5 from 7 votes

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

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These tasty meatballs in tomato sauce are packed with veg, rice, a delightful tomato sauce, and a yummy flavour! Great for meal prep or family dinners.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
£1.51
Makes: 5
mains
Italian
Freezable

This quick and easy dinner includes juicy, homemade meatballs in tomato sauce. Each bite of this recipe includes a delicious thick tomato sauce that you’ll want to soak up with rice, bread, or by the spoonful.

This tomato meatballs sauce is made in a delicious Italian style, so you can expect a great texture and flavour. It’s the perfect easy weeknight recipe for busy professionals and parents.

Meatballs in tomato sauce in a large pan garnished with fresh basil and some grated cheese with a serving spoon in the pan.

Why you’ll love this recipe

There’s no need to make other side dishes with this recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce. I’ve included a side of rice and steamed kale, making it a delicious yet filling meal. Each meatball is packed with flavour from the parmesan cheese and seasoning, ensuring a tasty dish the whole family will enjoy.

This tomato meatball sauce recipe makes five servings, so it’s also a great dish for meal prep. You can easily portion out the leftovers for this meatball sauce recipe and take them to work during the week.

Create other easy meals with these additional meatball recipes: Meatball Marinara with Spiralized Courgette and Wholewheat Spaghetti and One Pot Meatballs and Rice

What is the best way to cook meatballs?

I love searing meatballs and then simmering them in sauce, as this method creates the juiciest, most flavourful meatballs in tomato sauce. By pan-frying homemade meatballs first, you’re giving them a beautiful brown colour on the outside and locking in the moisture. As these meatballs in tomato sauce simmer, they absorb all the yummy flavours of the sauce. It’s a win-win.

Is it okay to skip baking the meatballs and just simmer them in the sauce for longer? If so, how long would they need to simmer to be cooked? 

Browning the meatballs adds a lot of flavour. Additionally, you’ll have to simmer the meatballs in tomato sauce for longer to ensure they’re fully cooked, so I’d recommend browning them first. If you really want to add the meatballs straight into the sauce, I’d add an extra 10 minutes to the simmer time.

Ingredients

Ingredients to make meatballs in tomato sauce laid out on a pale blue back ground and labelled.

Pork Mince
I love using a lean pork mince to create these meatballs in tomato sauce. It offers a delicious flavour and helps create moist meatballs with tomato sauce. However, you can use other mince, like turkey or chicken, if you prefer.

Parmesan Cheese
A major way to add flavour to this meatball tomato sauce dish is by using parmesan cheese in the meatballs and as a topping. You can also use any hard cheese, like asiago or pecorino.

Rice
I chose white rice for this tomato sauce recipe for meatballs since it has a neutral flavour. Though, you can use jasmine or brown rice if you prefer.

See the recipe card for full information on ingredients and quantities.

Variations/ Adaptations

This meatballs in tomato sauce dish is easy to adjust to your taste preferences. Add red pepper flakes for heat, or toss some single cream into the tomato sauce for a more decadent dish.

You can also use other mince instead of pork for this meatballs in tomato sauce recipe. Lean ground beef, chicken, and turkey all work well for this dish. Avoid using a meat that’s too lean, or you’ll have dry meatballs. I would not go beyond an 85/15 fat-to-meat ratio.

Vegetarians can swap the meatballs with a meat-free alternative (pre-made vegetarian meatballs or a plant-based mince). If using a plant-based mince, you may need to adjust the seasoning to add more flavour to the meatballs.

How to Make Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the pork mince, half of the hard cheese/parmesan, 1 egg, oregano and a large pinch of salt and pepper (Image 1).
  2. Mix the ingredients thoroughly using your hands (Image 2).
2 step by step photos, the first with mince, grated cheese, egg and spices in a glass bowl and the second with a hand mixing the ingredients together.

3. Start forming around 20 medium sized meatballs (Image 3).

4. Place the meatballs on a flour dusted baking tray (Image 4).

2 step by step photos, the first with 2 hands forming meatballs and adding them to a tray and the second withall the meatballs laid out on a flour covered baking tray.

5. To a large non-stick frying pan, add the rapeseed oil and increase the heat to high. Once the pan is hot, add the meatballs floured side down, ensuring they are evenly distributed across the pan (you may have to fry in two batches) (Image 5). 

6. Leave to fry for 4 minutes, or until they achieve a nice browned side, then rotate and cook for a further 2 minutes. Set the meatballs aside (Image 6).

2 step by step photos, the first with raw meatballs frying in a pan and the second with browned meatballs in same pan.

7. Deglaze the pan with a splash of stock and add the onion. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and fry for 4 minutes (Image 7).

8. Then add the tomato puree and garlic, frying for a further 2 minutes (Image 8).

2 step by step photos, the first with finely sliced onions, tomato paste and garlic frying in a pan with wooden spoon and the second with the tomato mixed with the onions with the wooden spoon.

* During this time, cook your rice according to packet instructions and steam the kale over your rice.

9. Pour the passata, beef stock, an extra pinch of oregano and the fresh thyme into the pan. Add the meatballs back into the pan at this stage. Cover with a lid to cook for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes (Image 9).

10. When the sauce has thickened nicely, remove the thyme sprigs and taste to adjust the seasoning. Top with fresh basil and the reserved hard cheese/ parmesan. Serve up with a side of rice & kale and enjoy! (Image 10).

2 step by step photos, the first with passata in a the pan with fresh thyme sprigs and the second with meatballs in the tomato sauce in the pan topped with grated cheese and basil leaves.

Tips for the best result

Add flour to the baking sheet
Here’s a secret I use to make these meatballs in tomato sauce even more delicious – adding flour to the baking sheet before placing the raw meatballs down. This layer of flour adds a crispy coating to the Italian meatballs in tomato sauce as they brown in the pan.

Sear the meatballs first
This step is essential, as it helps lock in flavour and moisture. It also helps keep the meatballs from falling apart as they simmer in the sauce. If you cook raw meatballs directly in the sauce, they won’t be as juicy or tasty

Taste the sauce before serving. Whenever you’re creating a saucy dish, always taste the sauce before serving it. That way, you can adjust it to your taste preferences. For example, this tomato sauce for meatballs may need an extra sprinkle of salt or pepper before you plate it.

Here are some other saucy recipes for you to try ; Creamy Bacon Pasta, Creamy Chicken and Chorizo Pasta and Creamy Coconut Rice with Loaded Greens

Storing, Freezing and Reheating Instructions

If you have leftover meatballs, you can store them in airtight containers in the fridge for future meals. These meatballs in tomato sauce should stay good for up to five days.

Those who can’t consume the entire recipe in a few days can freeze this recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce. Pack the meatball sauce and rice/kale into airtight containers (keeping the sauce/meatballs and rice/kale packed separately) once everything has cooled. These items should last in the freezer for up to three months.

When you’re ready to reheat this meal, let the rice, kale, sauce, and meatballs defrost in the fridge overnight. Then, zap them in the microwave for a few minutes until everything is heated through. Make reheating easier by packing the leftovers into a single or double portion.

What to serve with Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Since this meatballs with tomato sauce dish already includes a side of rice and steamed kale, you don’t need to add much to this recipe. However, you can serve it with noodles (instead of rice), garlic bread, salad, roasted veg, or a dessert.

Close up of meatballs covered in a cheesy tomato sauce garnished with fresh basil.

Love a tomato based sauce? See my article on 11 Tomato Puree Substitutes In Your Pantry!

FAQ

Do you beat eggs before adding them to the meatballs?

You should beat the eggs before adding them to the meatball mixture. This step ensures a more well-combined meatball.

Do you breadcrumbs for meatballs?

Bread crumbs are one of the ingredients which help keep meatballs moist. As the meatballs cook, breadcrumbs trap the delicious juices inside each ball, ensuring each bite is juicy. While you can make meatballs without breadcrumbs, they’ll be drier.

Can you overmix meatballs?

Yes, you can overmix meatballs. If you mix them too much, you’ll have tough meatballs, which are challenging to eat.

Why do meatballs come out tough?

A binding agent is necessary for juicy, tender meatballs. You’ll be left with a dry, tough dish if you don’t put eggs, milk, or a similar ingredient into meatballs.

What happens if you don’t put eggs in meatballs?

If you skip the eggs, you’ll be left with crumbly meatballs that fall apart easily. You can skip the eggs if you use a substitute (like the ones listed below).

What holds meatballs together besides eggs?

If you’re looking for an alternative to eggs as a meatball binder, you can try buttermilk, ricotta cheese, or plain yoghurt. Each of these ingredients will help keep the meatballs in tomato sauce together as they cook.

What is the best meat to fat ratio for meatballs?

80/20 is a great option for meatballs, as the higher fat content will yield a juicier finished product. However, I recommend using 85/15 to help cut down on the calories a bit without sacrificing flavour/moisture.

How many meatballs does one pound of ground meat make?

One pound (around 450g) of ground meat will make about 20-22 meatballs, depending on how large each meatball is.

Enjoy these meatballs in tomato sauce along with yummy desserts like Chocolate Tiffin, Frozen Yogurt Bark with Berries, or Overnight Wheetabix Cheesecake with Nutella.

Meatballs in tomato sauce in a large pan garnished with fresh basil and some grated cheese.

If you tried this Meatballs in Tomato Sauce recipe, it would be mean so much to me if you could leave a review & a star rating to let me know how you found it! I love hearing about your experiences – it motivates me to keep creating more and more recipes for you guys 💛 Let’s get cooking! – Mimi x

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

Print
5 from 7 votes
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 35 minutes
£1.51
mains
Italian
Freezable
Servings: 5
These tasty meatballs in tomato sauce are packed with veg, rice, a delightful tomato sauce, and a yummy flavour! Great for meal prep or family dinners.

Ingredients

  • 1 egg (£1.50/6)=(£0.25)
  • 500 g pork mince (£2.65)
  • 80 g hard cheese/parmesan, finely grated (£1.74/2)=(£0.87)
  • 350 g white rice (£0.52)
  • 1 onion, finely diced (£0.15)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced (£0.39)
  • 3 tbsp tbsp tomato puree (£0.65/2)=(£0.33)
  • 1000 g (2 cartons) of passata (£0.60x2)=(£1.20)
  • Handful of fresh thyme sprigs (£0.55)
  • 150 g kale, to serve as side (£0.65)
  • Optional fresh basil to serve

Cupboard Essentials

  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 400 ml beef stock

Method

  • In a mixing bowl, combine the pork mince, half of the hard cheese/parmesan, 1 egg, oregano and a large pinch of salt and pepper. Mix to thoroughly combine using your hands.
  • Form into 20 medium sized meatballs and place on a flour dusted baking tray.
  • To a large non-stick frying pan, add the rapeseed oil and increase the heat to high. Once the pan is hot, add the meatballs floured side down, ensuring they are evenly distributed across the pan (you may have to fry in two batches).
  • Leave to fry for 4 minutes, or until they achieve nice browning, then rotate and cook for a further 2 minutes. Set the meatballs aside.
  • Deglaze the pan with a splash of stock and add the onion. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and fry for 4 minutes. Then add the tomato puree and garlic, frying for a further 2 minutes.
  • Pour the passata, beef stock, an extra pinch of oregano and the fresh thyme into the pan. Add the meatballs back into the pan at this stage. Cover with a lid to cook for 10 minutes, then remove the lid and cook for a further 10 minutes.
  • During this time, cook your rice according to packet instructions and steam the kale over your rice.
  • When the sauce has thickened nicely, remove the thyme sprigs and taste to adjust the seasoning. Top with fresh basil and the reserved hard cheese/ parmesan. Serve up with a side of rice & kale and enjoy!

Notes

  • Enhance meatball texture by adding flour to the baking sheet for a crispy coating during browning.
  • Ensure flavour retention and prevent meatball breakage by searing them first, enhancing juiciness and taste.
  • Prior to serving, taste the tomato sauce and make adjustments for personalised flavor, such as adding salt or pepper as needed.

Nutrition

Servings: 5 servings
Fat: 15g
Calories: 615kcal
Carbohydrates: 73g
Protein: 44g

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