meatballs in advance and just heat them in the sauce when you’re ready to eat or make ahead.
This is an awesome make-ahead meal. I often finish the recipe and put it into a 9” x 13” casserole pan, top it with some grated mozzarella, cover with foil, and put it in the fridge.
It will keep in the fridge for 3 days. When your ready to eat, just pop it into the oven at around 350 for 30 minutes covered and then another 10-15 uncovered or until the cheese on top is bubbly.
I love this meatball recipe and use it in lots of different pasta bakes.
The ricotta acts as a binder much like the egg in a recipe usually does, but the ricotta makes the meatballs extra tender. These meatballs would make a great little party snack with a side of marinara sauce for dipping. They would also be bomb on a meatball sub with a little marinara and fresh mozzarella on a hoagie roll.
You could easily replace the gnocchi with any kind of pasta you like. I’ve used rigatoni and elbow macaroni which were both great options. You can also change out the vegetables to suit your family’s preferences. I think bell pepper and zucchini are great options for kids because they are both quite sweet and mild. Think of this recipe as a template to explore different pasta and vegetable combinations that your family and friends like.
Mini Meatballs are a recipe I know you’ll use again and again, and this simple pasta recipe will be a go-to on busy weeknights, for sure! Give this recipe a try and let me know how it goes in the comments section below!
Mini Meatballs with Gnocchi and Zucchini
- 1 lb ground beef 85/15 lean
- 1 clove garlic
- ½ C ricotta cheese part skim
- 1 Tb fresh basil finely chopped
- 2 Tb Parmesan cheese finely grated
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- ¼ C Italian style breadcrumbs
- 1 zucchini
- 1 red bell pepper
- 1 package prepared gnocchi
- 1 23 oz jar marinara of choice
- 2 Tb heavy cream
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- 1 Tb olive oil
- fresh basil optional garnish
- grated Parmesan optional garnish
To make meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- Mix all of the meatball ingredients together in a mixing bowl. The best way to make sure all of the ingredients are well incorporated is to use your hands. A spoon will leave you with chunks of ricotta and other ingredients in the mix. If you're squeamish about touching the meat, use gloves.
- Once thoroughly combined, pinch off about 1 Tb of meat and use your hands to roll into a ball. The meatballs should be about a half dollar size or just smaller than a ping pong ball.
- Place the meatballs on a baking sheet lined with foil for easy cleanup, leaving a little room between each meatball. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until cooked through.
To make gnocchi
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once at a rolling boil, add the gnocchi and cook to instructions.
- While the water is coming to a boil. Trim the ends of the zucchini and cut into four equal pieces lengthwise and then chop into quarter moon pieces that are about half-inch thick. Cut the red pepper into one-inch chunks.
- Preheat a large nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tb of olive oil to the pan. Once heated, add the zucchini and red bell pepper to the pan. Cook for 5 minutes, only turning once and leaving the vegetables undisturbed otherwise so that they start to brown.
- Once the veggies are slightly browned, add the marinara to the pan. If you like a lot of red sauce, I would use an entire 23oz jar, but if you like your pasta a little bit lighter on sauce, then add 2 cups. Add the 2 Tb of heavy cream, salt and pepper, and mix to combine.
- Once the gnocchi is cooked, add to the pan with the sauce and veggies and mix to combine. Once mixed well, serve into shallow bowls and top with torn basil leaves and grated parmesan.