Learn how to make the BEST Italian meatballs. Incredibly tender and well-seasoned, these meatballs are cooked directly in a thick tomato sauce. Serve with any tubular pasta for an easy dinner your whole family will love.
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.
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 the BEST 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:
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Crushed tomatoes
- Tomato paste
- Dried mint
- Dried oregano
- Kosher salt
- Ground beef—you could use ground turkey instead of beef, 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 dry.
- Italian breadcrumbs
How to Make the Tomato Sauce
Cooking meatballs in sauce couldn’t be simpler. Here’s how:
Sauté the onion and garlic. 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 tomatoes, tomato paste, and spices. 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.
Simmer and build the flavor. Cover with a lid and cook for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so the bottom doesn’t burn and the flavors develop.
How to Make 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 meatballs. Form the mixture into about 12 1 ½-inch meatballs.
Simmer the meatballs in the tomato sauce. 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.
Cook your pasta. Boil the pasta according to the package directions. Drain.
Serve it all up. 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.
Tips for Making the BEST Meatballs
Don’t sleep on the mint. 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 ½ on the next go around, just because I liked it that much.
Sweeten the sauce to taste. 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.
Don’t use just any noodle. Not all pastas are created equal. 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, you could, but I highly recommend rigatoni or ziti.
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.
What to Serve With the BEST Meatballs
- Caesar Salad with Garlic Croutons
- The BEST Garlic Bread
- Italian Chopped Salad with Marinated Chickpeas
- THE BEST Roasted Asparagus Recipe
If you make this recipe, please let me know! Leave a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating on this recipe below and leave a comment, take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #foodiecrusheats.
Easy Meatballs Recipe
For the Sauce
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion , finely chopped (about ¾ 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
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the Meatballs
- 1 pound ground chuck beef
- 1 large egg , lightly beaten
- ⅓ cup Italian-seasoned bread crumbs
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons dried mint
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ 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 ½-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 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
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I found the sauce too spicey with 1 teaspoon of pepper.
Hi! I have never used mint in anything. How pungent is it in these meatballs? Do es it just meld it or does it stand out? I have a MAJORLY PICKY husband and if this jumps out, it will be all over! Any help and information will be very appreciated! Sounds so good to me but don’t want to make the whole thing and be the only one to eat. That is not much fun and I always feel bad. Smiles!
I’m generally not a meatball fan because they usually seem dry and tasteless to me, but my husband loves them so I made these for him. They are great! I’ve never had meatballs so tender. I told him he no longer has a monopoly on the meatballs and will have to share with me from now on. The sauce is great, too. Like others have suggested, i reduced the sugar to 1 tablespoon, and it was perfect. A very easy family meal. This one’s a keeper.
Made this tonight and the whole family loved it!!
Made this recipe today and I think these are the best meatball’s that I have ever made. I already shared this recipe with my mom. My husband is also a big fan of the sauce. Based on the information you provided, I halved the sugar. Thanks for the recipe!
Omg these meatballs look so flavorful & so perfect for a cozy weeknight meal!
Laura | Tutti Dolci
Comfort food has never looked so good… pasta night needs to happen, pronto!
These are some fantastic looking meatballs and tomato sauce! We love pasta night, trying this for sure!
Do you think the ground beef could be swapped for ground turkey? I’m thinking since they’re in the sauce the turkey would stay moist. Have you or would you try this?
I think you could totally swap it Jenn. Just be sure to use a grind of meat that has a bit of fat in it or they’ll be really dry no matter what you do. Be sure not to overcook them or they will be more dry. Let me know how it goes!
i find the sugar in the sauce can be cut in half and not affect the taste…
I think that’s what my husband would do the next time he makes it. When I make it, I’ll keep it just the same as the original recipe :)
gerry@ foodness gracious
I met Andie recently at Indulge and she couldn’t have been nicer! My kids go bonkers for meatballs so this might happen :)
Sandy @ ReluctantEntertainer
I made this recipe and our family loved it. Love the sweet story of PJ, too. :)