For my Italian meatball sliders I make big and juicy meatballs with ground beef and ricotta. Then I brown them up and set them for a quick braise in marinara sauce. And to finish them off, I top them with fresh mozzarella and let that melt over them all soft and gooey before putting them into toasted slider buns.
Hungry yet? I know I am!
I’ve been having fun cooking up all sorts of tasty recipes here. And one of our favorites to test recently has been these meatball sliders.
I love making my slow braised Italian meatballs and serving them Italian American style over a big plate of spaghetti. They are balanced in flavor, tender, and freeze perfectly for future meals. And you can certainly put them in a meatball grinder*, but they aren’t quite right for sliders.
*Though maybe only in New England? What do you call long sandwiches with hot fillings elsewhere?? Because you are missing out if you don’t have grinders in your life.
While you could just make meatballs bigger, put them on slider buns and call it a day, to my mind you need a different sort for sliders. Size is only part of it. They need to be quick cooking, especially juicy, and a bit more delicate than the kind you serve with pasta.
The only other secret I have is that you GOTTA toast the buns. If you skip toasting them, you will have sad, soggy buns instead of tasty crispy ones. Just say no to sad, soggy buns. 🙁
What do you need?
- Ground Beef – One pound, or a mix of beef and pork.
- Ricotta – I like a fresh brand without any stabilizers.
- Meatball Mix – Egg, parmesan, bread crumbs, garlic, and spices.
- Marinara Sauce – Use your favorite or make your own from scratch.
- Slider Buns – Whatever brand and style you enjoy.
- Mozzarella – Fresh and whole milk for best melting.
How to make this
To make Italian meatball sliders, mix together ground beef with ricotta and seasonings and divide into large meatballs. Brown in a skillet, then braise in the oven, and top with mozzarella cheese. Serve on toasted buns with marinara sauce.
1. Make the mix
Start by mixing up the ingredients. All of this is pretty standard – meat, parmesan, egg, herbs, garlic, and FRESH breadcrumbs (use an extra bun or slice of sandwich bread). The secret weapon to JUICY, quick cooking meatballs is the ricotta.
What is the best ricotta to use?
If you have a local, freshly made ricotta with no stabilizers, use that one since it will have the freshest, cleanest flavor. The brand I have here in southern New England is Narragansett Creamery Ricotta. You may find specialty ricotta in the fancy cheese case at the market.
I have also found some store brands and regional brands without stabilizers (like gums). Check the ingredients list to see.
2. Saute to Brown
I’ve tried a few methods to come up with best way, using the fewest pots and you really need to cook the meatballs in a nonstick pan or they fall apart. And the marinara sauce needs to be warmed before it goes in the oven since it won’t be in the oven too long (and it won’t heat enough in there).
So, nonstick pan for the meatballs and an oven safe pan for the marinara. Saute them and slip them into the marinara and then put that pan in the oven.
Also, you will need a baking pan for the slider buns. They need to lay out flat under the broiler so they can get all browned and crispy. I do this while the meatball mix is getting a rest so it can be its best self.
3. Top and Finish
Once the buns are toasted and the meatballs have braised and cooked through, its time to top them with fresh mozzarella. I really love the flavor and texture of the fresh mozzarella in this recipe so don’t skip it!
Melt the mozzarella under the broiler, then take the skillet out of the oven and transfer the meatballs to their slider buns, put some basil on top along with some marinara, and serve. Pour the marinara into a jug for people to put some sauce next to their sliders.
If you try my recipe for Italian Meatball Sliders, I would love to hear from you in the comments with your experience and rating! And I’m happy to answer any questions you might have.
– Happy Eating, Annemarie
Italian Meatball Sliders
- 1 lb ground beef, or a mix of ground beef and ground pork
- 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
- 2 cloves garlic, grated
- 2 tbsp finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
- 4 cups marinara sauce
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Buns and Topping
- 8 slider buns
- olive oil, to brush the buns
- kosher salt, for the buns
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 8 slices
- 2 tbsp fresh sliced basil leaves
Make the Mix
- Mix together the ground beef, breadcrumbs, egg, ricotta, parmesan, garlic, parsley, salt, and pepper until thoroughly combined.
- Divide the meat mixture into 8 parts and form each into a meatball. Set the meatballs aside in the refrigerator to rest for 15 minutes.
Toast the Buns
- Turn on the broiler and set the oven rack to the middle.
- Lay out the slider buns on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
- Toast the buns under the broiler until they are golden brown. Set aside.
Brown and Braise
- Set the oven to 400F.
- Pour the marinara into an oven safe skillet and bring it to a simmer.
- Heat the tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides.
- Transfer them to the marinara and braise in the oven for 10 minutes.
- Turn the meatballs over and continue braising until they are cooked through and reach 165F in the middle, about another 10 minutes.
- Switch the oven back to broil and top each meatball with a slice of mozzarella. Broil for 2-3 minutes, or until the mozzarella is melted and soft.
Finish the Sliders
- Place each meatball on a slider bun, add some basil and marinara and then put the top bun on.
- Serve the sliders with the remaining marinara on the side.
- Toasting: Don't skip this or the buns will turn to mush rather quickly.
- Ricotta: Use a fresh one if you can find it - one with just milk, vinegar, and salt.