Italian meatballs in tomato sauce are a great way to start learning to braise meat. Meatballs were the first thing I ever learned to braise and I didn't even know what the word braise was. I can't imagine eating pasta with Sunday sauce without meatballs.
If I'm going to load up on some carbs on Sunday, I have to at least have some meatballs with them. These meatballs are great because you can par-cook them and freeze them and you can bake them instead of frying them if you are trying to be a little healthier.
I remember when my mom was making meatballs, she would always pull her hands out of the meat and complain that her hands were freezing. It would literally look like she had a brain freeze but in her hands. Then she would call one of us over to pour a little more milk in, add some breadcrumbs, or pull up her sleeves.
Meatballs and Tomato Sauce
Here's the thing (and I guess this is technically an opinion). You can't have Italian meatballs without sauce and you can't have sauce without meat. These meatballs are so easy to make and just take a little bit of extra effort but the taste is so much better than whatever you're going to find in the frozen food aisle. It's less processed and has way fewer additives.
Health is important. But so is our sanity. So, I choose to eat food as minimally processed as possible, but still enjoyable Obviously, ground beef is processed. But it's less processed than a bag of frozen meatballs and that makes me happy. Since you've read this far, I imagine you're not buying a bag of frozen meatballs so let's get to the recipe.
Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
This recipe is two-fold. The first part of cooking will be done in frying oil but to finish the meatballs the right way, you will need to cook them in a sauce. Check out our Sunday Sauce recipe if you're looking for a recipe to make a homemade sauce. Otherwise, grab your favorite jar of tomato sauce.
Start by preparing the sauce and bringing it to a simmer.
Mixing the Italian Meatballs
People often have different opinions on what meat to use to make meatballs, whether it be ground beef and pork or just ground beef. I tend to prefer just ground beef and NO ONIONS. Unless they are already caramelized. Then I'm alright with it.
Ingredients for Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
- Ground beef
- Garlic powder
- Fresh chopped parsley
- Parmesan cheese
- Kosher salt
Start by combining all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly until completely combined. If the mixture feels really wet, add ¼ of extra breadcrumbs at a time until it no longer feels like wet meat. It shouldn't feel like it's covered in egg at the end of the process.
Roll out meatballs about a ¼ cup large. This should provide 10 meatballs of the size I prefer. This size is the easiest to cook but hey, if you want a big, giant meatball, do you.
I prefer to use a cast iron pan to fry meatballs but you can also use a stainless steel pan. It is best not to use a non-stick pan but if that's all that you have, it will work. The cast-iron pan retains heat really well, so all of the meatballs cook evenly.
Fill the pan with canola oil about a fingernail deep. Raise the heat to medium-high heat. Be patient and allow the pan to get hot. Place your meatballs into the pan. Do this in two batches and do not crowd the pan. Fry the meatballs for 1 minute on each side until browned. Remember, you're not cooking the meatballs through so after 3-4 turns, pull the meatballs off and place them on a paper towel-lined plate. Do this until your meatballs are completed.
Braising the Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Transfer the meatballs to the sauce and allow them to simmer for at least 1 hour. I usually allow them to simmer for up to 3 hours to really suck in all the flavor. 1 hour will be enough to make sure they are cooked through.
Braising takes time and patience. The best and softest meatballs will be cooked for a couple of hours. Once the meatballs are finished, transfer them to a bowl and serve.
Can I Bake these Meatballs
I grew up on baked meatballs. You absolutely can bake them. The only difference is you won't get that slight golden color and texture from pan frying, but you will get a healthier meatball with less fat. Bake the meatballs in the oven at 350° for 15-20 minutes if you plan on finishing them in your sauce or 30 minutes if you want them completely cooked in the oven.
Can I Freeze Italian Meatballs
YES! I do this everytime I make meatballs. You can freeze the meatballs after you fry them, but before you cook them in the sauce. Let them cool and then store them in a ziploc bag. The meatballs will stay fresh in the freezer for up to 6 months.
What should I do with the meatballs?
Meatballs are a versatile food group. Yes, I consider them a food group. Make a meatballs ub with melted mozzarella. Serve them with pasta and tomato sauce. Make them a little smaller and serve them as an appetizer on toothpicks. The opportunities for these meatballs are endless. I always like fresh parmesan and parsley on mine.
If you try our meatballs, leave a comment or review below and let us know what you liked about them! It goes such a long way when you leave a review! Follow us on Instagram @vindelgiudice for more videos and content!
Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
- 1 lb ground beef 80/20
- ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup whole milk
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoon parmesan cheese, grated
- ½ tablespoon garlic powder
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
- ¼ cup canola or avocado oil
- 1 jar or 28 oz tomato sauce
- Bring your tomato sauce to a low simmer.
- Combine ground beef, milk, egg, breadcrumbs, garlic powder, parsley, parmesan, and salt. Mix until homogenous. Roll into balls that are completely smooth on the outside. It should make about 10 meatballs.
- In a large cast iron pan or frying pan, heat canola oil to medium high heat. Add the meatballs in and brown them on each side for about 1 minute. You are not cooking them all the way through. Once they are browned on all sides, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel.
- Transfer your meatballs into the sauce and allow them to simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and serve over spaghetti, rigatoni, or whatever pasta you prefer. Top with parsley and parmesan cheese