Meatballs in tomato sauce recipe is my all-time favorite!

When I was younger, everyone used to visit their grandparent’s house on Sundays to have lunch. Starting our lunch with an antipasto (prosciutto and melon and fried zucchini flowers, for example) and continued to a dish of pasta and having at least four different side dishes, and the main course. Ending our lunch with an Italian dessert and espresso is satisfying!

I used to get confused and slightly smug when my classmates tell me that for lunch they eat meatloaf or peanut butter sandwiches at their grandmothers’ houses. I always used to wonder what is it and why they weren’t having these big Sunday meals with their families!

This meatballs in tomato sauce recipe was originally published in 2014.

Lunches at my paternal grandparents’ house – Nonna Ada and Nonno Jim, as we call them – consists of some of the best food I’ve ever eaten. Both of my nonni are from Calabria in Southern Italy, from the tiny town of Grotteria to be precise.  Though I know their stories very well by now, however, I am still fascinated to hear about my grandfather’s decision to move to the US at age 14, what Ellis Island was like and what it was like going to school as an Italian immigrant in America.

It’s always fascinating to re-hear the stories of my grandparents leaving their families and moving to a big unknown country. Many of the stories talk about their challenges and how cooking (and large group meals) helped them bring Italy to their kitchen in the US.  So for me, learning my nonna’s recipes and even cooking with her is so much fun!


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When I’m in Italy, I find myself craving for my grandmother’s cooking, especially her meatball in tomato sauce recipe. It has been my all-time favorite for as long as I can remember. During my childhood, I remember being given a plate of pasta to keep me at bay, but I always kept an eye on the kitchen, waiting for my Nonna to bring out my favorite meatballs in tomato sauce dish. I have always been guilty of hogging the extra tomato sauce she puts on the table (sorry Nonna!). There’s never enough to go around for 8 people when I’m present – but thankfully Nonna Ada knows this and always has an extra sauce to back me up.

Meatballs can be made in advance and heated up the next day which actually gives the flavors more time to develop. They are good on their own as a second, as my Nonna serves them, but would also be good Italian-American style over pasta, both of which make sure no drop of sauce goes to waste.

Learn how to make my Nonna’s meatballs in tomato sauce recipe below!


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Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe


Tomato Sauce:

  • Olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 2 (32-ounce) cans of crushed tomatoes
  • 4 to 6 basil leaves
  • 2 dried bay leaves


  • 1 pound (450 grams) of ground beef
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1–2 garlic cloves (depending on how much you like garlic) very finely chopped
  • ½ cup (110 grams) of parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup (50 grams) stale white bread torn into pieces
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


To make the sauce: In a large pot, heat some oil over medium-high heat (it should be enough to coat the bottom of the pan and sauté the vegetables). Add the onions and cook until it becomes soft and translucent about 2 minutes.

Add the celery and carrots and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, basil and bay leaves and simmer covered on low heat for 1 hour or until thick, stirring every now and again to make sure the sauce doesn’t stick to the bottom.

After that, remove the bay leaves from the sauce and taste to see if you need to add more salt or pepper.

To make the meatballs: Moisten the stale bread in a bowl with a little water, and then use your hands to tear the bread into even smaller pieces.

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl, mixing well with your hands. Shape the meatballs by rolling them into pieces that are roughly the same size ( however, you can use a large spoon to make sure you use about the same amount of meat for each meatball). There should be about 24 meatballs.

Place the meatballs in the sauce, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 15–20 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked thoroughly.

Using a slotted spoon, take out the meatballs and place them in a serving bowl or platter, and set them aside.


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Eat the meatballs as a secondo (main dish) with extra sauce, and some good Italian bread to make sure you love every bit of the sauce. Enjoy!

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