Parmesan Meatballs & Orzo in Mozzarella Basil Cream Sauce (Lightened Up)

These Parmesan Meatballs are coated in a delectably creamy basil cream sauce and served with orzo. Plus, they’re ready in under an hour!

Juicy meatballs, tender orzo, and lightened up luscious sauce — you are going to want to make this soon.  Very soon.

Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil being served with a wood spoon.

Parmesan Meatballs Recipe

I love hearty meaty pasta dishes, from my Million Dollar Baked Penne to my Spaghetti Bolognese to my Shrimp Fettuccine, but I also love meatballs like my Cranberry Meatballs,  Korean Meatballs and Swedish Meatballs so why not combine them in more recipes than just Meatballs and Spaghetti?   

Because meatballs make everything better and and these Parmesan Meatballs are dreamy. You are going to want to throw them in all your pastas!  So prepare to fall in love and prepare to fall hard.

When you are in the mood for comfort food, it doesn’t get much better than a velvety, creamy sauce unless the sauce is infused with fresh basil, garlic and shallots and spiced with hints of Dijon and paprika AND creamified with Parmesan and mozzarella — heavy on the mozzarella — all coating and cradling Parmesan meatballs and tender orzo.  Yeah, doesn’t get any better.

Orzo is also perfect for this orzo pasta because every last centimeter gets bathed in sauce. Every centimeter. The sauce only uses 1 tablespoon of butter to make a roux, while the milk and only ½ cup cream are mixed with cornstarch so the sauce is extra thick and creamy without lots of butter. But there still is cheese. You can’t have a mozzarella cream sauce without cheese. And boy, is it so good!

Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil being served in a white bowl.

Parmesan Meatballs Ingredients

These Parmesan oven baked meatballs have three components: the meatballs themselves, the orzo pasta, and the mozzarella basil cream sauce.

  • Orzo pasta: Cook the orzo until al dente, but no further.
  • Ground beef: Use lean ground beef so the meatballs will be tender but not greasy.
  • Panko breadcrumbs: Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs and can be fond next to the traditional breadcrumbs.
  • Eggs: Helps bind the meatballs together.
  • Onion: Yellow or red onion may be used.
  • Worcestershire sauce: Adds umami flavor to the meatballs.
  • Dried herbs and spices: The Parmesan meatballs and basil cream sauce are seasoned to perfection with dried basil, parsley, oregano, garlic powder, and more!
  • Olive oil: Use extra virgin olive oil for the most flavor.
  • Garlic:  I use 4-6 cloves garlic and it is divine but feel free to use less if you prefer. You may also use 1 teaspoon garlic powder – but the real stuff is so much better!
  • Butter: You need just 1 tablespoon in the cream sauce.
  • Shallot: I prefer the milder onion-garlic flavor of shallot in the cream sauce, but use a yellow onion if that’s all you have on hand.
  • All-purpose flour: Helps thicken the sauce. You may substitute with gluten free all-purpose flour.
  • Chicken broth: Is more flavorful than just milk or half and half. Make sure you use low sodium broth so we can control the salt.
  • Milk: Low-fat milk can be used in the cream sauce.
  • Heavy cream: Don’t substitute half and half here.
  • Cornstarch: Helps thicken the sauce without needing to add extra butter.
  • Dijon mustard: Adds a punch of flavor without overpowering the sauce.
  • Cheese: I used a blend of mozzarella and Parmesan for both flavor and creaminess.
  • Frozen peas: Be sure to thaw the peas before adding them to the sauce.
  • Fresh basil: To see how to chiffonade basil, click HERE.
Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil being served in a white bowl with a fork.

Ingredient Variations

  • You can substitute a different pasta but I especially love the texture of the rice-like orzo with the meatballs. 
  • I have not tried these Parmesan meatballs with ground turkey or chicken but I am sure they would be delicious, just a little less juicy. Whenever I substitute turkey for beef, I like to add some beef bouillon, you can also add a splash of oil as well.
  • 22 Saltine crackers add a fabulous flavor in place of panko or breadcrumbs. I’m sure Ritz crackers would also work well but I haven’t personally tried them.
Top view of Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil being served in a white bowl.

How to Make Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo

These ground beef meatballs have a few moving parts, but everything comes together fairly quickly!

  1. Mix together the Parmesan meatball ingredients, then form meatballs into heaping 1-tablespoon balls.
  2. Brown meatballs in an oiled skillet, then bake until cooked through.
  3. Meanwhile, cook the orzo pasta according to package instructions.
  4. Make the basil cream sauce, simmering until thickened.
  5. Once the sauce is done, add the cooked meatballs and orzo.
  6. Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, and fresh parsley/basil and lemon juice, if desired.

How Long to Bake Meatballs

If searing the meatballs in advance, they’ll need to bake for roughly 10 to 15 minutes at 350F. If you don’t brown the meatballs first, they’ll need to bake for 20 to 25 minutes.

Tips for Making Parmesan Meatballs

  • How do I thin the sauce? The sauce can become too thick if its simmered at too high of heat or for too long. But don’t worry, it’s SO easy to fix! Simply stir in a little reserved pasta water after you combine the orzo with the sauce until it reaches desired consistency.
  • How do you thicken the sauce?  The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it’s not as thick as you would like, then simmer longer.
  • Do I have to brown the meatballs first? No! Instead, you can bake meatballs for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through without browning first.
Showing step by step how to make Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil by adding meatballs and orzo.

Recipe Variations to Try

  • Use a different protein. I love these easy homemade meatballs, but you could also use meal prepped shredded chicken, sausage, you name it!
  • Use a different type of pasta. Avoid using anything too delicate (like angel hair pasta). Otherwise, any kind of pasta works with this Parmesan meatball recipe.
  • Add extra veggies. I kept things simple and stirred in just frozen peas. But broccoli, peas and carrots, and so on will work too.

Can I Prep Parmesan Meatballs in Advance?

Yes! You can either refrigerate the raw meatballs and bake them off later, or refrigerate the meatballs once cooked to make this a super quick meal to throw together later.

How to Store Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo

You should store the oven baked meatballs and orzo tossed in basil cream sauce in an airtight container in the fridge. It should last up to 4 days.

Close uo shot stirring Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil.

How to Reheat Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo

The ground beef meatballs and orzo can be reheated in the microwave at 30-second intervals, or in a saucepan over medium-low heat. You may need to add a splash of broth or milk to thin out the sauce.

Can I Freeze Parmesan Meatballs?

Yes, the meatballs can be frozen by themself before being added to the sauce.

  1. Bake Parmesan meatballs according to directions.
  2. Let meatballs cool to room temperature.
  3. Place entire baking tray with the meatballs in the freezer. You will want to make sure the meatballs are not touching so they don’t freezer together.  If your freezer can’t accommodate your baking tray then use a small tray and freeze in batches. 
  4. Freeze for 1-2 hours.
  5. When your meatballs are frozen enough that they won’t stick together, transfer meatballs to freezer safe bags or containers.
  6. Label meatballs and store meatballs in the freezer for up to 3 months.

What to Serve with Parmesan Meatballs and Orzo

Because this dish is already so hearty, it’s best paired with a lighter side. Some of my favorite things to serve with these oven baked meatballs include:

Looking for More Meatballs Dinner Ideas?

Close up of Parmesan Meatballs in a cream sauce with orzo and basil with a meatball on a fork.

Parmesan Meatballs in Mozzarella Basil Cream Sauce

Servings: 4 -6
Total Time: 1 hr 5 mins
Prep Time: 40 mins
Cook Time: 25 mins

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Ingredients

  • 12 oz orzo pasta

Parmesan Meatballs

Mozzarella Basil Cream Sauce

Garnish (optional)

Instructions

  • Parmesan Meatballs: Preheat oven to 350F degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil (for easy cleanup). Add all of the Parmesan Meatball ingredients to a large bowl and mix until evenly combined. Form meatballs into heaping 1 tablespoon balls (approximately 40 meatballs).
  • Lightly coat the bottom of a large nonstick skillet with olive oil and heat to medium high heat. Brown meatballs on all sides (I did mine in two batches), drain on paper towels then line on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 -15 minute or until cooked through.***
  • Meanwhile, cook orzo pasta in generously salted water.
  • Mozzarella Basil Cream Sauce: Whisk cornstarch with milk, set aside.
  • Melt butter in olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet. Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 60 seconds. Sprinkle in flour and cook while stirring for 3 minutes then turn heat to low. Slowly whisk in chicken broth, then mil (with cornstarch), then heavy cream, stirring constantly until smooth. Turn heat to medium high and bring the sauce to a simmer while stirring constantly. Stir in Dijon and dry spices and continue to simmer until almost thickened, stirring occasionally. Add peas and continue to simmer until thickened and peas are cooked through.
  • Reduce heat to low and stir in Parmesan cheese until melted, followed by mozzarella cheese until melted. Stir in fresh basil and fresh parsley, followed by orzo and meatballs, adding additional milk if necessary to reach desired consistency. Taste and season with additional salt, pepper and/or red pepper flakes to taste.
  • Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, and fresh parsley/basil and lemon (optional).

Notes

*Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs and can be fond next to the traditional breadcrumbs. **To see how to chiffonade basil, click HERE ***Alternatively you can bake meatballs for 20-25 minutes or until cooked through without browning first. ***You can refrigerate raw meatballs or meatballs once cooked to make this a super quick meal to throw together later.

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65 Comments

  1. Meghan says

    Hi! Have you ever made this with ground chicken?

    • Jen says

      Hi Meghan I haven’t, sorry!

  2. PJ says

    Can the sauce be made w/o the mustard. I detest it

  3. Sarah says

    Is dry chopped onion a fresh onion that’s not overly wet or dried minced onion kind of thing from seasoning aisle?

    • Jen says

      Sorry for the confusion Sarah! It’s dried minced onion from the seasoning aisle. Enjoy!

  4. Natalia Smith says

    Jen, these meatballs are phenomenal. All your recipes are so good. I am preparing this for Valentine’s day. My boyfriend loves them. Thank you so much for another great recipe. So yummy.

    • Jen says

      You are so welcome Natalia! Thank you for making my recipes and for taking the time to comment!

  5. Crissy says

    This was delicious! I accidentally left out the flour and it was still thick! I would use fresh grated onion in the meatballs next time. Very yummy recipe!

    • Jen says

      Thanks so much Crissy, I’m so pleased it will be on repeat!

  6. Cathy Simmonds says

    Question. Why both thickening agents-flour and cornstarch?

    • Jen says

      I prefer to use both because:

      1) You don’t need as much butter in the roux so the sauce has half the fat!
      2) You reap the benefits of the flavorful roux instead of a flavorless slurry.
      3) You reap the benefits of a rich, creamy roux based sauce and a smoother, silkier slurry based sauce AKA the ideal texture and consistency.
      4) You avoid the overly shiny gumminess that often is associated with slurry sauces.

  7. Artistandlovestocook says

    This recipe didn’t disappoint It is wonderful! I made if for my husband and myself and we have lots leftover. Can this be frozen? I am a seasoned cook and we make home made meat filled ravioli etc. I love the wonderful mixes of spices and how the meld when cooked. My one concern is that the prep stage always takes longer.

    Looking forward to your comments re freezing. It doesn’t have a lot of cream and I thought I could thin it when defrosted with some milk or broth.

    Thank you. I always appreciate the extra notes you add. I know that takes time to cover so many thoughts but it is greatly appreciated.

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much, I’m so sorry I’m just now getting to your comment! Yes, I would think this would freeze okay because like you said it doesn’t have a lot of cream and mozzarella is one of the best cheeses to freeze due to its higher fat content. Please let me know how it goes!

  8. Jessica says

    Could the meatballs, orzo and sauce be made ahead of time and combined when heating and eating? I meal prep for families and think they would enjoy this but don’t know how the sauce would reheat

    • Jen says

      Absolutely! The orzo with sauce actually reheats very well, you may just need to add a splash of milk to thin out a bit.

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