Meatballs in tomato sauce: authentic Italian recipe

Written by on March 12, 2021 in Gastronomy, Recipes

meatball in tomato sauce

Meatballs in tomato sauce, the authentic Italian recipe

Meatballs or ‘polpette’ as the Italians call them, is a famous dish all over the world. The Swedish, Germans and Arabs all have their own versions and proudly include them in their gastronomic traditions. It is so easy to prepare, very versatile and also cost effective.

In America, “Spaghetti with meatballs” has become a staple dish of Italian-American cuisine. The recipe for this dish varies a lot from State to State: in the southern states, for example, they are usually more spicy and larger than in the northern states. There is also a version called ‘porcupine’ which adds rice in with the meatball mix.

American spaghetti with meatballs

The origin of meatballs

The origin of the delicious Italian meatball is still uncertain, but it is most likely that it did not come from Italy. Research shows that most probably it came from Persia, from a dish called Kofta, a typical Middle Eastern meatball. Its name derives from the Persian “koofteh” which means “meat-beater”.

Meatballs came to Europe only in the 8th century when the Arabs conquered Spain.  In Italy the first evidence of the word “polpetta” was found only in the 1400s in the book called “Libro de Arte Coquinaria” by Martino da Como, where he described the recipe. The Italian name polpetta comes from the word ‘polpa’ – pulp, as in “polpa di vitello” – veal pulp. The dish became popular in 1881 thanks to Pellegrino Artusi when he wrote of it as “a dish that everyone knows how to make, even the donkey…” in his famous manual “Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well”.

There are several ways of preparing polpette in Italy; fried in oil, baked in the oven, dry or with a sauce etc. It all depends on how your Nonna prepared it. It is a typical comfort food and perfect for all occasions, especially as a huge, messy shared plate at a gathering of family or friends.

Here we share with you our favourite version:  “polpette al sugo”.

Ingredients for 24 meatballs

220 g  minced beef, 165 g sausages (pork), 1 egg, 30 g stale bread (turn into breadcrumbs), 25 g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (grated), 1 tbsp parsley, finely chopped, 1 pinch of dried oregano, 1 pinch of ground nutmeg, salt and black pepper to taste and extra virgin olive oil to fry the meatballs.

Ingredients for the ‘sugo’ – tomato sauce

350 g  tomato passata (puree), 50 g water, 1 tsp of salt, some dried oregano and black pepper to taste.

preparation making the meatballs and browning them


Start by putting the cut up stale bread into a mixer and whiz it through to create your fresh breadcrumbs. You can use also normal breadcrumbs, but you will need less than 30 g as it tents to take the liquid from the meat and could dry it out.

Take a big bowl and add the minced beef. Cut the skin of the sausages lengthwise and with a big knife squeeze out the meat and add it to the mince. Add the spices, dried oregano, fresh parsley, ground nutmeg. Then mix in the grated Parmesan cheese with the egg and the breadcrumbs. Knead it all together with your hands until you have obtained a homogeneous mixture. After that, take little pieces of the mixture and create 24 or so little meatballs.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan. Place the meatballs in the hot oil just for a couple of minutes to brown them all over. Then pour in the tomato passata, add the water and season with salt and pepper.  Lower the heat and cook the meatballs in the tomato sauce for about 15-20 minutes.

Once it is ready, season with some oregano and serve!

meatballs in tomato sauce

Buon Appetito!!!


Find out more about this delicious typical dish from the Aosta Valley: La Carbonada with polenta!





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