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5 from 2 votes

Spaghetti and Meatballs

This recipe makes a good, basic tomato sauce. You can add other things if you like, such as mushrooms, hot pepper flakes, red wine, etc.
Don't be put off by the length of the recipe. It is long because I have included 3 different ways of cooking the meatballs. Mangia!
Prep Time45 mins
Cook Time2 hrs
Total Time2 hrs 45 mins
Course: Beef, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Spaghetti and Meatballs
Servings: 16 meatballs
Author: Anna



  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, Nonna Anna's Rule of Thumb: Use 1 Tablespoon olive oil per can of tomatoes
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 8 large basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 - 3 Tablespoons sliced basil, for garnish


  • 1-½ pounds meat - ½# lean ground beef, ½# ground pork, ½# ground veal, (you can substitute Italian sausage, casings removed; ground turkey, ground chicken, etc. depending on your desire)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ cup minced parsley
  • 2-3 ounces finely grated Parmesan cheese, about ½ cup
  • ¾ cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • ½ to 1 cup Water


Directions for Sauce:

  • Put the tomatoes through a food mill or purée in a blender.
  • Heat oil in dutch oven over medium heat.
  • Add garlic and cook, do not brown, about 4 minutes, until fragrant.
  • Add the tomatoes to the garlic and oil.
  • Tear up the 8 basil leaves into small pieces and drop them in the sauce.
  • Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours until thickened. Stir occasionally.
  • If cooking the meatballs in the sauce, you can start once the sauce has cooked for about 30 minutes.
  • Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
  • Serve over pasta and garnish with sliced basil leaves.


  • In a large bowl mix the meats, garlic, parsley, cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and egg. I prefer to use my hands, you can use a wooden spoon, but it will take longer. Make sure everything is well incorporated.
  • Start adding water, about ¼ cup at a time and mix after each addition. Once the meat mixture is the texture you want your meatballs to be when you bite into them, stop adding the water.
  • Make one meatball, 2", about 2 ounces of meat.
  • Cook this first meatball by your preferred method (below).
  • Once fully cooked, TASTE - this is the most IMPORTANT part of making these little nuggets of tender goodness!
  • Is there enough salt? Pepper? Cheese? Any flavor that needs to be amped up can be added to your meat mixture at this time. Also make sure they are tender enough, there's time to add a bit more water to the mix!
  • After the seasonings are adjusted to your liking, roll the remainder of the meat into 2" balls.
  • Then cook, using your preferred method.

Cook in the Sauce, this yields a tender meatball AND gives the sauce a deeper flavor AND it is easier to keep the meatballs round. (My preference)

  • Drop half the meatballs into the simmering sauce. (About 8 meatballs)
  • Occasionally stir gently.
  • They should be fully cooked in about 15 minutes.
  • Remove the first batch and then cook the 2nd batch.

Frying (Vince's preference)

  • Heat about 2 Tablespoons oil in a medium size frying pan
  • Place 8 meatballs in the pan and turn occasionally until browned and cooked all the way through.
  • Be sure not to crowd them in the pan or they will steam instead of brown.
  • Remove to paper towels to drain then fry the second batch.
  • If desired, add cooked meatballs to the sauce.

Bake in Oven (A good and healthy alternative to cook a large quantity at once.)

  • Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  • Spray a baking sheet with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray.
  • Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet with about 2" inches between each meatball.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through.
  • If desired, add cooked meatballs to the sauce.

Air Fry!! I've started using my air fryer to cook the meatballs! You get the same crispy exterior without the added oil.

  • Place in the air fryer basket keeping meatballs at least 1" apart.
  • Cook at 400ºF for 8 minutes. Then turn the meatballs and cook for an additional 3 - 4 minutes. Check to ensure they are cooked through. I'm not sure how different appliances act. My air fryer is a feature of my Cuisinart Toaster Oven.


Boil up some spaghetti or linguine noodles, make a big green salad, serve a delicious Italian red wine, and light a couple candles...you may think you are in Italy!

Gr8 Do-Ahead Tips:

After cooking the meatballs:
  • If refrigerating, you can make them 2 days ahead, seal in a container separate from the sauce, then re-warm in the sauce.
  • If freezing, meatballs will keep in an airtight container for 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then warm up in the sauce.
  • Completely cool the sauce down and pour into airtight containers.
  • Sauce can be frozen, separate from the meatballs, for up to 4 months.
  • You can defrost in the refrigerator or just put it in a pan and defrost over low heat, stirring occasionally so as not to scorch the bottom.
Tried this recipe?Mention @Great8Friends or tag #gr8food!