Delicious Homemade Red Sauce and Meatballs

This Red Sauce and Meatballs recipe is the perfect Sunday dinner, just like Grandma used to make!

Family Favorite

When I tell my 11 y/o son that dinner is red sauce and meatballs, he literally jumps up and down and shouts YES!

Kids can be picky and mine is no different, but this recipe rates high on the boy’s list of “delicious.” He also tends to have seconds, which means he fills up his hollow leg and doesn’t require two more snacks before bedtime. Add in a salad or some crusty bread, and it’s just like Grandma used to make.

I’ll be honest, though–which I’ve said I would do when I started this blog–this recipe takes some time. I have a few tips to cut down the time below, but I prefer to make it on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday when I have a little more time and can let the act of cooking soothe me.

Yes, cooking relaxes me. It wasn’t always that way (see the About page), but at this point it’s a labor of love. I enjoy cooking, even at the end of a long day, and even with a child and dogs and cats and a husband clamoring for my attention. Because feeding said child and husband a good, healthy, satisfying meal is something I love to do.

Even when the child says “Ew, gross!”, which happens about a third of the time.

But he still has to eat his Brussels sprouts.

The Secret is in the Sauce

The secret is literally in the sauce… Well, cooking the meatballs in the sauce. The sauce flavors the meatballs and vice versa so you end up with a delicious, flavorful meal. You could go one step further and finish the noodles in the sauce, but for reasons I can’t explain, I don’t do that for this particular recipe.

Note to self: Try it next time.

Red Sauce and Meatballs

What I like about this sauce is the ingredients are basic. Canned crushed tomatoes (though I suggest high quality imported Italian tomatoes), tomato paste, onion, garlic, salt and pepper.

The meatballs are the same. Bread crumbs, egg, onion, and Parmesan cheese–which, if you keep a wedge in your fridge, will last months. I use Parmesan or Parmigiano-Reggiano in risotto, meatballs, and to top any pasta I make. Just keep a Microplane on hand, which I also recommend in Gear Corner.

Red sauce and meatablls

There are a few things you might need to buy if you don’t already have them on hand, such as fresh parsley or fresh basil (or frozen, I’ll give you a tutorial on how to freeze herbs in a later post), but for the most part, this is a pantry dish.

Tips For a Weeknight

You can make this dish on a busy weeknight with a little preparation. The meatballs can be baked in advance for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees, or until cooked through. You can freeze the meatballs for about three months and just pull them out when you’re ready for the sauce.

Red Sauce and Meatballs

The sauce only takes about 30 minutes to make and simmer, so if you add the frozen meatballs when you assemble the sauce, they should be brought up to temp. (NOTE: I have not done this. I’m being truthful and making an assumption that frozen, 1 inch meatballs will thaw and heat through in 30 minutes of simmering. Attempt at your own peril–maybe put them in the fridge in the morning to thaw a little before dinner).

Now For the Nitty Gritty Details

I’m giving you what would be considered a double recipe. We like leftover spaghetti at our house (well, especially me–I take it for lunch to work.) I find that this recipe feeds the three of us a large meal, including second helpings for some of us, but also leaves me with about 3 lunches. The “official” recipe is for a double batch, but here is how you can cut it into a “single” batch:

1 lb beef
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
Decrease breadcrumbs to 1/4 cup
Decrease the onion in the meatballs to 1/3 cup, finely chopped

I would recommend that the other ingredients remain about the same, although you can adjust the amounts as you desire.

A not-so-pro tip: Don’t multi-task by making the meatballs at the same time as sauteing the onion and garlic to start the sauce…I might have tried that, and discovered that I had to wash my hands about every 30 seconds.

Like many other dishes I make, there is a lot of room for playing around with it comes to red sauce and meatballs. Cooking is not like baking, when you need a precise amount of yeast or flour or just the right amount of water. You can adjust this red sauce and meatballs recipe to meet the needs of your palate.

So enjoy and spork it!

Red Sauce and Meatballs

This Red Sauce and Meatball recipe is the perfect Sunday dinner, just like Grandma used to make!
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time40 minutes
Total Time1 hour 10 minutes
Course: Dinner, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: Homemade, Meatball, Red sauce, Spaghetti
Servings: 6 people
Author: Alyssa Alexander


  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 cup parsley, plus more for garnish chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 4 cloves garlic minced fine, divided
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese grated
  • 1 cup onion finely chopped, divided
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 28oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 14oz can diced tomatoes
  • 3-4 fresh basil leaves chopped fine
  • 2 cups water
  • 6 oz tomato paste
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 16 oz spaghetti noodles


  • Meatballs: In a large bowl, mix ground beef, ground pork, parsley, breadcrumbs, egg, 2 tbsp chopped garlic, Parmesan cheese, and 1/2 cup finely chopped onion. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix and form into 1 inch balls. Do not over mix.
  • Sauce: Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or large sauce pan over medium heat. Saute onion until golden brown. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add remaining ingredients and mix. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low to simmer.
  • Gently add meatballs to the sauce one at a time, spacing them apart as much as possible to assist cooking. Using a wooden spoon, press the meatballs into the sauce.
  • Simmer for 30-35 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning and to reposition the meatballs.
  • Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook the noodles according to the package. Drain.
  • Serve sauce and meatballs over noodles. Garnish with finely chopped parsley.


Meatballs can be made in advance, baked for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees, and frozen for up to 3 months. Add to the sauce during assembly to thaw and heat through.

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