Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

white platter of spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs topped with cheese and fresh parsley
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Tender, herby, garlicky Italian meatballs simmered in a simple and rich tomato sauce—just like Grandma used to make—are an absolute dinnertime classic. 

Just Give the People What They Want.

And what they want are Italian meatballs, served over a big bowl of al dente pasta—if there is any meal that is more comforting, more deeply satisfying, we have yet to taste it. We’ve searched high and low for the best Italian meatball recipe and, after some highly scientific research, we can say with total confidence that this is the best Italian meatball recipe on the planet. 

Well, OK. The last thing we want to do, ever, is make the nonnas mad. Maybe we’ll just say that these are the best Italian meatballs that anyone that doesn’t happen to be an actual, legit, real-life Italian nonna could ever hope to make. 

white platter of spaghetti with tomato sauce and meatballs topped with cheese and fresh parsley

Research Methods 101: Italian Meatball Edition

We are certain that this is the best Italian meatball recipe, because we really did do our homework. We asked anyone and everyone we knew with Italian heritage how their Grandmas and Great-Grandmas made their meatballs. 

From those hunger-inducing conversations, our Italian meatball recipe was born. Of course, everyone claimed that their family’s Italian meatballs were the very best, most authentic Italian meatballs in the world. But (though we’d never tell them this) there wasn’t actually all that much difference amongst the various families’ ingredients or way of making Italian meatballs with red sauce. Everyone’s family recipe had one major thing in common: simmering the meatballs in the tomato sauce long enough for them to really soak up that buttery, tomato goodness. 

So, after much trial and error, we present to you the very best Italian meatball recipe. Print it, bookmark it, memorize it, love it—your family will thank you. 

How to Make Italian Meatballs:

So much of this Italian meatball recipe comes down to the slow simmer in simple, homemade tomato sauce (see below for more on that!), but there is a little technique at play, too. Here’s what you need to know: 

  1. Don’t overmix your meatballs. Italian meatballs should be moist, yielding, unbelievably tender, and you can ensure that yours turn out just the way you want them by handling your meat as little as possible. Dump everything into a bowl, and use your hands to carefully and gently mix herbs, cheese and breadcrumbs into the meat. 
  2. Do use fresh herbs, fresh cheese, and fresh garlic cloves! This Italian meatball recipe—like most of Italian cuisine—is really pretty simple. It’s all about taking a few, fresh, high-quality ingredients, and treating them with care. Fresh Italian parsley, freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano, fragrant cloves of fresh garlic—this trio of flavor-enhancers will make your meatballs beyond succulent. Avoid the temptation to swap dried herbs or jarred garlic—this is the moment for fresh fresh fresh. 
  3. Don’t overmix the meatballs. Oh wait—did we already say that? But seriously—light hands make for delicious meatballs. 
Italian Meatballs Recipe with Butter & Tomato Sauce

Let’s Talk Tomato Sauce: 

Of course, Italian meatballs have to be simmered in tomato sauce. And to make sure that our sauce is one worthy of an Italian Grandma, we’ve turned to the ultimate nonna, Marcella Hazan, for inspiration. Marcella—we’re on a first name basis, at least in our imagination—calls for only three ingredients in her classic, velvety, rich tomato sauce: 

  1. Canned tomatoes. Use the best quality you can—they’re going to be a defining flavor in this dish. Over the course of the meatballs’ eight hour simmer, their sweetness and light acidity will seep into the herby meatballs and make them deeply flavorful and incredibly moist. 
  2. Butter. Butter makes this tomato sauce so silky, and just ever so slightly, ever so gloriously creamy. Italian meatballs are not a meal to try to lighten up—they’re rich, decadent and a total treat. Let your inner nonna guide you—embrace the butter! 
  3. Onion. These will be sliced only in half—don’t dice, or slice them thinly. You want just a gentle infusion of that lovely, sharp, oniony scent to compliment the tomato and cut through a bit of the butters’ richness. 

How to Serve Italian Meatballs:

The windows are steamed up and the whole house smells heavenly—like Italy on a Sunday afternoon. During that last 30-minute simmer, maybe some friends have started to gather, and someone opened a bottle of wine. Maybe there’s a little Dino playing in the background. Stomachs are rumbling and it’s finally time to mangia! Serve your beautiful bowls of al dente pasta and meatballs with a simply dressed green salad, and maybe a little crusty bread on the side to sop up every last droplet of red sauce.

Tools Needed to Make the Best Homemade Meatballs with Tomato Sauce.

Other Italian Favorites: 

It always comes back to Italy for us food lovers, doesn’t it? Here are four Italian pasta recipes that we turn to again and again: 

Grazie, Nonna! 

If you make this Italian meatball recipe, we want to hear about it! Post it to Instagram and tag @themodernproper and #themodernproper. Is it the best Italian meatball recipe? Is it nonna-worthy? Let us know what you think!

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

Serves 10

Ingredients

2 lbs ground beef
1 lb mild Italian sausage
3/4 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup Italian style bread crumbs
2 eggs
5 oz parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
4 tbsp olive oil
2 28 oz cans of tomato sauce
3 28 oz cans of whole stewed tomatoes
2 sticks butter
3 white onions, cut in half
2 lbs of your favorite pasta

Method

  1. In a large pot, add tomatoes (in their juices) crushing them with your hands as you add them along with the tomato sauce from the can, butter and onions. Allow to simmer uncovered for 40 minutes, until onions are soft and butter has melted. Using tongs remove onions from the pot. (For a smoother sauce, use an immersion bleder to blend the sauce before adding the meatballs.)
  2. While the sauce is simmering place the meats, cheese, garlic, Italian parsley, eggs, bread crumbs, salt & pepper in a large bowl. It is important to not over mix the meat, so use your hands to make sure it is just mixed. Once all ingredients are combined, roll into 1.5 inch balls and set aside on a baking dish.
  3. With the sauce at a low simmer carefully add in prepared meatballs. Bring sauce back to a low simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes.
  4. Scoop some of the sauce over al dente pasta and toss to prevent noodles from sticking. Top with meatballs and more sauce and freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Note: This recipe yields 40-45 meatballs. Not feeding a crowd? Cut this recipe in half or better yet, make it all and freeze some for later.