Slow Cooker Meatballs and Marinara ~ Savory Simple

A few years ago while channel surfing I landed upon PBS, a station that up until that moment I only associated with shows from my youth such as Sesame Street and The Electric Company.  That day I watched in awe as Julia Child and Jacques Pepin worked their magic with eggs. An entire show that was dedicated to the simple beauty of eggs.  I was enthralled. I think I lost the entire day as I watched shows hosted by Eric Ripert, Ming Tsai and Lidia Bastianich. At that very moment I became hooked on PBS, the other food network.  PBS has a lineup full of fantastic chefs demonstrating the kind of techniques I often find lacking on cooking shows. And it was while watching PBS that I first discovered America’s Test Kitchen. It’s not just a clever name; America’s Test Kitchen is an actual 2500 square foot test kitchen with more than three dozen full-time cooks and product testers. Each recipe is tested countless times until the best, foolproof results are created. Their methods really do work.  When I want a dependable fail-safe recipe I now turn to the experts who are also responsible for Cook’s Country and my favorite magazine, Cook’s Illustrated.

America’s Test Kitchen was kind enough to send me two of their cookbooks to review, The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook and The America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. I am so in awe of these books and all of the wonderful recipes.

Slow Cooker Meatballs and Marinara ~ Savory Simple

The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook is full of mouth-watering classic recipes and lovely photos.  It was hard to pick just one recipe to start with but I settled on slow cooker meatballs and marinara.  Mr. Savory loves meatloaf and I’ve been eager to break out the slow cooker so it seemed like the right combination. How were they? We’re both still daydreaming about these meatballs. They’re delicate, moist and the Italian sausage really gives them an intense flavor. And the sauce? It’s my new go-to marinara recipe.  Easy to make and perfectly awesome with pasta.

For this recipe I also made homemade mozzarella from The America’s Test Kitchen DIY Cookbook. You can find that recipe along with step-by-step photo instructions here. If that sounds daunting, let me reassure you: it’s surprisingly simple and fun to make homemade cheese.  The DIY Cookbook also has recipes for goat cheese, feta, ricotta, paneer and about a bazillion other things.  It’s certainly not limited to cheese; there are also sections with step-by-step instructions for pantry stapes, preserves, pickled foods, cured meats, beverages, desserts and snacks.

I know you’ll enjoy this recipe as much as I did. After the recipe you’ll find details about how to win copies of these fantastic cookbooks!

Slow Cooker Meatballs and Marinara ~ Savory Simple

Slow cooker Meatballs and Marinara
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Serves: 6 servings
Onion Mixture:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped fine
  • 1-6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup red wine
  • 2-28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 4 ounces Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 2 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (1/2 cup)
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • 1¼ pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • salt
For the onion mixture
  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onions, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, and salt and cook until softened and lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer half of the onion mixture to a large bowl and set aside.
For the marinara
  1. Add wine to the remaining onion mixture in pot and cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes, then transfer to a slow cooker.
For the meatballs
  1. Add sausage, mozzarella, parmesan, eggs, garlic and salt to bowl with reserved onion mixture. Mash with a potato masher until smooth. Add beef and cream to bowl and knead with hands until well combined. Lightly shape mixture into 2-inch round meatballs (about 12 total). Microwave meatballs on large plate until fat renders and meatballs are firm, 4 to 7 minutes. Nestle meatballs into slow cooker, discarding rendered fat. Cover and cook until meatballs are tender and sauce is slightly thickened, 4 to 5 hours on low. Let meatballs and sauce settle for 5 minutes, then skim fat from surface and stir in Parmesan and basil. Season with salt to taste. Serve.
Microwave the meatballs on a large plate or in a casserole dish to contain the rendering fat. This recipe makes enough to sauce 1½ pounds of pasta.

Recipe courtesy of The Complete Cook's Country TV Show Cookbook

And now for the giveaway! America’s Test Kitchen has offered to give away copies of BOTH of these fabulous cookbooks.  You don’t want to miss getting your hands on these; they’re amazing!  To enter, fill out the Rafflecopter form and make sure to read the steps carefully!  All entries will be verified before a winner is selected and invalid entries will be removed.  This contest is open to US residents only.  I’ll select a winner on 12/23/12 and contact them via the email provided.  If the winner doesn’t respond within 48 hours a new winner will be selected. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

  • Laura (Tutti Dolci)

    Only you could make me drool over meatballs at 9:30pm!!

  • Rachel

    Mmmm, meatballs!

  • FrancineS

    I need to break out the slow cooker!

  • Susan Haebig

    My hubby and I both love watching America’s Test Kitchen… Great contest! Thank you, Sue

  • Roger Stowell

    Very nice pictures and good meatball recipe. I’ve never understood the idea of recreating national specialities. Mozzarella is Italian and Kentucky Bourbon is American. I dread buying Italian Bourbon as I do American mozzarella. On second thoughts, there are probably as many Italians in the US as there are in Italy, so I’ll have to rethink this. Have a great Christmas and I look forward to your posts in 2013:)

  • Karen Marie

    Looks YUMMY! May have to try them this weekend. Thanks for the contest.

  • corinne

    I’ve got their Best Recipe cookbook, and they really do have the most foolproof recipes!

  • Joni N


  • little kitchie

    those meatballs look INSANE. i love watching those shows, too!

  • Liz @ The Lemon Bowl

    The look fantastic – I’ve never used a slow cooker for meatballs!

  • Cindy B.

    Hi Jennifer, your meatballs sounds delicious! I ‘m hooked on watching cooking shows also :)

  • Lan | angry asian

    i’m most interested in the homemade cheese steps!

  • LInda

    Jen your photography is very nice! The meatballs look and sound delicious too. I agree with you that these guys have a method that produces excellent results – Cooks Illustrated is one of my favs too.

  • Joanne @ Fifteen Spatulas

    Man, this is the second post today I’ve read about the awesomeness of a slow cooker! I love meatballs but most aren’t so good. I agree, you can trust ATK to put out a good recipe, and this is definitely going on my list since I trust your word. Great giveaway too! I have one of the ATK books on my Christmas list this year.

  • Jen

    I have always wanted to make my own cheese!

  • Erin@LawStudentsWife

    These look FABULOUS! I’m snowed into today and could go for a big plate for…breakfast? Yes, yes I could. I also didn’t know America’s Test Kitchen was the force behind Cook’s Illustrated. Awesome!


    YUM! It looks delicious! Pinning it now.

  • Alice

    I have been wanting to make mozzarella for some time now!! what a neat recipe!

  • Judy @Savoring Today

    ATK is always a reliable resource, one of my favorites. Your photos are fabulous, they make me want to grab a fork and dig-in–it’s that the point?! Great review, thanks.

  • Anna @ Crunchy Creamy Sweet

    My kiddos love meatballs so much more than spaghetti. It’s such a fan dish. I have to try making them in a slowcooker. Your pictures are stunning, as always!

  • Michelle

    Sounds like a wonderful winer dinner. Headed to the grocery store for ingredients now.

  • Bev @ Bev Cooks

    PBS is my liiiiiiiiiiiiiife. And ATK is so so so my jam! I love Chris’s bowtie. A little too much.

  • Olivia @ Liv Lives Life

    Beautiful photos and meal! I love slow cooker recipes.

  • Topper

    The meatballs look divine! Thanks for the recipe AND the giveaway. Merry Christmas!

  • Lacey

    This looks really good. I’m eager to try it.

  • Andrea F

    I love America’s Test Kitchen.

  • Matt Zimmermann

    I love the ATK Slow-Cooker Revolution book. I’ll have to try this version of the meatballs. Great contest. Good luck to all who enter.

  • ATL

    ATK has a great podcast, too.

  • Elin

    I love everything America’s Test Kitchen does! This is a great giveaway!

  • Mad Dog

    I wouldn’t microwave the meatballs, but otherwise great recipe ;-)

    • Jennifer Farley

      You really have to in order to render the fat. SO much fat came off in the microwave, you wouldn’t want that swimming in the slow cooker.

      • Mad Dog

        I’d fry them and remove the fat.

        • Jennifer Farley

          You can certainly try that, just make sure not to overcook them! You want them barely cooked when the go in the slow cooker.

  • Rachael

    Wow this looks delish! Can’t wait to try!

  • Jennifer

    I just found my New Years Eve dinner!

  • Kate

    love meatballs and the slow cooker!

  • Jill

    I haven’t used a slow cooker for meatballs before. What a great idea!

  • Alicia

    I freaking LOVE crockpot meatballs. I made some the other day and used worcester sauce – so, so good!

  • Rachael {SimplyFreshCooking}

    That’s a nice looking plate of pasta!!

  • claire @ the realistic nutritionist

    Oh my gawwwww, these meatballs.

  • Susan

    Thank you so much for the chance to win!

  • mbb


  • Katie @ Blonde Ambition

    I love the idea of microwaving the meatballs for a bit before putting them in the slow cooker! Saves the trouble of browning them :)

  • Cassie | Bake Your Day

    These sound so good to me. I love a classic meatball!

  • Brandie (@ Home Cooking Memories)

    Oh, these look AMAZING! And you also made your own mozzarella?? That’s so cool…always wanted to do that.

  • Jennifer T

    Slow cooked meatballs are a great way to end a busy day!

  • Gordon

    Those look so light and heavenly! Can’t wait to try out that recipe.

  • karen

    So mouthwatering! Thanks for the giveaway – I love ATK!

  • Aly

    I’ve been looking for a good slow cooker recipe for meatballs. Mmmm. Love it!

  • Shawna

    Mms mmm. Who doesn’t need a good, basic recipe like this? I love adding to my basics. And thanks for the giveaway.

  • Shawna

    I love meatballs and am a newby with a slow cooker, so this is perfect,

  • Natalie S

    This meal would be great to make for my family!

  • Jennifer Farley


  • Monet

    I have heard that slow cookers can do great things for meatballs…and these are making me hungry enough to break out mine from a packing box! Thank you for sharing another delicious eat, my friend, and thank you for your warm wishes on my blog. It means so much to me!

  • JulieD

    Not entering bc I have this book and I love it!! But I wanted to say I love your dark & moody photographs!! Just beautiful!!

    • Jennifer Farley

      Thanks, Julie!

  • Jessica@AKitchenAddiction

    Mmm, meatballs! I love America’s Test Kitchen!

  • Jennifer @ Mother Thyme

    I could eat meatballs and marinara everyday! Love this in the slow cooker!

  • jan

    These meatballs look amazing!

  • Chung-Ah | Damn Delicious

    Is there anything more comforting than meatballs and marinara?! And it’s always a plus when it can be made in the slow cooker!

  • Jackie @ Domestic Fits

    I JUST got a slow cooked for Christmas. I’m going to add this to my “To Slow Cook” list :) Oh, and I’m going to youtube Julia Child and Jacques Pepin, although I might not get anything else done today if I pull at that thread!

  • Heather

    Red wine marinara classes up the slow-cooker!

  • Ashley – Baker by Nature

    I have to make this! It’s that simple.

  • Dianne Shaw

    Great recipe & great giveaway!

  • Sandy Tope

    Looks delish!

  • Kary

    Definitely need to pick up another slow cooker. That looks amazing.

  • Carol Pullen

    Those meatballs look so yummy!!!! Thank you for the contest :)

  • Kate@Diethood

    The meatballs sound so, so good!! I’m all over that marinara!

  • john@kitchenriffs

    I’ll never say no to a meatball. Good recipe, great pictures – thanks. And I hope you have a wonderful holiday.

  • jacquie

    being a vegetarian the meatballs don’t interest me but that sauce looks great – wonder how it would be combined w/ some portabella mushrooms??

    • Jennifer Farley

      I think it would be great!

  • Kayle (The Cooking Actress)

    These photos are gorgeous and I adore how yummy the meatballs and marinara look!!!

  • Aggie

    There are some definite cooking show gems on PBS! I’ve found myself drawn in when channel surfing. I just added two ATK cookbooks to my collection & have to say that I love them! Need to check these out at the library next time I’m there. And start DVR ing their show :)

  • Erin @ Texanerin Baking

    Interesting method here! And I LOVE these photos! So beautiful.

    I’ve never actually seen ATK but I know that their cookbooks must be amazing because of all the talk about them. And great giveaway. :)

  • Khadeja

    I’m on a meatball kick and I will definitely be trying this recipe :D

  • Jennifer

    I’m making these tomorrow. I can’t tell you how ridiculously excited I am about it.

    • Jennifer Farley

      Let me know how they turn out!

      • jennifer

        Fantastic! Delicate, tender, delicious and so easy to make. My new go to recipe for meatballs and marinara sauce. Thanks for sharing. :)