The Best Italian Meatballs In Rich Tomato Sauce

This classic Italian Meatballs recipe makes the best, most juicy and tender homemade meatballs in a few easy steps.

Soft, juicy bite-size nuggets cooked to perfection in rich tomato sauce.

What can be better than that on Sunday?

They simply melt in the mouth…and you keep reaching for the next one… and the next one…and the…”what did all the meatballs go??” point.

The BEST Italian Meatballs In Tomato Sauce {Baked or Pan-Fried}

Seriously, if ALL this time you’ve hesitated to make Italian Meatballs, it’s your go.

They’re easier to make than you think.

PLUS we’re BAKING them in the oven (not frying) ← consider health benefits here.

Italian Meatballs: Tips, Tricks & Variations


Top quality ground beef or veal is on of the secrets to making the best, the juiciest meatballs in the world. I mostly use just that.

To the beef you can also add ground pork or  sausage meat. Keep in mind that the latter already comes with the spices, so you won’t need any extra from the below. Just use what’s listed on the classic recipe.

Spices/ Herbs

Classic spices for Italian meatballs (baked or fried) are nutmeg and oregano, but chopped parsley is also used very often. If you like you can also add some marjoram and fennel seeds.

Shallot, Onion, Garlic

I love using shallots for the meatballs “dough” as they have a milder flavor than onions plus they also have a hint of garlic flavor as well.

But you can use onion (any quality) instead of shallots.

Add garlic clove to taste. I use it only in the tomato sauce (you’ll see in the recipe).

Bread or Breadcrumbs

Both work really well. If using fresh bread remove the crust. If using fresh or stale bread make sure to soak it in milk first.

Some say meatballs make with soaked bread come out tender than with breadcrumbs. I think it’s a matter of a personal preference.

Meatballs Size

In this case, size does NOT really matter. As long as they’re of the same size in the batch, which helps meatballs to cook evenly, you’re off to a good start!

You can make them tiny as olives or huge as a tennis ball.

JK. Probably you don’t want to go THAT big 🙂

I love keeping it sweet and right in the middle. Size of a walnut in a shell tastes perfect to me.

Authentic Italian Meatballs are somewhere between a walnut and an apricot size. Another good and PRACTICAL visual is a medium size cookie scoop. Read more tips about the below.

Other Italian Meatballs Ingredients

You might have come across some Italian meatball recipes or even tried one with pine nuts and raisins – that’s called Italian Meatballs Neapolitan Style.

That’s the next meatballs I’ll be making. But for this recipe, stick to classic ingredients – you’ll be worth it!

How To Cook Meatballs

Baked or Fried?

That’s a good questions! And sure enough, both ways work amazingly well.

Classic Italian Meatballs are definitely fried.

I prefer baked version as a healthier one. But if that’s not your jam, go for fried meatballs girl!

See recipe notes for details on that.

The BEST Italian Meatballs In Tomato Sauce {Baked or Pan-Fried}

Isn’t that a Meatballs Heaven? 😍

Extra Tips

  1. Use a cookie scoop, also know as ice cream scoop or melon baller to make, perfect, all the same size meatballs.
  2. Double the ingredients and make a double portion. These meatballs taste even better the next day.
  3. Save any leftover sauce and make pasta. Soooo good!

Baked Italian Meatballs In Rich Tomato Sauce

There is nothing you wouldn’t love about this classic Italian Meatballs. Soft, juicy bite-size nuggets cooked to perfection in rich tomato sauce.
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time35 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4



  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 shallot , grated or finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 small eggs or 1 medium/large
  • cup Parmesan cheese , grated
  • ½ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ cup milk + more if needed
  • Salt , pepper to taste

Tomato Sauce:


Prepare meatball mixture

  • In a large bowl add ground beef and crumble it with a wooden spoon or simply using your fingers.
  • Add finely chopped shallot. I like to use a microplane grater as it extracts all the juices to go with the meat and minces the shallot really well.
  • Add ground nutmeg, breadcrumbs, egg(s) and Parmesan cheese.
  • Mix everything well with your hands.
  • Slowly pour in the milk. Mix again until smooth and even texture.
  • Add salt and pepper.
  • If the mixture feels too dry add some more milk, if way too soft, almost liquid-y – add more breadcrumbs.
  • An ideal meatball mix should be moist, easy to roll in your hands and hold the shape.

Roll and bake meatballs

  • Preheat oven to 400 F.
  • Pinch of about an ounce of meat and roll it between the palms of your hands giving it a smooth round shape with no cracks.
  • With an ounce of meat you’ll have medium size meatballs, think walnut size.
  • Of course you can make your meatballs smaller or bigger, depending your preference.
  • Place rolled meatballs on a baking sheet. Line with parchment paper to avoid extra cleaning.
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes.

Cook meatballs in tomato sauce

  • In a large skillet pan add a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
  • Add baked meatballs, tomato pure (clean the can/bottle with about a quarter cup water and add to the sauce).
  • Add garlic cloves crushed with a flat knife, handful of fresh basil leaves and generous drizzle of dried oregano.
  • Bring to simmer and cook on low heat for 15-20 minutes.


Can I fry meatballs instead of baking them?
Yes, you can! Fry meatballs in extra virgin olive oil or a mix of butter and extra virgin olive oil. Then add the tomato sauce and proceed with the last steps of this recipe.
Can I freeze meatballs?
YES, you can! Freeze them on a tray after baking in the oven, then transfer in a freezer bag. When needed remove from the freezer and cook in the sauce as described in the recipe (no need to defrost).
Liked this recipe?Follow @italianrecipeb for more!

Can you freeze homemade meatballs?

Short answer is – absolutely!

Freeze them on a tray after baking in the oven, then transfer in a freezer bag. When needed remove from the freezer and cook in the sauce as described in the recipe (no need to defrost).

My best advice however is to freeze them together with the sauce. This way you will not loose that delicious juiciness from the meat and hence flavor.

Plus you don’t have to make the sauce from scratch, you are essentially freezing a ready-to-consume meal.

What do you serve with meatballs?

In English-speaking world Spaghetti is meatballs is the most classic version.

But it’s not how Italians serve it.

You might be surprised that Italians NEVER serve meatballs with pasta.

Instead, they cook and serve pasta (spaghetti including, but most commonly penne pasta) with rich meatballs sauce. And THEN, they serve meatballs as “secondo” or main course.

Meatballs are covered in tomato sauce, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and some chopped parsley.

Food of Gods!

The BEST Italian Meatballs In Tomato Sauce {Baked or Pan-Fried}

Looking for a piece of rustic bread to go with the meatballs?

Try one of these favorite Italian Homemade Breads!

Homemade Ciabatta Bread

Pagnotta {Italian Round Country Bread}

Buon Appetito!

Now YOU 🙂

Do you have you favorite recipe of Italian Meatballs? Perhaps, the recipe your mom or nonna always made on Sunday?

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