These well-seasoned Italian meatballs are incredibly tender, cooked directly in a thick tomato sauce. Serve with any tubular pasta for an easy dinner your whole family will love.
Homemade Italian Meatballs in Sauce
The first thing you notice when you meet author and food blogger Andie Mitchell is her 1,000-watt smile. The next thing you notice is her intense interest in you. YOU have all of her focus, all of her attention. It’s like the two of you are the only ones in the room.
That’s why Andie is a favorite among food bloggers, and, well, pretty much anyone who comes across her path.
Andie’s path isn’t your normal path. It’s been littered with strife, struggles and depression. But it’s also emerged as a path of victory, including her 130-pound weight loss story and her newly announced engagement to her life-long love. She’s the first to admit her path hasn’t been an easy one. But she’s determined. She’s authentic. And she’s she’s taking all of us along on her rocket ride of success.
We first featured Andie on FoodieCrush almost two years ago, sharing her incredible weight-loss journey as part of our “5 Food Bloggers’ Weight Loss Success Stories” piece.
Andie has a way with words. Whether it’s a personal anecdote, weight loss advice, a recipe written on her blog, (AndieMitchell.com formerly known as Can You Stay For Dinner) or while inspiring others online in her TED Talk, Andie is honest and relatable and a documenter of real life when she shares her own vulnerabilities and experiences.
Last year we devoured her moving memoir and New York Times Best Seller It Was Me All Along, so it’s only fitting that we would love her new cookbook, Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook, beautifully photographed by the talented Aran Goyoaga, of Cannelle et Vanille.
Andie’s cookbook is chockfull of stunning photography and 80 healthy (but not too virtuous) recipes, all of which we want to stuff our faces with, including her family favorite PJ’s Meatballs and Sauce that you’ll find at the end of this interview. So, let’s dig in.
“I really wanted this cookbook to represent the way I eat today, so it’s roughly 80% wholesome (everyday healthy eating) and 20% indulgent (decadent desserts and big celebration meals),” Andie explains.
“That balance is so important to me, because it’s real and it’s practical. It’s about creating a life. I spent one too many years swinging back and forth between dieting and overeating, and all it ever did was cause me to gain weight and feel shame, guilt, and regret. It took me a long time to find a middle ground, which is what “eating in the middle” is: a balance between health and happiness. I hope people will see that you don’t have to live in a completely all-or-nothing world, and that practicing balance is possible.”
“Writing my memoir was much more difficult emotionally,” Andie confesses. “When I wrote It Was Me All Along, I felt vulnerable — almost like I was giving a piece of myself to readers. The cookbook was a more straightforward process, and I liked how different it was to be in the kitchen for one half of it, having fun and being creative with recipes.”
“But it’s funny,” she notes. “Maybe writing a book is a little like having a baby in that, while you’re doing it, you say to yourself, ‘I don’t know if I can do this again.’ Then you mind-erase and start again.”
My List of 10 Q’s for Andie’s A’s
1. Describe your blog in 3 words:
Balanced healthy eating.
2. If you could be one blogger other than yourself, who would you be?
Jessica of How Sweet It Is.
3. Which 3 blogs do you follow/are obsessed with/can’t live a day without?
4. What is the one kitchen tool you could never give up?
Good knives. Sharp knives make all the difference in quick and efficient cooking, and right now I’m using a few different ones (depending on what I’m chopping/slicing), by ZWILLING.
5. What dish are you obsessed with mastering that you just can’t get quite right?
It used to be PJ’s sauce. He’s the type who doesn’t use a recipe or measure anything, so when I would try to replicate it, the taste would just be a little off every time. When I decided to include it in the cookbook, I kept testing it to get the measurements just right (and as an excuse to eat meatball sandwiches) and I finally nailed it.
The thing I find can be tricky to cook perfectly EVERY time, though? Salmon. I’m constantly working on my dang salmon “doneness.”
6. What did you have for dinner last night?
A few weeks ago I made a short video for a Facebook group I lead with Gina of Skinnytaste.com, for my Jerk Shrimp Salad with Mango and Avocado. My fiance Daniel liked the shrimp so much that last night, I came into the kitchen and he was making it himself, so I had a heart attack before we ate. The end.
7. What’s one secret talent outside of the kitchen nobody knows about you?
I think I’m really good at gift giving. I inherited this from my parents, who have always poured a lot of thought into what they gifted each other, or given to my brother and me, at birthdays and Christmas. I take notes whenever I hear a loved one expressing a wish, I ask people around them to find out what they’re missing, and I love to hunt down a unique item that’ll surprise them. I love organizing surprise events, too!
8. You’re happiest when cooking/eating:
9. The one secret to your success is?
Being kind to people.
10. What is the biggest piece of advice you could offer to someone who is struggling to make some healthy changes in their diet and lifestyle?
Many people, especially those who struggle with their weight and health, see healthy living as binary. Either they are being healthy OR unhealthy — on their diet OR off their diet. I know this is how I used to feel. If I was eating healthy and I gave in and had an Oreo, it felt like failure, so I kept going and made poor decision after poor decision to compound the first. Might as well eat the whole package of Oreos then! ← It took me, oh, maybe a million years to realize that this pattern of thinking is destructive.
It is more destructive to have a black-and-white attitude (where 1 Oreo leads to a package of Oreos), than to allow for a little bit of gray zone—where no food is off-limits and so an Oreo does not equal failure, and thus, doesn’t require a binge when you “cave” and have one.
So start there: Free yourself up a little from those “good” and “bad” food labels, and see if that doesn’t make it a little easier to be kind to yourself, to forgive yourself, and to make decisions about what to eat moment to moment — rather than from a place of restriction.
PJ’s Italian Meatballs in Sauce
Of all the delicious recipes I nearly chose from Andie’s book Eating In the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook, I had no idea that this one meant so much to her and that she would mention it so much in our interview.
I’m taking it to be a sign that I chose right. But it wasn’t just a sign. My husband whole heartedly agreed.
I may have chosen this Italian meatballs recipe to go with this interview, but my husband is the one who fixed it for us for dinner.”This was the easiest recipe we’ve made in a while!” he commented as he served up PJ’s meatballs doused in a rich sauce with toothy pasta for me and Smudge.
Words like that in any kitchen are music to every home cook’s ears.
Andie notes in the head notes of the recipe in her book that this is a family staple. I can see why.
The meatballs are named for her stepfather, Paul Joseph, who Andie nicknamed PJ. He’s the one who created this easy meatballs recipe and included an unusual ingredient addition to classic Italian meatballs: dried mint.
The meatballs in this recipe are incredibly tender, due to the fact that they aren’t fried or baked, but simply cooked straight in the tomato sauce. I’m totally stealing this idea for each and every future meatball recipe I make.
The rest of the Italian meatballs recipe is really just waiting for the meatballs to simmer and cook through and boiling some pasta.
What’s in These Italian Meatballs?
This homemade meatball recipe has two main parts: the Italian meatballs themselves and the addicting meatball sauce they’re cooked in. You can serve these with pasta like I did to make a meal of them, or serve them plain as an appetizer. Your call!
Here’s what you’ll need to make the Italian meatballs and flavorful meatball sauce:
- Olive oil
- Crushed tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Dried herbs
- Ground beef
- Italian breadcrumbs
How to Cook Meatballs in Sauce
Cooking meatballs in sauce couldn’t be simpler. You’ll first need to whip up the rich tomato sauce and let it simmer for 30 minutes. Be sure to stir the meatball sauce occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn and the flavors develop.
While the sauce bubbles away, mix together the meatball ingredients and shape into balls (a small ice cream scoop is useful here). Once formed, drop the meatballs into the sauce and let them cook for about an hour.
Near the end of the cook time, boil the pasta. You can stir the pasta straight into the meatballs in sauce, or serve them separately so each person can ladle as much sauce over their pasta as they’d like.
Can I Use Ground Turkey Instead of Ground Beef?
I’m sure you could! Just be sure to use a grind of meat that has a bit of fat in it or the Italian meatballs will be really dry no matter what you do. Also be sure not to overcook them or they will be drier.
Can I Freeze Meatballs in Sauce?
Very easily! Let the Italian meatballs in sauce cool completely, then seal them in freezer-safe bags or containers. Freeze just the meatballs and meatball sauce, then reheat from frozen and stir in freshly cooked pasta.
Tips for Making the Best Meatballs in Sauce
Similar to flavors of Middle Eastern-style meatballs, I love the minty flavor and next time will likely add just a bit more, rounding up to 2 teaspoons or even 2 1/2 on the next go around, just because I liked it that much.
Andie also notes the tomato sauce is sweeter than most, and it is. The sweetness comes from a whole can of tomato paste, plus a dose of extra sugar. Personally I loved the sweetness of the sauce, it brings out the flavor of the tomatoes. My husband thought it could use a touch less. This is a spot to taste for yourself and use your own judgement.
Like Andie, I used a short tube pasta. Tube pasta holds the sauce and makes it easy to get a forkful of noodle with each bite of meatball. If you wanted to serve this with spaghetti or fettuccine, by all means, do.
More Easy Italian Recipes to Master
- Easy Chicken Piccata
- Shrimp Scampi Pasta
- Fresh Tomato and Ricotta Whole Wheat Pasta
- Baked Sausage and Cheese Rigatoni
- Homemade Chicken Parmesan
- Mom’s Homemade Spaghetti and Meat Sauce
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a comment below or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Italian Meatballs and Tomato Sauce
These Italian meatballs are cooked directly in a thick tomato meatball sauce. Serve with any tubular pasta for an easy dinner your whole family will love!
For the Sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 4 cloves garlic pressed or minced
- 1 28- ounce can crushed or puréed tomatoes
- 1 6- ounce can tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Meatballs
- 1 pound ground chuck beef
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 12 ounces tube pasta (such as penne or ziti)
- Parmesan cheese for serving
- Chopped parsley for garnish
For the sauce:
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook to deepen the color for more flavor.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and stir well. Add the sugar, oregano, salt and pepper. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Cover with a lid and cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn't burn and the flavors develop.
For the meatballs:
Meanwhile, prepare the meatballs. Break the beef apart in a large bowl. Add the beaten egg, bread crumbs, oregano, mint, salt and pepper. Gently mix with your hands until blended. Don't overwork the beef or the meatballs will be tough.
Shape the mixture into about 12 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Drop them into the sauce and stir gently to cover in sauce. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs are cooked through, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Boil the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.
Remove the meatballs from the sauce and add the pasta. Gently stir to coat the pasta then add the meatballs back to the pan. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese and sprinkle with fresh chopped parsley.
Reprinted with permission, Eating in the Middle: A Mostly Wholesome Cookbook.
More Meatball Recipes, Just Because
- Baked Turkey Meatballs with Creamy Polenta and Marinara
- Matzo Ball Soup with Chicken Meatballs
- Slow Cooker Sriracha Meatballs
- Mexican Turkey Meatball Sandwiches
- Tobasco Chicken Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato & Apricot Sauce
Craving more life balance, less stress, and better health? Check out my Nourished Planner, the daily planner to help create simplicity and under-schedule your life.
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