It has been well established that paleo meatballs do not NEED a binder like bread or breadcrumbs to hold their shape. Recipes for grain free and dairy free meatballs can be found and most of them taste really good. But they still lack a certain authenticity, a softness, a “meatball-iness.” Or rather, they are heavy on the “meat” but come up short on the “ball-iness”! (There is a joke in there somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet…)
This recipe for AIP paleo meatballs uses the not-so-secret ingredient of mashed yuca to recreate the taste and sensation of the traditional bread-y meatball one’s Italian grandmother made from ground meat and leftover stale bread soaked in milk and held together with egg, but without the grains or the dairy (or even eggs). I don’t actually have an Italian grandmother and if I did, I’m not entirely sure this would fool her, but I’d like to think I’d come close! If you crave a traditional meatball, give this recipe a try. And if you do manage to fool an Italian grandma, I’d love to hear about it!
These meatballs are great served alone as appetizers or with your favorite sauce. They hold up well to simmering in tomato sauce (or “nomato” sauce for those of you who sensitive to nightshades or are eliminating them as part of the autoimmune paleo protocol) and taste even better as next-day leftovers when they have soaked up more of the flavor from the sauce.
What is yuca and where do I get it?
Yuca is a staple food in much of Latin America (where it may be called cassava) and in Africa (where it is often called manioc). In the United States, it can be found in groceries that cater to these populations, and I have also found it in the produce section of Whole Foods from time to time.
If you can get frozen yuca, you will be even better off. It is easier to work with and often better quality since the “fresh” yuca in our produce departments is probably not very fresh after its long trip. If all else fails, you can even order fresh yuca on Amazon as well as this canned yuca (disclaimer – I’ve never tried it and have no idea if it would work in this recipe or not).
Click here to learn more about yuca and find 15+ delicious paleo recipes that put it to good use!
Notes for healing diets
- Paleo Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) – The Paleo Approach (TPA): This recipe is compliant without modifications.
- Specific Carbohydrate Diet (SCD) – Unfortunately, yuca contains a starch that is forbidden on SCD. Not legal.
- Low-FODMAPs – Use the green part of scallions instead of onion and omit the garlic.
Paleo Italian Meatballs RecipePrint
Paleo Meatballs that will fool your Italian grandmother! (AIP-friendly)
- Total Time: 35 mins
- Yield: 20 1x
This AIP-friendly recipe aims to recreate the “bread-y” texture of a traditional Italian American meatball without grains, dairy, nuts, or eggs.
- 1/2 cup cooked, mashed, and cooled yuca
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 2 tablespoons finely minced onion
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup coconut oil
- In a large bowl, use your hands to combine yuca, meats, onion, garlic, oregano, and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Try to distribute the yuca evenly, but it is ok if some clumps stay together.
- Shape into meatballs about 1 inch in diameter (recipe should make about 20 meatballs).
- In a large skillet, heat coconut oil over medium low heat.
- Working in batches if necessary, fry meatballs until well browned on all sides. This will take about 20 minutes altogether. TIP – Do not start turning the meatballs until they have cooked for about 5 minutes. This will allow a nice brown crust to begin to form.
- Serve plain or with your favorite sauce as an appetizer, or simmer in your favorite red sauce and serve over a pasta substitute like zucchini noodles or spaghetti squash.
- Prep Time: 15 mins
- Cook Time: 20 mins
- Cuisine: Italian
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Shared on Paleo AIP Recipe Roundtable.
25 replies on “AIP Meatballs that will fool your Italian grandmother!”
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I was hesitant to try this recipe with no comments, but let me assure you, these meatballs are AMAZING! My previous years of gluten and grain enjoyment are long over. My specialty was previously homemade tomato sauce with homemade meatballs. For awhile, brown rice crumbs did the trick, but axing grains left me stumped to get moist, Italian meatballs. I was intrigued by the yuca (and I love cassava flour), so I finally found some frozen yuca, and this is a game-changer! It’s a *perfect* sub for the breadcrumbs and eggs in traditional recipes. We’ve also made meatloaf with this recipe as a general guide, and it’s equally as delicious. This is the only recipe I’ve seen like this, so hats off to you – and THANK YOU!
Thank you so much for posting! I’m glad you liked it… this is a favorite in our house too!
I agree with Elle: I was hesitant to make these because there was only one review — but I’m so glad I did! Using mashed cassava was genius, especially if you can’t use almond or coconut flour to replace bread crumbs. This recipe is delicious and truly innovative. I doubled the recipe and baked them (convection 400 degrees) instead of frying them cuz I’m lazy, and it worked beautifully. I used half the meatballs in Italian Wedding Soup (without the pasta) and half for serving with marinara. I’m so glad to have a reliable Italian meatball recipe again. Thanks so much for developing and sharing it!
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These meatballs were a game-changer for my family! Meatballs were always my specialty, and once I had to stop gluten, eggs and dairy, I mourned their loss. I had tried almond and coconut flour as subs, and it was never even close. But this recipe – THIS was my savior! I use frozen yuca to make it easy. I find I need to add extra spices, because the yuca is very neutral. But I have served these at holiday dinners filled with relatives without dietary restrictions – they all love them. I also bake these, and let them sit in homemade sauce for awhile to really meld the flavors. Oh – and we also use this as a base for meatloaf! Thank you so much!
What type of sauce did you put the meatballs in?
I made these for my in-laws Christmas party and they were a huge hit! All the kids loved them as well. My 6 year old nephew even asked for the recipe. My husband is currently AIP so I needed to make something he could eat for the party. These were tasty and held together great!
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There are only a few AIP recipes that I have in constant ‘repeat rotation’ but this definitely is one of them! I found a shortcut on the yuca— the most time-consuming part. I use about 1/3 C. Cassava flour (good ones on Amazon) and mix with water until it forms a thick paste. I also add about 1 T. chopped parsley. Another time saver is that you can bake them (20 minutes at 400 degrees), about 12 per cookie sheet, lined with foil & sprayed with olive or coconut oil. And, finally, they freeze well too!
🙂 happy camper
I am an Italian-American Canadian, and I have an Italian grandma. We LOVE these meatballs. We can’t often find yucca here in Canada so we sometimes substitute mashed white sweet potato, and instead of the pork, we use ground beef liver, but these are a favorite in our home! Yum!
That’s awesome! I’m glad to hear the sweet potato works well – not everyone can access cassava. And way to bump up the nutrient density with the liver!
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Thanks for the recipe. Do you know if this recipe would work as a meatloaf? Thanks for the response.
Hmmm…. that sounds like a good idea! I’m not sure how long you would need to bake it for though.
Yes, it does work! I couldn’t find yucca at the store and substituted cassava flour… it came out so well I now do it that way all the time, as it’s a time saver. Just mix the cassava flour with water to form a sticky paste. I use a shy 1/2 cup of flour to about 3 T. water… if total amount is equal to 1/2 cup your recipe will be spot on.
No yuca on hand; think you could make it work with cassava flour?
I think so, but I’m not sure what amount you should use.
I keep coming back to this recipe… such delicious meatballs!
[…] Paleo Meatballs that will fool your Italian grandmother! (AIP-friendly) […]