Easy Italian Meatballs are juicy homemade beef meatballs baked in a simple tomato sauce. Serve them with spaghetti and a salad for a delicious dinner the whole family will love!
If you’re a regular blog reader, you’ll know I’m pretty obsessed with meatballs. And if you’re new to this corner of the internet? Well, now you know, too.
I don’t actually know when I was first introduced to the idea of meatballs in tomato sauce. I don’t even know when I started liking meatballs, to be honest. But now? Favorite comfort food.
I can’t believe I haven’t shared my way of making Italian meatballs here on the blog yet! But here it is now today, in all its beautiful glory.
How to Make Italian Meatballs
Are meatballs authentic Italian?
Before we begin today, let me add this little disclaimer: This is not an authentic Italian recipe, as in I didn’t consult any actual Italians when making this.
This is how I like to make meatballs in tomato sauce, and I didn’t know what else to call them. “meatballs in tomato sauce” sounded a teeny bit blunt to me.
BUT in all honesty, the all-American spaghetti and meatballs is not exactly authentic Italian anyways. Sure, there’s polpette in southern Italy.
And I have been to Italy many, many times. Never have I been to a local, authentic restaurant that served meatballs in tomato sauce with spaghetti. But hey, it’s delicious. And that’s all I have to say on that matter 😉
What are Italian meatballs made of?
I like to keep meatballs pretty wholesome.
Meatballs tend to get a bad reputation, but if you’re making them from scratch with lean ground beef and just a small amount of bread crumbs? They’re not horrible for you.
(If you need video instructions, see this post on how to make meatballs from scratch!)
I also add aromatics like onion, garlic, parsley and Italian seasoning (duh) to the meat mixture when I make Italian meatballs. So flavorful and so delicious!
Now I call this recipe easy, but I’m well aware you could make these a lot easier by using frozen meatballs and a jar of sauce. And I’d be lying if I said I never do that. But then what’s the point of sharing a recipe that’s made of 2 store-bought ingredients?
So this here is all homemade, but very quick and painless. Pinky promise!
Tips for making the best Italian meatballs:
- Use lean ground beef. Really, it’s the best for meatballs. If you don’t have lean beef, a higher fat percentage will still be OK since they end up in a sauce, they’ll just taste very rich. You can also swap in ground turkey if you prefer, we do it all the time. (I even have a recipe for smokey turkey meatballs in tomato sauce, that’s how much I like that swap.)
- Lid on or lid off? If you put a lid on the skillet in the oven or not depends entirely on your personal preferences. Adding a lid will leave the sauce on the thinner side, while baking uncovered will make for a thicker, chunkier but also richer sauce. Your call! Personally, I like the thicker sauce better.
- We prefer smaller meatballs. I just can’t wrap my head around “dinner sized” meatballs. They’re basically mini meatloaves, no? I use about 1.5 teaspoons of meat mix per meatball, so keep that in mind when making this recipe. If you choose to make large meatballs, they’ll obviously need more time to cook and there will be less meatballs than you can see in the photos.
Can you freeze Italian meatballs?
You should freeze the sauce and meatballs in separate containers, so the meatballs don’t get soggy while thawing.
Just place them together in your freezer as a little meal kit and you’ll be ready for those busy weeknights! Make sure to label the bag with name and use-by date (freeze for up to 3 months).
I usually freeze the meatballs cooked. That way I end up defrosting the sauce, but not the meatballs to reheat. I just plop the frozen meatballs into the sauce and gently simmer until they’re thawed and piping hot all the way through.
What pasta goes with meatballs?
I recommend using a long, slim pasta shape with meatballs.
Spaghetti, Capellini, Fettuccine… All delicious!
So there you have it: Easy peasy! And so incredibly delicious.
Whenever we have these, I need to fight for my fair share because both my kids and my husband could eat the entire batch by themselves.
P.S: If you’re looking for other side dish ideas than spaghetti, check out my posts on side dish ideas for meatballs OR even more specifically where I answer what sides fo well with spaghetti and meatballs – lots of great ideas 🙂
Easy Italian Meatballs
For the meatballs:
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 large onion very finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely minced
- 1 large egg
- 4 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 1 large handful flat-leaf parsley chopped
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Black pepper to taste
- Olive oil for baking
For the sauce:
- 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- 1 stick celery finely chopped
- 1 small carrot shredded
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1/3 cup red wine optional (use broth or water as a substitute)
- 1 can 14oz fire roasted tomatoes
- 1 can 14oz tomato sauce
- 1 teaspoon maple syrup
- Salt + black pepper to taste
Make the meatballs:
- Mix the ingredients: Place all ingredients EXCEPT for the oil in a large bowl. Using a handheld mixer, mix very well until everything is evenly incorporated and sticks together. If you don’t have a handheld mixer, you’ll have to use your hands to knead the ingredients together very well.
- Shape meatballs: Using about 1.5 teaspoons of meat mix per meatball, shape meatballs and place them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. For a nicer shape, freeze them for 10 minutes (but this is entirely optional! Just for looks).
- Bake meatballs: Preheat the oven to 410°F. Bake the meatballs for 8-10 minutes or until browned.
While the meatballs are freezing/baking, make the sauce:
- Sauté the vegetables: Heat the oil in a large, oven-safe skillet. Add the onion, garlic, celery and carrot and cook for 2-3 minutes or until starting to soften.
- Season and deglaze the pan: Stir in the tomato paste and Italian seasoning. Cook for another minute or until it smells amazing. Pour the red wine (or broth/water) into the pan, scratching the browned bits off the bottom.
- Simmer the sauce: Add both tomatoes, the maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for about 10 minutes on medium-low heat, stirring from time to time.
Finish the dish:
- Place the baked meatballs in the finished tomato sauce. Bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until bubbly and the meatballs are no longer pink in the middle. If you want a thinner sauce, cover the skillet with a lid in the oven. For a thicker, chunkier sauce, leave the skillet uncovered.