Giant, fluffy meatballs simmered in a homemade tomato basil sauce, this classic dish will make you feel like an Italian grandmother.
Sometimes it’s the simplest things that are the most satisfying. Sure I love going out to eat and experimenting with exotic ingredients every now and then.
But for pure satisfaction and delight, nothing beats the classics. A pile of spaghetti noodles. A ladle of homemade tomato sauce, and three mounds of freshly prepared cheese and herb meatballs.
A big fork. A big napkin. A big table crowded with elbows.
These are the meals that feed our bodies and our souls. They trigger memories of childhood. They spark conversation. They make you lean over your plate, take a deep whiff in, and let out a little sigh. They’re the kind of meals that remind you to say grace, to join hands, to be thankful.
I’ve gotten so used to cracking open a jar and tearing into a frozen bag of meatballs, I’ve forgotten what a treasure real tomato sauce and meatballs really is. I’ll be honest with you, this isn’t a meal you want to plan for the busiest, most stressful night of the week. It takes a good two hours to get all the components ready to go.
But I can honestly say I haven’t enjoyed cooking a meal this much in a long time.
Everything just felt right. A great big bowl filled with fragrant herbs, ricotta, Parmesan, and sausage. The sound of tomato sauce gently bubbling on the stove. The feel of meatballs rolling in my hands.
This is the kind of meal you want to get the whole family involved in. Have the kids tear up the bread crumbs. Mom can stir the tomato sauce. Let cousin Ethel roll the meatballs.
You’ll want to linger over the pot, taking in long drags of the sweet smell of tomato and basil. You’ll want to take your time, tell stories, drink wine, drag the whole family into the kitchen.
When it’s finished, your house will smell like an Italian restaurant. If everyone wasn’t already in the kitchen, they will be by the time you’re done.
Just don’t expect too much conversation once the spaghetti and meatballs are served. Everyone will be far too busy spinning pasta onto their forks and marveling over the fluffy, herby, spiced meatballs. Frying the meatballs for just a few minutes on each side before simmering them in the sauce gives them that irresistible crunchy crust and soft, cheesy filling.
The homemade tomato sauce is thick, rich, and just a tad sweet. It smells like grandmas and Sunday afternoons and labors of love and it’s just the right texture for coating a spaghetti noodle. You can make it with fresh or canned tomatoes, which makes it the perfect recipe to use year-round.
I’m honored this week to be joining #SundaySupper and American Family Insurance’s Back to the Table Campaign. This campaign is all about gathering families around the table to share meals and life together. It’s what Neighborfood is all about–finding community at the kitchen table.
The theme for this week is Big Sunday Supper Meals that can be reinvented with leftovers for easy weeknight meals.
I can’t imagine a better recipe to bring people to the table than this classic spaghetti and meatballs. The recipe feeds a crowd and then some, so you’ll have leftovers to make quick meals throughout the week.
Use the leftover meatballs to make these incredible Meatballs Subs with Caramelized Gruyere and Onions. Or slice them up and toss them on a pizza. You could even use them for Italian Wedding Soup. Or, if your menu is full for the week, you can freeze the uncooked meatballs so you’ll have a backup when that complicated dinner you had planned just ain’t gonna cut it.
You can also reuse the extra sauce throughout the week. Stir it into this Easy Skillet Lasagna. Use it in this Italian Sausage, Zucchini, and Pepper Bruschetta, or whip up a simple party appetizer like this Three Cheese Lasagna Dip. Just like the meatballs, the sauce can be frozen and pulled out whenever you need to use it.
This meatball recipe makes about 10 LARGE meatballs–we’re talking 3-4 inches around!!–and about 30 small meatballs. Of course, you can change up the recipe based on your needs. Make them all large if you want (you can figure two large meatballs per person–they’re very filling!) or make them small and spread them out throughout the week. I like to do some big ones for a family gathering, then make the rest small to use in dishes throughout the week.
To freeze the meatballs, I like to shape them, place them on a baking sheet, then flash freeze for 1-2 hours until solid. From there, simply put all the meatballs in a freezer safe ziplock bag and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. I like to take them out of the freezer the night before I plan to cook use them then bake them in sauce in a 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes or until cooked through.
If you’d like to have plenty of leftover sauce for the week, I recommend doubling the recipe, but just remember, you’ll need a BIG pot! A Dutch Oven works great for that.
Now it’s your turn to share your own favorite family meals! American Family Insurance is looking for great family recipes for an ecookbook, and you have a chance to be featured! Simply go to the contest link, submit your recipe, and you’re automatically entered to win one of 6 $100 Williams Sonoma Cards. One grand prize winner will receive a $500 Williams Sonoma Card. I don’t know about you, but I can imagine a whole lot of ways I could burn through $500 at Williams Sonoma.
If you’re looking for more delicious meal ideas to bring the family together, be sure to check out American Family Insurance’s Pinterest boards as well as all the other great, BIG #SundaySupper meal ideas from my friends below.
Now go. No seriously, stop reading this. Go now and round up your friends and family, make a big ol’ pot of food, and meet everyone at the table. You might be surprised what eating together can do.
Note: This post is sponsored by American Family Insurance. All opinions are my own.
Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs
For the Sauce
- 3 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups chopped onions
- 1 1/2 cups chopped carrots
- 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 28 oz. can crushed or whole tomatoes, including the juice, or 1 3/4 pound of fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 4 Tablespoons chopped fresh basil
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
For the meatballs
- 1 cup milk
- 4-5 slices bread, crusts removed
- 2 lbs. ground beef
- 1 lb. Italian Sausage
- 1/3 cup ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
- 3 eggs
- 3 teaspoons Kosher salt
- 1 1/2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 3 teaspoons black pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 4 garlic cloves, minced
- About 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup olive, grape, or vegetable oil, for frying
For the pasta
- 1 16 oz. box spaghetti noodles
- The easiest way to manage this recipe is to make sure everything is prepped in advance. This allows you to multitask so that while the sauce is simmering, you can work on the meatballs, and so forth.
- Start by prepping all of your sauce ingredients- chop your carrots, onions, and parsley and mince your garlic and basil. Open your canned tomato and paste jars. This will make it much easier to handle the sauce while you're working on the meatballs.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat, add oil, and add carrots, onions, and parsley. Toss to coat the veggies with the oil, then reduce heat to low, cover, and cook for 15-20 minutes or until veggies are softened. **At this point you can get started on the meatballs by mixing the bread crumbs and milk together--full directions are below***
- Once the veggies are soft, remove the cover, add the garlic, and increase the heat to medium high. Cook the garlic until fragrant (about 1 minute) then add canned tomatoes, paste, and basil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
- Bring the mixture to a gentle boil then reduce heat to low and allow to simmer uncovered for 30-45 minutes while you work on the meatballs. Give the sauce a quick whir in the blender or food processor for a smooth texture then return to the skillet.
- Heat the milk in a small saucepan until steaming. Tear the bread into small pieces and add it to the milk. Stir until coated. The texture should be like a thick, wet paste. If mixture is too loose, add a few more bread pieces.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs, salt, parsley, pepper, oregano, and garlic. Add the bread mixture and the meat then use your hands to stir together until a cohesive mixture forms. It doesn't have to look fully combined, it just needs to stick together.
- Form the mixture into the size balls of your choice and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. At this point, you can either place the baking sheet in the freezer, flash freeze for a few hours, then remove and place the meatballs in a freezer safe ziplock bag OR you can prepare to cook them.
- To cook the meatballs, fill a bowl with flour. Dredge each meatball in a little bit of flour then place back on the baking sheet.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Carefully add the flour dredged meatballs to the pot and allow to cook until browned, flipping so both sides brown, usually 2-3 minutes per side.
- Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce (which should be gently simmer over medium low to medium heat) and allow them to finish cooking in the sauce, usually 15-20 minutes depending on the size of your meatball. To check for doneness, remove one meatball and slice open. Make sure no pink remains in the middle.
- While the meatballs finish cooking, boil your pasta water with a few Tablespoons of salt and cook your pasta to al dente. Drain and cover to keep warm or serve immediately.
- Serve while everything is hot and steamy with a big green salad and garlic bread.
Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes
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