Braised Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

These Braised Meatballs in Tomato Sauce are the ultimate in comfort food. Cooked in a hearty marinara sauce, the braised Italian meatballs a great recipe for the beginner cook.

From starting the tomato sauce to finishing the braised meatballs, this recipe takes about 60 to 90 minutes. To save time, you can use store-bought marinara or make the tomato sauce ahead of time. So read on for some meatball tips and tricks, or grab your cookie scoop, hit that Jump to Recipe button, and let’s make braised meatballs!

A plate of spaghetti with three braised meatballs in tomato sauce.
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Ingredients

ground beef, panko, egg, and other ingredients for meatballs on a countertop.

 

This braised meatball recipe uses the standard ratio of one pound of meat, one egg, and half-cup of breadcrumbs. Do you love meatballs? Check out more ideas for how to make meatballs and what to serve with meatballs for dinner.

can of tomatoes, onion, red wine and other ingredients for the tomato sauce on a countertop.

One specific ingredient recommendation of mine is to use whole canned tomatoes. Another lifetime ago, I did an Italian cooking class with Diane Seed in Rome. She shared the wisdom that cans of chopped and pureed tomatoes often use less than perfect tomatoes.

Also, I’m sure you’ve heard that cooking wine should be wine that you’re willing to drink. If I’m not opening a bottle for dinner, I use dry vermouth in soups and sauces. Vermouth stays stable in the fridge for longer, and I always have it for dry martinis!

Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.

Please see the recipe card below for complete information on ingredients and quantities.

Variations and substitutions

  • Sub in a combination of ground beef and ground pork.
  • Before braising, give your meatballs a quick fry in a thin layer of oil for a crispy crust.
  • Sub in any long pasta shape like linguine or bucatini.

Why braise meatballs?

Braising is a cooking method that involves searing (frying in a thin layer of oil until browned on the exterior) before cooking meat slowly in a covered pan in a small amount of liquid or sauce. I’m here to say that the searing step is not required for braised meatballs.

Braised meatballs are soft and tender, and braising makes it harder to overcook your meatballs. If you prefer a crusty meatball, saute them in oil or bake your meatballs before braising them in the tomato sauce.

You can braise meatballs in any sort of liquid or sauce. Check out these braised BBQ chicken meatballs!

Recipe tips and tricks

The 60 to 90 minute range for this Italian meatball recipe depends on how quickly you chop and how many things you can do at once. Please see some notes below for ways to make sure it doesn’t take longer!

Before you do anything else, toast the pine nuts for the meatballs, and heat a large pot of water. Once the pasta water comes to a boil, add your salt and keep it at a simmer until it’s time to cook the pasta.

Toasting pine nuts makes them crunchier and brings out their flavor, whether for meatballs, as a topping for pasta salad, or ground for basil pesto. You can toast nuts in the oven or on the stove top. Toasted nuts should smell nutty and not burnt.

Making the tomato sauce

Step 1: to make the tomato sauce, start by cooking chopped onions over medium-low heat until softened, about five to seven minutes.

Step 2: add the garlic, salt, thyme, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and saute for one minute until the garlic is fragrant.

Step 3: add the tomatoes and wine, cover, and simmer over low. Now it’s time to make meatballs, but come back to the tomato sauce and stir occasionally, breaking up the tomatoes.

Before adding the meatballs, don’t forget to add in the sugar and parsley. Stir and adjust the salt, pepper, and sugar to taste!

a pan of hearty marinara sauce.

Braising meatballs

Step 4: start by soaking your breadcrumbs in the milk or buttermilk (this creates a panade that will keep your meatballs tender). Then chop and add the rest of the ingredients as you get them ready.

Step 5: mix the meatball mixture together with your hands to avoid over-mixing it. You don’t need to knead meatballs or burgers, or they’ll become tough.

a bowl with the meatball mixture.

Step 6: portion out golf ball-sized meatballs and lay them on a lined baking sheet. A large cookie scoop helps to get equal size meatballs. You can make larger or smaller braised meatballs as you wish, but you’ll need to adjust the cooking time by a few minutes.

shaped meatballs on a tray lined with wax paper.

Braising the meatballs

Step 7: when you’re ready to braise your meatballs, place them in the tomato sauce so they are not touching and cover the pan. Let them braise in the marinara until the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the meatballs over once or twice in the sauce.

Step 8: about halfway through, depending on your pasta’s cooking time, turn up the heat on your pasta pot so it boils again, and add the pasta. If your sauce is thinner than you prefer, you can thicken this marinara sauce by partially uncovering the pan as it cooks.

meatballs braising in a hearty marinara sauce.

Tip from the wise quacker: one of the best things you can do when making pasta is to boil noodles to al dente and finish them back in the pasta pot with some of the tomato sauce. This gives your pasta more flavor and prevents it from sticking.

Serve immediately with the braised meatballs on top of the pasta and grated Parmesan on the side.

How to serve braised meatballs

Here are a few ideas for how to serve your spaghetti and meatballs and a few other ideas for what to do with braised meatballs in tomato sauce:

Recipe FAQs

Can I add vegetables to the marinara sauce?

If you’re comfortable in the kitchen, you can vary your tomato sauce in all sorts of ways to make a hearty marinara. If I wanted to add vegetables, I’d think mushrooms or roasted red peppers, for example.

Can I freeze spaghetti and meatballs?

You can absolutely freeze leftover meatballs in tomato sauce. However, frozen spaghetti will be mushy when reheated. Shorter, thicker pasta shapes like penne or ziti would hold up better to freezing, but I’d just avoid it if possible.

Can I make this recipe ahead of time?

If you make the tomato sauce ahead of time, this recipe should take only about 30 minutes. You can refrigerate the tomato sauce for 3 to 5 days, freeze it for 3 to 6 months, or can it, if you do that sort of thing.

Love this recipe? Please leave a 5-heart 💜💜💜💜💜 rating in the recipe card below. Let me know how much you loved it, or any problems you had, in the comments section further down.

Recipe

Braised Meatballs in a Hearty Marinara Sauce

5 from 1 vote
Category: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings: 4
Calories: 771kcal
A classic recipe for spaghetti and meatballs using Italian meatballs that are braised in a marinara sauce.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Tomato sauce

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ½ medium onion chopped fine
  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons vermouth, white or red wine
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoon parsley chopped

Meatballs

  • ½ cup panko
  • ¼ cup milk or buttermilk
  • ½ ounce parmesan cheese grated, plus extra for serving
  • 1 tablespoon parsley chopped
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 tablespoon pine nuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1 egg
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta

Instructions

Tomato sauce

  • Make the tomato sauce. In a large pan with a lid, saute the onion in the olive oil over medium low heat for 5 to 7 minutes until soft.
    1 tablespoon olive oil, ½ medium onion
  • Add the garlic, salt, thyme, black pepper and red pepper flakes, and saute for one minute.
    1 to 2 cloves garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon dried thyme, 1 pinch red pepper flakes, ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Add the tomatoes and wine and raise the temperature until it starts to bubble vigorously. Reduce the temp to a slow simmer and partially cover. Cook on low, stirring intermittently to break up the tomatoes, while you make the meatballs. Before adding the meatballs, add the sugar and parsley and then salt and pepper to taste.
    1 28 ounce can whole tomatoes, 2 tablespoons vermouth, white or red wine, 1 teaspoon granulated sugar, 2 teaspoon parsley

Braised meatballs

  • To make the meatballs, combine the panko and milk or buttermilk in a large bowl and let soak for 10 minutes.
    ¼ cup milk or buttermilk, ½ cup panko
  • Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl and gently mix with your hands.
    ½ ounce parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon parsley, 1 teaspoon salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, 2 tablespoon pine nuts,, 1 egg, 1 pound ground beef, 1 clove garlic
  • Using a large scoop (about ¼ cup), form meatballs into large rounds and place on a plate or clean cutting board while you form all the meatballs. This should make 10 to 12 large meatballs.
  • Place the meatballs gently into the tomato sauce, cover the pan, and keep at a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Once or twice, gently turn the meatballs so they are covered in sauce, and scrape the pan bottom. The meatballs should have an internal temperature of >165°F when done.
  • Counting backwards from the end of the 30 minutes, cook your spaghetti or other pasta per directions. That is, if your spaghetti is supposed to take 12 minutes to cook, have the pasta water boiling so that you can put the spaghetti in the pot after the meatballs have been cooking for 18 minutes.
    1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta

Notes

  • Don’t forget to start heating the pasta water. My cooktop takes forever so I turn it on high when I start making the sauce. Once it boils, I keep it at a simmer until it’s time to cook the pasta.
  • It also helps to toast the pine nuts at the start of cooking so they cool down before chopping. You can toast nuts in the oven or on the stove top. If I have the oven on already, I check them at 5 minutes. If I’m starting with a cold oven, I check them at 10 minutes. Toasted nuts should smell nutty and not burnt.
  • This rrecipe will make 18 to 20 meatballs using a medium sized cookie scoop. Cook for only about 20 minutes.
  • If your sauce is thinner than you prefer, you can thicken this marinara sauce by partially uncovering the pan as it cooks.
  • One additional thing to give pasta more flavor and to prevent it from sticking is to boil it only to al dente and then finish it off with some of the tomato sauce.

Nutrition

Calories: 771kcal | Carbohydrates: 95g | Protein: 43g | Fat: 23g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 119mg | Sodium: 798mg | Potassium: 735mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin A: 215IU | Vitamin C: 3mg | Calcium: 128mg | Iron: 5mg
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