Meatballs in tomato sauce are soft, succulent balls of ground meat cooked in tomato passata. Parmigiano, eggs, breadcrumbs, milk and parsley are the other main ingredients.
Italian meatballs in tomato sauce are a genuine comfort food. They are a meaty sensational main course loved throughout Italy by adults and children alike.
They make the meatball very often in Italian homes, like steak pizzaiola or spezzatino, for example. Meat recipes that satisfy everyone on every occasion, from day-to-day meals to Sunday family lunches.
Meatballs in tomato sauce is also a very convenient recipe because you can use the meatball sauce to dress pasta: two recipes in one!
As with all traditional popular recipes there are many variations, each family has its own. But there are only small differences in the recipes, depending on place, habits and personal taste (read the paragraphs below about the meatballs variations).
There are two basic rules for making the best meatballs in tomato sauce: the balance of ingredients and the softness of the mixture, as well as, of course, fresh, quality ingredients.
Italian meatballs in tomato sauce: here is the authentic recipe for an unsurpassed traditional Italian meat dish!
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How to Make Italian Tomato Sauce Meatballs: Ingredients
- Prep Time: 15 Min
- Cook Time: 30 Min
- Servings: 6/8 (about 20 Meatballs)
- 500 g (1,1 lb) of ground beef or veal
- 1 whole egg
- 100 g (1 cup) of grated Grana Padano cheese or Parmigiano Reggiano
- 60 ml (1/4 cup) of milk
- 80 g (3/4 cup) of breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon of chopped parsley
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 little inion
- 50 ml (1/5 cup) of dry white wine
- 450 g (1 3/4 cup) of tomato passata
- 1/2 tablespoon of tomato paste
- fine salt to taste
Step 1) – In a bowl pour the ground meat and add the egg, Parmigiano cheese, chopped parsley and a little salt. Mix well until the mixture is smooth.
Step 2) – Now add the milk and mix. Finally add the breadcrumbs a little at a time. Incorporate into the mixture while keeping on stirring. You should get a firm but soft mixture.
Step 3) – You can start forming the meatballs. Round some of the mixture with your hands and place it on a plate. Take care to create meatballs of the same size: about 5 cm in diameter (2 inch) – about 40 g each (1.4 oz). With the given quantities you will make about 20 meatballs.
Now pour the extra virgin olive oil into a frying pan. Sauté the chopped onion over low heat until golden brown.
Step 4) – Add the meatballs one at a time and let them brown for a few minutes. Turn them gently so that they are well browned on all sides.
Deglaze with white wine and allow the alcohol to evaporate.
Step 5) – Now add the tomato passata and the tomato paste, dissolved in a little hot water. Stir gently being careful not to break up the meatballs.
Cover with a lid and simmer for about 20 minutes. Before serving, taste and add a little bit of salt if necessary.
How to Store Meatballs
You can store the meatballs in tomato sauce for 2-3 days in the refrigerator, covered.
You can also freeze Italian meatballs, but only if you have used all fresh ingredients.
To always have meatballs on hand to serve for lunch or dinner to guests, the quickest solution is to freeze them raw, then cook them as you like.
Simply transfer them to a well-spaced tray and place in the freezer. When they are frozen, you can easily transfer them to a food bag.
Which Meat is Best for Meatballs in Tomato Sauce?
Beef and veal meats are best for making Italian meatballs in tomato sauce.
Beef meatballs are usually more flavorful, while veal meatballs are more delicate.
Often for a richer taste, a mix of beef, veal and pork is chosen.
To prepare excellent meatballs it is not necessary to use prized and, therefore, expensive cuts of meat.
Some second- or third-grade cuts, with a good balance of lean and fatty meat, give meatballs and meatloaf the right flavor and a very pleasant tenderness.
The ideal is to have 20 percent of the fat part. In fact, the fat makes meatballs softer and tastier.
In addition, meatballs made of very lean meat are likely to break during cooking.
For this reason, as well as for taste, sometimes a little sausage is added to the ground meat.
The presence of a little fat also makes the tomato sauce tastier and more flavorful.
The Size of the Meatballs
The size of the meatballs is very important, both for cooking and for the use you want to make of them
If you want to enjoy meatballs in tomato sauce as a main dish, they should not be very small. About 5 cm in diameter (2 inch) and about 40 g each (1.4 oz). This way they can cook properly and in a relatively short time.
Meatballs that are too large tend to break apart during cooking, as well as risk remaining raw in the center.
Pasta Sauce with Meatballs
If, on the other hand, you want to make a pasta sauce with meatballs, as in Neapolitan lasagna, then make much smaller meatballs.
In the central and northern regions of Italy, meatballs are generally larger in size and are eaten as a single dish, with slices of bread or polenta.
In the southern regions, on the other hand, especially from Abruzzo to Puglia, they are small meatballs, about 2-3 cm in size (about 1 inch), which are cooked in tomato sauce and then seasoned and eaten with pasta, usually spaghetti.
This recipe has also been exported to the United States, where in many Italian restaurants you can find spaghetti and meatballs on the menu. But these are often much larger meatballs than those in the traditional Italian recipe.
Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce: Some Variations
This classic recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce can be modified in many ways. After all, every family has a traditional meatball recipe that is passed down from generation to generation.
You can substitute or add other flavorings of your liking to the parsley. For example, crushed garlic or chili pepper.
Many add two tablespoons of ricotta cheese to the mixture to make it softer.
Now we point out some of the tastiest variations of meatballs with sauce to bring to the table!
Fried Meatballs with Tomato Sauce
If you prefer fried meatballs with tomato sauce, work the ingredients as in the recipe above, then once you have the meatballs, coat them in breadcrumbs and beaten egg.
Fry them in plenty of vegetable oil until they are golden brown and have a nice crispy crust.
Prepare a classic tomato sauce with sautéed onion and tomato passata. Then add the fried meatballs and continue cooking for about 15 minutes.
Neapolitan Meatballs with Tomato sauce
You need two types of meat for Neapolitan meatballs: 250 g (about 1/2 pound) ground pork and 250 g (about 1/2 pound) ground beef.
The rest of the ingredients are the same as in the traditional recipe (see above), but you should add 25 g (about 3 tablespoons) of pine nuts and 50 g (about 5 tablespoons) of raisins – already soaked in hot water and squeezed – to the meatballs mixture. If you like, you can also add cinnamon powder.
Finally follow the recipe described above.
Meatballs (with Potatoes) in Tomato Sauce
Instead of breadcrumbs, you can also use boiled potatoes to make soft and tasty meatballs in sauce, which are also popular with children.
Follow the main recipe and replace the dose of breadcrumbs with 200 g (7 oz) of boiled, mashed potatoes.