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 hour 5 minutes
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes

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  • 12 oz orzo pasta

Parmesan Meatballs

Mozzarella Basil Cream Sauce

Garnish (optional)


  • 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).


*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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  1. Laura says

    Hi Jen,
    In the instructions, number 1 says to preheat oven and yet there doesn’t seem to be any use for the oven. I’ve read it over several times, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t missed something! 😉 Please let me know if I have missed a step somewhere.
    Cheers from Australia!

    • Jen says

      Hi Laura from Australia! In step 2 after you brown the meatballs in a skillet, you bake them for 10-15 minutes. Hope that helps!

  2. Allison says

    Came out great! We loved it!

    • Jen says

      YAY! So happy to hear it Allison! Thank you!

    • Jen says

      You are too kind, thank you so much Justin!

  3. Alex says

    This dish is the best thing that I have cooked in a looooong time. Man is this good!!! I would suggest reading the entire recipe before you start and maybe even measuring out the ingredients if you want to keep it to the 40 min prep time. I didn’t, and I definitely went over the time. I also increased the total amount of meat to 2lbs because we like our meatballs a little bigger. Never the less, it was well worth the cook time. Delish!!!

    • Jen says

      Thank you for such an awesome compliment -thank you Alex! I am thrilled you loved it so much! Thanks for making my day!

  4. Kathy M says

    Would this freeze well? I know I can freeze the meatballs, but would I be able to freeze the sauce? Thanks

    • Jen says

      Hi Kathy, I have never frozen this so I can’t give you a definite answer but I think it should freeze well as it is a milk based sauce and not a cream based sauce. Good luck!

  5. Deborah says

    Made this for dinner tonight and it was amazing!! Pretty much followed it to a t. I was afraid my sauce wasn’t thick enough, but when I stirred it into the orzo it was perfect. Even my picky eater almost ate his whole portion!!

    • Jen says

      Hi Deborah, to be honest I am kind of giddy you tried one of my recipes and so happy your family enjoyed it – yay! Thank you so much for making my day 🙂

  6. SaraLily says

    Ooooo YUM! I am totally making this for dinner one of these weeks! If I make it on a weekend, I will totally go for the meatball recipe. If it falls on a weekday…well, perhaps it will be a frozen meatball night 😉

    • Jen says

      Hi SaraLily! I completely agree with your logic – sometimes frozen meatballs are the only way to go – as long as you still get the homemade sauce I call that a victory! Enjoy!!!

    • Jen says

      I hope you love it Cat!! xoxo

  7. Kathy says

    I have been making the Slow Cooker Salisbury Steak often, even for company! I do a couple of things differently. I add an envelope of dry onion soup mix to the meat mixture before making the patties. It started as a mistake but was so good that I left it. I use Italian flavored bread crumbs because it’s what I had on hand. I use the whole egg, too. I chop a small sweet onion finely and add to the meat as well. After the mixture is shaped into patties, I dredge them in flour then brown them on both sides in a few tablespoons of canola oil. I’m only browning them, not cooking the through. I spray the slow cooker with cooking spray then I place the patties into the cooker creating an offset stack. The sauce in a bowl has a family size cream of mushroom sauce, one pound of sliced mushrooms, some Worchestershire sauce (my favorite condiment) and the ketchup. I add two envelopes of mushroom gravy mix and pour it over the meat. On low for 4-6 hours it fills the house with a great smell. I never open the slow cooker to peek. I make mashed potatoes (red or Yukon gold with skins on, russets peeled ) from scratch but in a pinch it’s great with boxes mashed potatoes , hot rice or egg noodles. Just some thoughts. I can’t wait to try some of your other recipes !

    • Jen says

      Sounds delicious Kathy! I’ll have to give it a try sometime!

  8. Jen says

    Cornstarch is listed in the ingredient list. Is that considered a spice? I don’t see where I am supposed to add corn starch in the directions. Actually, the instructions say to add dry spices with the Dijon mustard but I don’t see any dry spices.

    • Jen says

      HI Jen! In step 3 it says to whisk cornstarch with milk and set aside. The dry spices would be the paprika, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes. Hope this helps!

      • Nancy M says

        Still wondering though, when do you add the cornstarch that’s been whisked with milk? Recipe doesn’t say ….

        • Jen says

          Hi Nancy! In Step 5 when it says to add milk, it is referring to the milk that has been whisked with the cornstarch in Step 4. So that is when you add it – hope that helps!

    • Jen says

      Holly! I am so behind but wanted to thank you for your kind comment! I hope you and your family love this one! I am SO EXCITED to see you in less than two weeks! You were the tipping point that got me to go because I adore you :)!

  9. Kim says

    Having this scrumptious dish tonight and can’t wait for it and to share it with my friend and hubby! Made the meatballs yesterday. HAD 40 but now that my hubby couldn’t resist, I have 39. He loved it! So will the meatballs gear up enough in the sauce or do I need to reheat again before sauce. I’m afraid to dry them out.

    • Jen says

      HI Kim! I’m excited for you to put the pasta and meatballs all together! If you take the meatballs out of the fridge and bring them to room temperature then they should heat up enough (I recommend that method) but if you put them straight in from the fridge you will have to simmer them a little longer in the sauce. Hope this helps, enjoy!

      • Kim says

        Awesome!! Can’t wait to try it!!!

        • Jen says

          Thanks Kim, hope you love it!

      • Kim Hahn says

        This was FANTASTIC and loved by all, even shared the recipe with my friends! Thanks for the yummy recipe!

        • Jen says

          YAY! I am so happy it was a hit! Thank you so much Kim and thanks for sharing it as well!

  10. Rachel says

    This was delish! The perfect comfort food for a snowy day. I made a large batch of my own recipe of meatballs on Monday & froze them. This definitely cut down on prep time as I just threw in however many I wanted & let them simmer in the sauce to thaw. I didn’t have fresh basil so just added some dried. Even my 3 year old asked for a second helping!

    • Jen says

      Hi Rachel, what a great idea to make and freeze the meatballs beforehand so you can always have your own on hand – yum! I am so happy you loves this, even your 3 year old! I hope you can stay safe and warm in the snow! Thanks so much!

  11. Kelly says

    I don’t know what I am doing wrong, but this is the second time I’ve made this, and there is SOOO MUCH SAUCE. If I added it all, it would be soup. Tastes great, just very, very saucy.

    • Jen says

      hmmmmm, not sure what is happening either. I would suggest using 16 oz. orzo next time instead of the 12, other than that, I am mystified! Sorry I can’t be of more help!

  12. Breanne says

    Seriously delicious dish! I made chicken meatballs and stuffed them with bocconcini. I also subbed cashew milk for heavy cream and it worked very well! Huge hit at my house, thanks for the great recipe

    • Jen says

      Thank you so much Breanne, I am so happy this was such a huge hit and your meatballs sound divine!!

  13. Stephanie Hitchings says

    I made this for the first time for my roommates and best friend and I must say it was pretty darn delicious however we did have some challenges. The recipe definitely has longer then 20 minutes of prep or maybe I was just to slow? XD but it definitely took longer then 20 minutes. we also had an issue with the meatballs falling apart in the pan as we were trying to brown them but I don’t know if that was a problem with the meat or the recipe itself. the last little issue we had was the confusion about when the milk goes in. We definitely did not scroll far enough in the comments to see that someone already asked for clarification on when the milk goes into the recipe. so we ended up adding the milk and cream and broth at the same time without realizing the cornstarch was supposed to be in the milk at that point.

    aside from those problems though everything turned out great. I would definitely make this again ^^

    • Jen says

      Hi Stephanie, I am so happy you enjoyed this recipe! I’m sorry your meatballs fell apart though – I have never had this problem or any other readers so I am wondering if you used a nonstick skillet and if the meatballs were pressed together firmly enough? As far as the milk goes, it says to whisk it with the cornstarch in the beginning of step 4 and to set aside – this instruction is one line and can be easy to miss. Hopefully next time it can be a total success!

  14. Chantalle says

    Hi Jen. Made this orzo yesterday. It was truly delicious. It was a big hit. For today I made your 7 layer cheesecake. Just taste a little bit. It is amazing. Thank you. Chantalle (from the Netherlands).

    • Jen says

      Hi Chantalle, I’m so happy you enjoyed both these Parmesan Meatballs and the 7 layer cheesecake bars! You have great taste 🙂 Thank you so much for making my recipes!

  15. Heather says

    I was thinking about making this with frozen meatballs since I have a huge bag in my freezer and not much to do with them… would I need to change any of the steps (other than making the meatballs obviously!)? Would rather make my own but I really need to get rid of some of them and they just take up so much room in the freezer!

    • Jen says

      Hi Heather, this recipe is perfect for using up those frozen meatballs! You wouldn’t have to change a thing! Enjoy!

  16. Rachel says

    This was really tasty!
    Instead of orzo, I used a brown rice & quinoa fusilli and it was perfect! Def will be making this again!

    • Jen says

      mmmm, I love the brown rice and quinoa substitute! So happy you liked it Rachel, thank you!

  17. Cari says

    Hi Jen!

    I am definitely making this, it looks so good! Do you have a calorie breakdown for this recipe?

  18. Meghan says

    Hi! Have you ever made this with ground chicken?

    • Jen says

      Hi Meghan I haven’t, sorry!

  19. PJ says

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

  20. 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!

  21. 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!

  22. 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!

  23. 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.

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. Maureen says

    Meatballs were delicious but some of the flavor was lost because there was a lot of sauce for 12 oz. of orzo. Is there a way of cutting it down without adding more pasta?

    • Jen says

      Yes! You could use 1 cup chicken broth and 1 TBS cornstarch next time.

  27. L. says

    Is the Dried Onion the same product as onion Flakes?

  28. Caroline Chang says

    I hate people that say they made a recipe but made a zillion modifications!! However, I did make this and we loved it! I used pre-made meatballs (had them in the freezer), and I didn’t have fresh basil, but used some pesto instead. I used fresh peas instead of frozen, but I followed the recipe other than these little things. It made a huge amount, (there are only 2 of us), so we’ll have plenty for leftovers. Will definitely make this again!!

    • Jen says

      Thank you, Caroline! I am so happy it worked for you and that it’s a repeat! Thanks for making my recipes and taking the time to comment!

  29. Gigi1956 says

    I don’t have any orzo – would this still be as good with penne?

  30. Tonya says

    What does 1/3 cup dry chopped onion mean?

  31. Jen says

    Hi Tonya, it is dry onion that you purchase in the jar in the spices section. Good luck!