Spaghetti and Meatballs

A delicious and easy recipe for Spaghetti and Meatballs which your family will love! No need to fry the meatballs first – simmer the meatballs gently in the sauce for tender meatballs and maximum flavour!

spaghetti and meatballs in white skillet

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Minced beef (or ground beef) happens to be a popular ingredient at this point in time. When the pandemic was first announced, it appears that toilet paper and minced beef flew off the supermarket shelves as people everywhere prepared to hunker down at home.

And I suppose it makes sense that minced beef is such a popular ingredient; it is both economical and very practical. From this one ingredient, you can make so many meals, including the ever-popular Spaghetti and Meatballs.

Why This Recipe Works

  • Customise the meatball recipe to your liking, e.g. use a mix of beef and pork, or add chilli flakes for a spicy kick.
  • There’s no need to brown the meatballs first – simply cook them gently in the pasta sauce for tender meatballs.
  • Easily double or triple the recipe and keep leftovers in the freezer.
spaghetti and meatballs in white skillet garnished with basil

Easy Meatballs

My daughter’s favourite dish “ever” is pasta with tomato sauce (Marinara sauce). And I’m thankful because, if time is tight and all I have in the pantry is a few cans of tomatoes, I can make a quick tomato sauce for dinner and still be considered “the best mum ever”.

But to take things up a notch, I sometimes like to make meatballs to cook in the tomato sauce. I don’t fry the meatballs beforehand, although you totally could if you wanted to.

I simply roll the meatballs and add them to the simmering tomato sauce, letting them gently poach in the sauce, and thereby flavouring the sauce as well with their meatiness.

Cooking the meatballs this way saves on a lot of time, as well as cleaning up as you will have less pans to wash!

Meatball Recipe

Most meatball recipes lend themselves easily to customisation. I recommend using my meatball recipe below mostly as a guide – add or substitute some of the ingredients to your own liking.

  • Use different types of meat: I often use a mix of minced beef and pork, or minced beef and veal. This is mostly because beef, on its own, can be a bit lean, and adding pork or veal helps to add a bit of fat to the mixture, which in turn helps to give more flavour to the meatballs.
  • Or use all beef: But you can definitely also just use 100% beef, if you prefer.
  • Fresh herbs: I like to add LOTS of finely chopped fresh herbs which not only make the meatballs look nicer when you cut through them, but I think the herbs also cut through the rich, meatiness of the meatballs. I like to use either parsley, chives or oregano, or a mix.
  • Dried herbs: If you don’t have fresh herbs to hand, dried herbs also work well here in both the meatballs and sauce. I recommend using dried oregano and/or a dried Italian seasoning.
  • Onions are optional: Sometimes I add grated or diced onion to my meatballs, sometimes I leave them out. Much depends on what ingredients I have to hand, and also how much time I have to prepare dinner!
  • Use panko breadcrumbs: I always have panko breadcrumbs in my pantry, and they work great here. Alternatively, you could substitute with regular breadcrumbs or semolina.
raw meatballs on baking tray

How to Serve Spaghetti and Meatballs

I like to serve Spaghetti and Meatballs family-style at the table. Which is to say, everything bubbling hot in a large pan or skillet, and portioned at the table.

I always mix the cooked pasta through the sauce before serving. This ensures that every strand of pasta is coated with the sauce, as well as flavoured with the sauce.

For this reason, it’s important to cook the pasta to “al dente”, so that it can cook an extra minute or two in the sauce.

Also, you are not limited to spaghetti here. Other pasta noodles also work well in this dish, such as fettucine or parpadelle. But my children particularly love risoni (orzo) or even bow-tie pasta here. Whatever you have in the pantry!

spaghetti and meatballs garnished with fresh herbs

More Italian Recipes

For more Italian recipes, you might also like:

Easy Marinara Sauce

Spaghetti Bolognese

Spinach Lasagna


Spaghetti and Meatballs

5 from 1 reviews

A delicious and easy recipe for Spaghetti and Meatballs which your family will love! No need to fry the meatballs first – simmer the meatballs gently in the sauce for tender meatballs and maximum flavour!

  • Author: Thanh | Eat, Little Bird
  • Prep Time: 30 mins
  • Cook Time: 30 mins
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Serves 3 to 4
  • Category: Dinner
  • Method: Stove Top
  • Cuisine: Italian


For the pasta sauce

  • 1 large onion
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 700 g (2 cups) tomato passata OR 2 x 400 g (14 oz) canned diced tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 60 ml (1/4 cup) milk OR unsweetened almond milk, or to taste
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper

For the meatballs

  • 500 g (1 lb) ground beef (or a mix of ground beef and ground pork or ground veal)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon oregano, finely chopped
  • 23 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan (optional)
  • 3 tablespoons Panko breadcrumbs, regular breadcrumbs OR semolina
  • 1 egg

To serve

  • spaghetti, (about 70 g dried pasta, per person) cooked according to packet instructions in salted boiling water, but reserve the cooking water
  • parsley, finely chopped
  • basil, finely chopped
  • parmesan, freshly grated


For the pasta sauce

  1. Finely chop the onion, celery and garlic. You can do this by hand or with the food processor (I always choose the latter).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Sauté the onion mixture with a generous pinch of salt for several minutes, or until the mixture has softened.
  4. Add the tomato passata or canned tomatoes.
  5. Add about 60 ml (1/4 cup) water to the bottle of tomato passata, swirl it around to “clean” the bottle, and pour this water into the pan.
  6. Add the sugar.
  7. Let the pasta sauce simmer gently for about 10 minutes.
  8. Add the milk. I usually add just enough milk to lighten the colour of the sauce a little.
  9. Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper as needed. Don’t over-season the sauce at this stage, because you will cook the meatballs in the sauce which, in turn, will flavour the sauce as well.
  10. Let the mixture simmer gently over low-medium heat while you prepare the meatballs.

For the meatballs

  1. Place all of the ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
  2. Use your hands to mix everything together, taking care not to over-work the mixture.
  3. Once everything is combined, roll the mixture into small meatballs. I like my meatballs to be quite small, so I use about 1 heaped teaspoon per meatball.
  4. As you roll the meatballs, drop them into the simmering pasta sauce, but do not stir the sauce at this stage. The meatballs will gently cook in the pasta sauce and will become firm as they cook.
  5. Repeat with all of the meatball mixture.
  6. Once all of the meatballs have been added to the sauce, let the sauce simmer gently for another 5-10 minutes, or until you can see that the last of the meatballs have firmed up. (At this point, I would suggest cooking the pasta if you plan to serve right away.)
  7. Use a wooden spoon to gently stir the sauce.
  8. If the sauce looks too thick, add a dash of boiling water to thin the sauce or, even better, some pasta cooking water.
  9. Taste the sauce for seasoning.
  10. To serve, add the cooked pasta to the sauce and meatballs. Give everything a good stir and make sure the pasta is coated in the sauce. If you need to thin the sauce, add some more pasta cooking water.
  11. Garnish with fresh herbs. Serve with freshly grated parmesan.

Kitchen Notes

* My recipe above uses herbs and spices which I always have to hand, but you can easily substitute with your favourite herbs and spices.
* I always use fresh herbs in my cooking (thanks to my herb garden), but dried herbs also work great as a substitute. I recommend using dried oregano or dried Italian seasoning.
* For a spicy kick, I recommend adding a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes to both the meatballs and sauce.

* Any leftovers can be kept in the fridge for several days, or in the freezer in suitable containers or zip-lock freezer bags.
* When reheating, the sauce will be thicker than usual. I recommend thinning the sauce with some boiling water, or by adding some tomato passata or canned tomatoes to the sauce.

To convert from cups to grams, and vice-versa, please see this handy Conversion Chart for Basic Ingredients.

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1 comment

  1. Brett 13 May 2020

    Delicious! I usually brown the meatballs first but I tried it your way and was surprised by how tender the meatballs were. Much healthier too!