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
Of all the delicious recipes I nearly chose from Andie Mitchell’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 try first, 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.
Italian Meatballs in Sauce
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
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.
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
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