Classic Meatballs With Tomato Sauce, An Essential Recipe

Classic Meatballs With Tomato Sauce, An Essential Recipe

Spaghetti with meatballs and marinara sauce, is considered an American family favorite.  Many think this well-known favorite is Italian, but it isn’t. Italy has its own version of meatballs, but they are called “polpettes” but they are not served with pasta.  Unlike most American meatballs, polpettes are typically made from turkey or fish and are much similar to the size. In my house homemade meatballs with tomato sauce is a staple, and the pasta is totally optional.

Italian immigrants who came to America in the early 1900’s began making meatballs because meat was cheap.  Sauce was added later and started with what was called “sailor sauce“.  This basic marinara sauce came from Naples and is derived from the Italian word “marinara“, meaning “sailor“.  Spaghetti, one of the only Italian ingredients available in the States at that time, came last. And people soon began eating everything all together.

Meatballs Around The World:

Meatballs are a much-loved savory staple in many cultures around the world, just with slight variations and different names.  Here are just a few:

  • Denmark = “frikadeller
  • Poland, “klopsy
  • Turkey “inegol
  • Austria “fleischlaibchen
  • Finnland “lihapullat
  • Germany “frikadelle
  • Hungary “fasirt” 
  • Russia “koteleti” 
  • Spain “albondigas
  • Middle East “kofta
  • Israel “ktzitzot

meatballs with tomato sauce

My family loves meatballs with tomato sauce, straight up or with spaghetti swirled in.  I make meatballs several different ways, but this recipe is a more classic one using ground beef and veal.

But truthfully, the permutations of meatball making is endless, but cooking them requires a lot of practice. Gently making them with your hands, lightly browning them followed by slow stewing them gives you a delicious juicy meatball that you can’t resist. Meatballs with tomato sauce is a perfect weekday meal and especially welcoming in the cooler winter months.

Meatballs With Tomato Sauce

April 10, 2018
: 4-6
: 30 min
: 55 min
: 1 hr 25 min
: medium


  • For the Meatballs:
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground veal
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
  • For the Tomato Sauce:
  • 2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup yellow onion, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 whole bay leafs
  • 3/4-1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 pound cooked spaghetti (optional)
  • Step 1 For the Meatballs:In a medium mixing bowl, add the ground beef and veal. Mix well.
  • Step 2 To the beef mixture, add the garlic, parsley, oregano, salt, pepper, panko bread crumbs, egg and Parmesan cheese. Using your hands, mix well to fully incorporate.
  • Step 3 Next, use your hands to gently form about 1-2 teaspoons of the mixture into small meatball. Place the meatballs on a large plate without overcrowding. Set aside.
  • Step 4 Place a large dutch oven over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, but not smoking, carefully add the meatballs to the Dutch oven in one layer. Gently shake the dutch oven to loosen the meatballs. Cook, lightly browning the meatballs for about 5 minutes.
  • Step 5 Using a small teaspoon,gently turn the meatballs and cook for an additional 5 minutes.
  • Step 6 Sprinkle the minced onions and garlic on top of the browned meatballs. Add the crushed tomatoes (and their juice), oregano, bay leaves, salt and pepper. Using a wooden spoon, carefully stir the meatballs and sauce to incorporate. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat slightly, cover and cook for an additional 15 minutes.
  • Step 7 Stir the meatballs and sauce again. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook, covered for an additional 30 minutes.
  • Step 8 Garnish with parsley and serve with pasta of your choice,

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