Classic Meatballs and Tomato Sauce


There’s not much better this time of year than large pots of simmering aromatics filling your home with their drool-worthy bouquet. For me, the large pot is essential. I absolutely love having a freezer stocked with assorted homemade dinners throughout the winter (possibly a holdover from the New England winters of my youth). Meatballs with homemade tomato sauce are just the ticket.

This recipe is adapted from that of my childhood neighbor, Mrs. Nigro. She was, essentially, my adopted Italian grandmother. It is from her that I learned the secrets to making these toothsome meatballs (plus the healing properties of homemade chicken stock, more on that in another post).

While these may take a good chunk of time to make, I promise that they are completely worth the effort — from a single batch, you’ll have many meals to come. My preference is to serve the duo over Bionaturae Gluten-free Spaghetti (I think it works better than brown rice pasta with tomato-based sauces) or on toasted, garlic-rubbed slices of No-Knead Bread (with or without roasted bell peppers and caramelized onions). A generous sprinkle of Parmesan is always a welcome addition in my book — I think Mrs. Nigro would approve, too.


Classic Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

(Meatballs adapted from Mrs. Nigro, Tomato Sauce my own)

Active Preparation Time: 1 hour

Inactive Preparation Time: 3 hours

Baking Time: 15 minutes (Meatballs)

Makes: About 3 dozen Meatballs, 12 cups Sauce


Tomato Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups (283 grams or 10 ounces) finely chopped yellow onions
  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces or 57 grams) minced garlic
  • 28 ounces canned, diced tomatoes
  • 56 ounces canned, whole peeled tomatoes
  • 12 ounces tomato paste
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) water
  • 3 tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano


  • 1 loaf gluten-free no-knead bread
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) milk
  • 1/4 cup (57 grams) water
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground beef (85/15)
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground pork
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon dried basil
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons black epper
  • 1/4 cup (28 grams) Parmesan cheese, finely shredded


Make Tomato Sauce:

In a large (about 8 quart), non-reactive pot heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onions to the pot and cook until softened and just beginning to color (about 10 – 15 minutes). Add garlic and cook until it’s just beginning to color (about 1 – 2 minutes). Stir in diced tomatoes, place a mesh splatter shield over top.

After you add the diced tomatoes to the pot, puree whole tomatoes with their juice through dried oregano in a blender or food processor until smooth. Stir pureed mixture into pot, replace splatter screen and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour.

Soak Bread and Prepare Breadcrumbs:

While sauce cooks, remove crust from bread and set aside. Cut inside into small cubes (about 4 cups); combine with milk and water in a large bowl (6 – 8 quarts).

While bread soaks, tear reserved crust into small pieces, place in the bowl of a food processor; run machine until fine crumbs form. Transfer crumbs into a collapsable steamer basket or colander with small holes (about the diameter of a toothpick, I use this one by zak! designs — similar ones are available at Target and Sur la Table), and sift onto a large baking sheet.

Return any bits left in the colander to the food processor and run again to chop them up into smaller crumbs. Repeat sifting and processing steps until you have 1/2 cup dried, toasted breadcrumbs (reserve extra for another use (idea #1, #2) or discard).

Form Meatballs:

Preheat oven to 450°F and line a large, rimmed sheet pan with parchment paper; set aside.

Using a fork, break soaked bread into smaller pieces. Add beef and pork and, using a fork, combine softened bread and meat — the bread will basically look like small pieces of fat, no larger than small peas.

Add 1/2 cup breadcrumbs (from above) and beaten eggs through cheese to the meat-bread mixture; use the fork to mix just until combined.

Form 1/4 cup (about 2 ounce) balls and place, closely-spaced, on the prepared sheet pan. Bake for 15 minutes (outside will be cooked to help them keep their shape as they simmer in the sauce, they won’t be cooked through).

Once baked, you may proceed to the steps below or prepare them for the freezer. For the latter, allow to cool completely, wrap (I make packs of 1/2 dozen) tightly in plastic wrap then aluminum foil and place into a freezer bag. They will keep, frozen, for 3 – 4 months. You may cook them in the sauce directly from the freezer, just allow extra time for them to reach to the proper temperature. I freeze the corresponding amount of sauce (i.e. for 12 meatballs, 4 cups of sauce) in 2 cup containers; defrost before adding the (frozen or defrosted) meatballs.

Simmer Meatballs in Sauce:

Simmer meatballs in tomato sauce in a single layer (start at medium heat then reduce to medium-low, cover pan(s) with splatter screens to prevent a tomato sauce splatter mess), stirring occasionally for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until they are heated through (at least 155°F in the center) and the sauce has reduced.

Serve immediately however you like (with pasta, bread, etc.)!

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    Kiri W.
    January 12, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Very nice recipe – sometimes a simple recipe of a classic dish is such a must 🙂

  • Reply
    heather sage
    January 12, 2012 at 10:46 pm

    Mmmm hmm, great way to get through the winter months! (Not that they’ve arrived here quite yet.)

  • Reply
    January 18, 2012 at 10:39 am

    I can’t wait to make this!

  • Reply
    heather sage
    January 21, 2012 at 8:21 am

    Yes! I think they’re fun to make with kids who enjoy kitchen activities (as long as you don’t mind them touching raw meat) — I have great memories of making them with my mom.

  • Reply
    January 23, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    These look so delish. My family loves meatballs and spaghetti. Mine is similar to yours. check them out when you have a chance.

  • Reply
    heather sage
    January 24, 2012 at 10:54 am

    Andrea: Thank you — they are so hard not to love, right? Your version sounds great as well!

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.