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!
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. That is all I wanted to say on the matter.
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.
Both my pregnancies were pretty hard on me the first 16 weeks or so. I felt so incredibly sick, most days I couldn’t get out of bed. But with my second, I’d actually feel hungry every so often – and my one and only craving was spaghetti and meatballs.
We bought a lot of ground beef during that time…
It’s a good thing my eldest is equally huge of a fan, because she had to endure all of mom’s cravings. Later on they’d also include potato wedges, I guess she got away alright 😉
Even though my littles is now already 18 months old, I’m still craving spaghetti and meatballs on a regular basis. 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.
My favorite things about these easy Italian meatballs:
- So simple to make! The thing is, I call this recipe easy but you could very well make them a lot easier by using frozen meatballs and a jar of sauce. But you and me both know, that’s not how we roll. It’s all homemade, but very quick and painless. Pinky promise!
- Full of wholesome ingredients. I like using wholesome ingredients pretty much always, and this recipe is no exception. 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!)
- They’re freezer-friendly! 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!
So, that’s what’s awesome about this recipe. Because I like you, I will also give you a few important tips to remember when making these simple meatballs:
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.
Now that we’ve got these heads-upses (seriously, what is the plural of heads-up?) out of the way, let me give you a quick play-by-play on how to make your dinner tonight:
How to make Italian meatballs:
- Do all the chopping necessary for both the meatballs and the sauce. For convenience and to save on chopping board space, you can add all prepped ingredients for the meatballs in one bowl, and all prepped ingredients for the sauce in another.
- To make the meatballs, you’ll need to combine all ingredients in a large bowl and mix well. I generally like doing this with a hand mixer so I don’t need to knead by hand. I have step-by-step photos for this in this post on how to make homemade meatballs, if you need them.
- Shape the meatballs and freeze them for 10 minutes. This is optional, but helps them to keep a better shape.
- In the meantime, preheat the oven and get started on the sauce.
- Bake the meatballs (see this post on baked meatballs for more info on baking meatballs in the oven, if you need it)
- While the meatballs are baking, cook the sauce in an oven-safe skillet.
- Place the baked meatballs in the finished sauce and bake for another 10-15 minutes, or until bubbly.
Easy peasy! As 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.
So I guess what I’m saying is… If you’re currently experiencing angry pregnancy cravings for spaghetti and meatballs, better make a double batch. Otherwise, things might get ugly.
P.S: If you’re looking for other side dish ideas than spaghetti, check out my post on side dish ideas for meatballs – lots of great ideas 🙂
Get the printable recipe for these 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.