You will love this family recipe! These authentic Italian meatballs are cooked in a fresh homemade tomato sauce until tender and soft. Enjoy them with a satisfying bowl of (gluten-free) spaghetti, pair them with a fresh green salad or enjoy with roasted vegetables. Having extra tomato sauce in the fridge means that a quick meal is at the ready or the base for a great recipe is already prepared.
For those who don't know yet, my father's side of the family is originally from Italy. I grew up enjoying and learning how to make some beautiful homemade South Italian dishes (rooted from Calabria). And I think it is long overdue that I share with you my favorite way of making Italian meatballs and tomato sauce. These are recipes I learned from my mom, who in turn learned it from my Italian grandmother. And no matter what new dishes I create, these classics will always remain a favorite in my household.
When it comes to making the meatballs, I deviated a little bit from how my grandmother used to make them with just a few adaptations:
- I use a whole egg, instead of egg yolk
- I omit the fresh breadcrumbs because you don't need them
Let me share some notes that might come handy when making these Italian classics!
Tips for making homemade Italian meatballs
- Pick the right meats. I often use ground beef, but the ingredients work just as well for ground pork. Don't go for extra lean. I prefer not to go higher than an 85% lean beef because some of that fat will also cook away. Fattier meat yields more tender meatballs.
- Don't skip adding the egg and the grated parmesan cheese. The extra moisture and fat content of the cheese are all great tools for keeping meatballs tender and moist during cooking.
- Use simple spices like salt and pepper. And fragrant Parsley mixed into the meat and cheese makes these meatballs incredibly flavorful. I often opt for one cup of chopped fresh parsley instead of half a cup for two pounds of beef. But I am a parsley lover!
- The amount of salt used in the meat mixture is, of course, a suggestion. But I often find that half a tablespoon is enough for the given amount of meat because the Parmesan cheese already adds salt. Know that these meatballs also will extract the flavors of the seasoned tomato base!
- Gently and loosely form equally-sized meatballs from the meat mixture. Wet your hands a little or coat them with a tad of olive oil for easy rolling. Don't pack them too tightly cause that affects their texture and might make them too chewy. The ingredients will yield about 10 to 12 large meatballs. You definitely can get more if you make them smaller.
- When rolled, gently stir them in the simmering basic tomato sauce. At this point, the meat is still raw and fragile. So add the meatballs one by one until nicely divided into the pot and almost entirely covered by the red sauce!
Making the Best Fresh Basic Tomato Sauce
It is all in the tomatoes, the quality of the olive oil, the beautiful fragrances of Basil and Oregano using garlic as the base of your sauce. It doesn't take much to make a tasty sauce other than a few essential quality ingredients and allowing the flavors gently come together.
There are so many different ways of making a tasty Italian tomato sauce. While traveling through Italy, I enjoyed some fantastic homemade pasta sauces that were deeply rooted in family traditions and their origins. But this simple, fresh tomato sauce recipe is the one I grew up with and still make today—other than bottling my tomatoes.
Let's look at the base of this sauce?
- At first, I cook and stir the garlic and shallot for 10 seconds in the heated olive oil. It is done to merely release their aromas giving the sauce that fantastic fragrant base. Don't let the garlic brown, because it will give the sauce a sour taste.
- My grandmother used her tomatoes from her the garden, and every year she went through the process of cooking and bottling them. However, that isn't always an option for me either. I think Jovial makes some of the best canned tomatoes. Their tomatoes are sweet, organic, and sourced from small family farms in Italy! Another great brand is Bionaturae—both are readily available at most grocery stores or online. Whatever your preference, choose a brand that has salt-free, sugar-free canned tomatoes that are not diluted with water.
- Basil is the primary herb in this sauce, but when the tomatoes taste overly sweet, the right amount of oregano beautifully balances their flavors. I highly recommend adding it!
- Although the meatballs will be ready in about 30 minutes of simmer time, I always prefer to let everything gently cook on low heat for one hour, stirring occasionally. If you make this in the weekend or are home, you can easily keep an eye on the stove while you are doing other things around the house.
Different ways to serve Italian Meatballs
We love them paired with pasta, of course. An excellent gluten-free brand we enjoy at home is pasta from Jovial. But more often we also match them with healthier options like:
- oven-roasted vegetables such as potatoes or cauliflower
- a large green Romaine lettuce, cucumber, avocado salad, seasoned with salt, apple cider vinegar, and olive oil
- black rice or quinoa
How to store meatballs and tomato sauce!
I usually separate the meatballs from the sauce. Any leftovers go in an airtight container. They stay fresh up til three days in the fridge. For the sauce;
- either store in the refrigerator up til five days in an air-tight container
- or freeze in for more extended use (I use it up within the month)
Now it is time for you to make them and let me know what you think!!! Mangia, Mangia!
Here are some other great Italian recipes you might like:
- Sweet and Spiced Red Pasta Sauce with Creamy Cannelini Beans
- Healthy Italian Seasoned Turkey Burgers on Biscuits
- Easy Italian Spiced Zucchini-Pork and Potato Bowl
In the pantry for this recipe:
TO MAKE THE MEATBALLS:
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 1 egg
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup finely chopped Parsley
- ½ tablespoon Salt
- Olive oil
TO MAKE BASIC TOMATO SAUCE:
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 shallot or scallion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 2 (18.3-ounce) bottles whole peeled tomatoes
- 1 (24-ounce) bottle strained tomatoes
- 4 whole leaves fresh Basil
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper
MAKE THE MEATBALLS:
- Place the meat in a large bowl. With your fist, make a little dent in the center of the ground beef. Add the egg, garlic, parsley, and cheese — season with salt and pepper.
- Combine the ingredients by kneading with your hands. Divide the mixture into 10 or 12 pieces. Roll each piece into a ball; set aside.
MAKE BASIC TOMATO SAUCE:
- In a large pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic. Cook and stir for 10 seconds, do not let the garlic and shallot brown.
- Add the whole peeled tomatoes and crush into small chunks with a wooden spoon. Cover the pot. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a steady simmer for 15 minutes. Partially cover the pot. Stir frequently.
- Stir in the strained tomatoes, basil, oregano. Season to taste with salt and pepper, cover the pot and raise the heat to medium. Bring the sauce to a steady simmer for a couple of minutes to further break down the tomatoes and allow the flavors to come together. Taste and see if the sauce needs a little bit more salt. Then add the meatballs and keep the sauce at a gentle simmer for about 30 minutes or until meatballs are ready. Stir occasionally.