Sometimes finding a delicious recipe for delicious meatballs is a challenge – especially if you want them to be dairy free or gluten free meatballs! Not to worry, I recently made this dish for a client and it was a hit! Although the original recipe isn’t gluten free or dairy free, my revisions make it a tasty option for those with more specific dietary needs. See the Chef’s notes following the recipe for the substitutions.

Meatballs & Marinara Sauce Recipe

Hopefully you'll agree these are the best meatballs you've ever made!

Hopefully you’ll agree these are the best meatballs you’ve ever made!

My husband and I recently made this recipe from an episode we saw on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. You will see there are a lot of ingredients (4 different meats plus cheese, buttermilk and olive oil) which make them very moist and delicious. We also used our own recipe for the marinara sauce, which is included below as well. See my substitutions at the bottom to turn them into dairy free and gluten free meatballs as well. Hopefully you’ll agree these are the best meatballs you’ve ever made!

  • 3 slices white bread
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 Tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 Tablespoon kosher salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon crushed red chiles
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon gelatin mixed with 1/2 Tablespoon water
  • 8 ounces lean ground beef
  • 8 ounces ground pork
  • 8 ounces ground veal
  • 3 ounces finely minced prosciutto
  • 3/4 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
Marinara Sauce:
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 28-oz can or box, Crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14 oz can fire-roasted tomatoes with juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • Optional: 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 8 ounces shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 4 Tablespoons chopped pistachios
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated lime zest
For the meatballs: Cut the bread into small cubes and combine with the buttermilk, parsley, garlic, egg yolks, cayenne pepper, salt, crushed chiles, black pepper, white pepper and gelatin mixture. Mix well into a paste. Add the beef, pork, veal, prosciutto, Romano and olive oil. Mix thoroughly.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a baking sheet.
Form the mixture into twelve 4 1/2-ounce meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet. Cook until the internal temperature reaches 155 degrees F.
For the marinara sauce: Sauté onion, carrots and celery with olive oil in a large dutch oven or other heavy duty pot until soft and slightly browned. Add salt and pepper to taste and minced garlic; cook for 1 minute. Deglaze your pan with wine and cook 2 to 3 minutes until some of the wine has had time to evaporate. Add tomatoes and fresh herbs; cover and simmer at least 30 minutes. Add tomato paste (if needed) to thicken sauce.
Use over pasta, meatballs or as a base for chicken cacciatore.
For the meatballs and sauce: Place the meatballs in baking pan and submerge with the finished marinara. Cover the pan and bake for 20 minutes.
Remove the meatballs and place in a serving bowl. Top the meatballs with the marinara and garnish with the Parmesan, chopped pistachios and lime zest.
Chef’s Notes – Transforming the Recipe to Dairy Free and Gluten Free Meatballs

I’ve now made this recipe twice. Here is my advice and a few revisions to transform the dish into dairy free and gluten free meatballs.

  1. Cut down on the amount of olive oil used, which seems wildly excessive. For my version, I used 1/2 cup of oil (instead of 3/4 cup as listed in the master recipe), thinking that I would use the original amount listed next time if I did not like the results the first time around. My version was a success so I would keep the amount of olive oil to 1/2 cup.
  2. For those of you that may not eat pork, I found you can substitute ground lamb instead for equally good results.
  3. My second time making this recipe I wanted to make these for a client who is gluten free, dairy free and vegan. Now, that’s quite a challenge! Here is how I did it:
    • Dairy substitutions:
      • Instead of buttermilk I used:
        • 1/2 cup, plus 2 Tablespoons soy milk (rice or oat milk would be okay, too)
        • 2 Tablespoons coconut yogurt
      • Instead of Romano or Parmesan cheese I used this alternative Paleo recipe (you will have more than you need for 1 batch of meatballs):
    • Gluten substitution:
      • Instead of 3 slices of white, regular sandwich bread I used 2 gluten free French-style dinner rolls (Udi’s brand)
    • Additional substitution:
      • Instead of egg yolks and gelatin I used 1 Tablespoon of chia seeds mixed with 3 Tablespoons of water
Download and print the recipe here.
What do you remember about the best meatballs you’ve ever had? Did you top it with marinara sauce as well? Let me know if you’ve had any luck finding a dairy free and/or gluten free meatballs recipe, too!
Mary Hathaway, Owner of Dinner Diva, has been a personal chef since 2002. She cooks regularly for clients who have special dietary needs, value healthy cooking by using organic products where possible and those who want healthy family meals but have no time to cook. Whether it’s a dinner for 4, a holiday party for 20, or a set of meals for the week, all of the recipes are customized to her client’s needs or lifestyle. Go to: for more info.