This classic spaghetti and meatball recipe combines a flavorful all beef homemade meatball with a simple marinara sauce from scratch that can be served over spaghetti or your favorite pasta. A great Sunday feast or even a leftover weekday meal.
There are a million ways to make classic spaghetti and meatballs. One of my favorite chef’s Giada De Laurentis, makes one of the best versions I’ve ever tasted. Though her recipe combines different kinds of meat to make up the meatballs, I use just beef to keep it simple but still flavorful.
Homemade marinara is the perfect addition to this dish and can be whipped up really easily giving the meatballs a flavorful sauce to cook in which marries them together. The result is meatballs and sauce that are perfect to spoon over freshly cooked spaghetti!
Why is Spaghetti and Meatballs So Good //
- Made from scratch. The meatballs and marinara are homemade from scratch making them free of any preservatives and added sugar.
- Cook in large batches. You can double or triple the recipe to make a large batch that can be frozen or enjoyed throughout the week.
- Smells Amazing. The aroma coming through your house when simmering these meatballs is comforting and will get everyone hungry for dinner.
- Freezes Well. You can freeze the meatballs and sauce together and thaw out overnight for a quick dinner. All you’ll have to do is cook the pasta!
- Can be customized. The meatballs and sauce have room for you to add your favorite seasonings or spices.
Is Spaghetti and Meatballs an Italian dish?
Spaghetti and meatball is not necessarily an Italian dish. Although a lot of Italian dishes especially in the south of Italy share similar ingredients: long pasta, meat and marinara sauce. Spaghetti and meatballs is a dish widely popular in the United States.
For the Meatballs
- Lean Ground Beef – I love using lean ground beef for meatballs because they end up being high in protein and don’t release too much oil into the marinara.
- Grated Onion & Garlic – Gives the meatballs a light garlic and onion flavor throughout which is classic in Italian cooking.
- Italian Parsley – Helps give a fresh flavor and pop of green color to the meatballs that balances all the flavors.
- Egg – Egg is a classic ingredient in meatballs because it helps keep the meatballs binded together while cooking.
- Ketchup – Ketchup gives a tangy acidity and tomato flavor to the meatballs that compliment the marinara well.
- Salt & Pepper – Balances all the flavors in the meatballs.
- Grated Parmesan – Adds a salty and tangy bite.
- Italian Breadcrumbs – Helps bind the meatballs giving them a classic texture that holds up well in sauce.
For the Marinara
- Olive Oil – You’ll need this cooking oil to saute up the carrots, celery, garlic and onion.
- Mirepoix – This trio of carrots, celery and onion are used to give an aromatic flavor to soups and sauces when sauteed before adding the other ingredients in the sauce.
- Garlic – Fresh garlic complements the flavors of the marinara and must be in an Italian red sauce.
- Salt & Pepper – Balances the flavors of the marinara. Adjust as necessary.
- Crushed Tomatoes – I use San Marzano because I think that they are the best. More expensive, but completely worth it!
- Bay Leaves – Adds a hint of woody flavor to the sauce that pairs well with the other ingredients.
How to Make // The Steps
- Step 1: Put the first 7 ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together. And then stir in the cheese and bread crumbs. Then mix in the beef. Obviously, I did not do this in this picture, do as I say, not as I do.
- Step 2: I roll my meatballs fairly small. I use an ice cream scooper to try and get them roughly the same size. One of my favorite kitchen tools is disposable gloves. I am not a huge fan of touching stuff with bare hands, so these are a Godsend.
- Step 3: Some recipes recommend frying the meatballs in olive oil but I like to bake mine. I think that it is a little healthier. I line a baking sheet covered with tin foil. I put a cooling rack on top of that coated with a little cooking spray.
- Step 4: Bake them in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. It will depend on the size of your meatballs. They are also going to be simmered in the sauce too, so do not overcook them or they will be really dry.
- Step 5: In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and saute for about 10 minutes. The onions will soften. (I do not usually use red onions, but that is what I had at the time. It was nap time and I was not heading out over onions.)
- Step 6: Add the celery, carrots, salt, and pepper to the pot. Cook until the veggies are soft, another 10 minutes or so.
- Step 7: Add the crushed tomatoes and bay leaves. I like my sauce fairly smooth so I hit it with my immersion blender.
- Step 8: Simmer over low heat until the sauce thickens, about an hour.
- Step 9: Add your meatballs and let simmer uncovered with the sauce. Give it a stir every 10-15 minutes or so. Be careful when you are cooking the sauce to not break up the meatballs when you stir it. I serve half of it for dinner and freeze the other half.
- Step 9: Serve over some pasta and sprinkle with cheese. Dinner (that everyone loves) is served!
Tips & Tricks
- Make sure your onion is grated and the garlic is minced up well. This will help the meatball cook evenly and keep it from falling apart.
- If you’d like to adjust your Italian seasonings, feel free to use plain breadcrumbs and add your favorite seasonings to taste.
- When stirring the sauce, be gentle as to make sure the meatballs stay intact.
- As an alternative to baking, you can pan fry your meatballs in cooking oil over medium high heat until cooked through.
- This sauce can be simmered longer if preferred. The longer it simmers, the better flavor it has!
Is it Better to Bake or Fry Meatballs?
There is a big misconception that frying the meatballs will keep them intact and prevent them from breaking, however it is the breadcrumbs and eggs that hold the meatball together. Frying the meatballs is just a faster way to cook them. That being said, if you want to make your dish a little healthier and lose the excess calories, baking them is certainly the better choice.
Is it Okay to Put Meatballs Raw in the Sauce?
Most people bake or fry their meatballs so it gets a crispier, brown exterior. However it is okay to just put the meatballs in the sauce raw. All you have to do is simmer it on low heat until the meatballs are cooked and tender.
Variations on Spaghetti and Meatballs //
- Feel free to use any combination of your favorite ground meat to make the meatballs.
- Like a little spice? Add some red pepper flakes to the sauce and/or meatballs for a spicy spaghetti and meatballs.
- You can replace the grated parmesan with grated pecorino romano for a salty and tangy Italian flavor.
- If you’re looking to make this dinner low carb, serve over a bed of zucchini or spaghetti squash noodles.
- Add a bit more nutrition to the sauce by stirring in some chopped spinach or kale into the finished sauce.
- Don’t like spaghetti? Feel free to use your favorite pasta such as: linguine, fettuccine or rotini.
How to Store Spaghetti and Meatballs //
Meatballs and marinara can be stored in the fridge for up to 5 days in an airtight container. It’s best to store them separately from the cooked pasta and try to only make as much pasta as you need for that meal.
Make-Ahead and Freezer Options //
Divide the meatballs and marinara into freezer-safe bags and freeze them flat to save room. I like to freeze using a Ziploc bag because it takes far less time to defrost when the bags are flat like this. I also get a lot more space out of my freezer this way. Defrost overnight in the fridge and reheat when ready to use.