Nonna Anna’s Meatballs and Red Sauce (Spaghetti and Meatballs)

Spaghetti-Meatballs-Platter2There is nothing like homemade meatballs. In Italian homes store bought meatballs are almost sacrilegious. This recipe is from my Italian mother-in-law, (Also named Anna) she is really Italian, born in Naples…you can’t get much more authentic than that!

The beautiful thing about this dish is you can make a large quantity of these delicious orbs of meaty goodness and freeze some for future use. It is very easy to double this recipe.Spaghetti-Meatballs-Eating

Also, if you don’t eat beef, you can substitute just about any ground meat or sausage that you prefer. The flavors will be different, but you will still have a delicious meatball!

frozen dinners

Spaghetti and Meatballs

This recipe makes a good, basic tomato sauce. You can add other things if you like, such as mushrooms, hot pepper flakes, red wine, etc.

Don't be put off by the length of the recipe. It is long because I have included 3 different ways of cooking the meatballs. Mangia!

Makes about 16 meatballs.

Author Anna



  • 1-1/2 pounds meat - 1/2# lean ground beef, 1/2# ground pork, 1/2# ground veal (you can substitute Italian sausage, casings removed; ground turkey, ground chicken, etc. depending on your desire)
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup minced parsley
  • 2-3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese, about 1/2 cup
  • 3/4 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1 egg
  • Water


  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, Nonna Anna's Rule of Thumb: Use 1 Tablespoon olive oil per can of tomatoes
  • 4 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 28-ounce cans whole peeled tomatoes
  • 8 large basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 - 3 Tablespoons sliced basil, for garnish



  1. In a large bowl mix the meats, garlic, parsley, cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper and eggs. I prefer to use my hands, you can use a wooden spoon, but it will take longer. Make sure everything is well incorporated.
  2. Start adding water, about 1/4 cup at a time and mix after each addition. Once the meat mixture is the texture you want your meatballs to be when you bite into them, stop adding the water.
  3. Make one meatball, 2", about 2 ounces of meat.
  4. Cook this first meatball by your preferred method (below).
  5. Once fully cooked, TASTE - this is the most IMPORTANT part of making these little nuggets of tender goodness!
  6. Is there enough salt? Pepper? Cheese? Any flavor that needs to be amped up can be added to your meat mixture at this time.
  7. After the seasonings are adjusted to your liking, roll the remainder of the meat into 2" balls.
  8. Then cook, using your preferred method.

In the Sauce, this yields a tender meatball AND gives the sauce a deeper flavor AND it is easier to keep the meatballs round. (My preference)

  1. Drop half the meatballs into the simmering sauce. (About 8 meatballs)

  2. Occasionally stir gently.
  3. They should be fully cooked in about 15 minutes.
  4. Remove the first batch and then cook the 2nd batch.

Frying. (Vince's preference)

  1. Heat about 2 Tablespoons oil in a medium size frying pan
  2. Place 8 meatballs in the pan and turn occasionally until browned and cooked all the way through.
  3. Be sure not to crowd them in the pan or they will steam instead of brown.
  4. Remove to paper towels to drain then fry the second batch.
  5. If desired, add cooked meatballs to the sauce.

Bake in Oven. (A good and healthy alternative to cook a large quantity at once.)

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

  2. Spray a baking sheet with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray.
  3. Place the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet with about 2" inches between each meatball.
  4. Bake for 25-30 minutes until cooked through.
  5. If desired, add cooked meatballs to the sauce.

Directions for Sauce:

  1. Put the tomatoes through a food mill or purée in a blender.
  2. Heat oil in dutch oven over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic and cook, do not brown, about 4 minutes, until fragrant.

  4. Add the tomatoes to the garlic and oil.
  5. Tear up the 8 basil leaves into small pieces and drop them in the sauce.
  6. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until thickened. Stir occasionally.

  8. If cooking the meatballs in the sauce, you can start once the sauce has cooked for about 30 minutes.
  9. Taste and add salt and pepper as desired.
  10. Serve over pasta and garnish with sliced basil leaves.

Recipe Notes

Boil up some spaghetti or linguine noodles, make a big green salad, serve a delicious Italian red wine, and light a couple may think you are in Italy!

Gr8 Do-Ahead Tips:

After cooking the meatballs:

  • If refrigerating, you can make them 2 days ahead, seal in a container separate from the sauce, then re-warm in the sauce.
  • If freezing, meatballs will keep in an airtight container for 3 months. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then warm up in the sauce.


  • Completely cool the sauce down and pour into airtight containers.
  • Sauce can be frozen, separate from the meatballs, for up to 4 months.
  • You can defrost in the refrigerator or just put it in a pan and defrost over low heat, stirring occasionally so as not to scorch the bottom.



  1. Brenda Perlin | 30th Oct 15

    How could this not be good? You are sharing family secrets!!!!

    • Anna | 31st Oct 15

      Hi Brenda, we got permission…Nonna Anna even checked it to make sure it was all correct!

  2. Claudia Kerns | 31st Oct 15

    Looking forward to trying this recipe. Grandma Farinella’s meatballs were so delicious growing up, but never had the recipe. I can’t wait!! Thank you for this gift.

    • Anna | 31st Oct 15

      You are so welcome, Lon! Family recipes are the Gr8-est!

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