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Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs with Homemade Tomato Sauce #SundaySupper #FamilyDinnerTable

Giant, fluffy meatballs simmered in a homemade tomato basil sauce, this classic dish will make you feel like an Italian grandmother.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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.

AmFam Back To The Family Dinnertable Logo

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.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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.

In addition, you can check out more of how American Family Insurance is bringing families back to the dinner table by following them on LinkedIn, Google+, Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.

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.

Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs |

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

Prep Time 45 minsPrep Time
Cook Time 45 minsCook Time
Total Time 1 hr 30 mins Total Time
Yields 8


    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


    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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***
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.
    8. 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.
    9. 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.
    10. 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.
    11. 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.
    12. 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.
    13. Serve while everything is hot and steamy with a big green salad and garlic bread.


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    Thanks for cooking with me today!

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    Recipe adapted from Simply Recipes

    { 52 comments… add one }

    Leave a Comment

    • Cindys Recipes October 13, 2013, 6:28 AM

      Spaghetti and meatballs sounds perfect to me! (I am an Italian Grandmother ;)) lol

    • Renee Dobbs October 13, 2013, 6:35 AM

      Oh my… now those are some awesome meatballs!!

    • cupcakekalechip October 13, 2013, 6:44 AM

      Mmmm, between your photos and description, I can almost smell the meatballs and sauce cooking in my home right now. I wish it were!

    • littleredkitchen October 13, 2013, 8:45 AM

      Just gorgeous photos! I love cooking up a big of of meatballs in sauce mostly because I like to sneak in the kitchen through the day to eat the sauce straight. You gotta test how it tastes, right? I used to do that as a kid too, it always made my day when I came home from school to see the big pot of sauce bubbling away on the stove.

    • Liz October 13, 2013, 9:56 AM

      You’ve convinced me to make spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight! YUM!

    • Sarah | Curious Cuisiniere October 13, 2013, 10:24 AM

      Ok, now you really have me craving spaghetti and meatballs! And, your pictures are gorgeous!

    • Heather S-G October 13, 2013, 10:55 AM

      Oh. YES! So evocative of childhood and comfort food…I love it. And I think that I love meatball subs even more than the day-of meatballs!

    • Jen @JuanitasCocina October 13, 2013, 12:53 PM

      Honestly, I don’t even need the pasta! LOVE these meatballs!

      • Courtney @ Neighborfood October 14, 2013, 11:55 AM

        Pssst…you TOTALLY don’t. I like eating just the meatballs and sauce with garlic bread and salad. Perfection!

    • Alida October 13, 2013, 1:36 PM

      That is an absolutely beautiful plate full of spaghetti and meatballs. It looks so good!

    • Constance October 13, 2013, 1:43 PM

      Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum! Yum!!!!

    • The Ninja Baker October 13, 2013, 2:18 PM

      Thank you your heart-filled post and scrumptious recipe, Courtney! I can see how this spaghetti recipe might lure even the pickiest eater into the kitchen =)

    • Growing Up Gabel October 13, 2013, 5:37 PM

      My all time favorite meal! And I love when there are leftovers!

    • Hezzi-Ds Books&Cooks October 13, 2013, 8:19 PM

      Those meatballs are calling my name! I also do meatball subs the day after we have spaghetti and meatballs.

    • Betsy Cohen October 13, 2013, 10:23 PM

      I felt like I was with you in the kitchen and at the table while reading your post. I also LOVE the top picture!!

      • Courtney @ Neighborfood October 14, 2013, 11:54 AM

        Thanks Betsy. That’s what I was hoping for. It’s the kind of meal you want to share (in person or online 🙂

    • October 13, 2013, 10:52 PM

      Goodness, these photographs are too lovely for words! I was drooling from the very first one. There is nothing like a classic dish if spaghetti and meatballs. Thank you for sharing!

    • Family Foodie October 14, 2013, 7:26 PM

      Oh my, this looks delicious! I would love a big bowl of that spaghetti and those meatballs right now. And your sauce sounds incredible, too!

    • Karen Hartzell October 15, 2013, 8:02 PM

      WOW! I am not even a fan of red sauce, but I would dive into that head first! Gorgeous photos of a dish that always gets family around the dinner table.

    • Min October 16, 2013, 6:51 AM

      I love anything with red sauce! Homemade? Even better! I love making spaghetti and meatballs when having guests over bc it’s simple to prepare and yet extremely satisfying. I don’t like it when they ask for seconds though bc that means less leftovers for me haha. But don’t worry…I serve it to them with a smile ;). I can just smell the sauce simmering in the kitchen! There are so many wonderful recipes here, and I’m so glad we connected!

    • Lori | Foxes Love Lemons October 16, 2013, 3:15 PM

      BEAUTIFUL photography, Courtney! Can I ask what type of lens you used for this? And do you use natural light or something else? I just can’t stop staring at these photos. G-l-a-m-o-r-o-u-s.

      • Courtney @ Neighborfood October 18, 2013, 11:34 AM

        Thanks Lori! I have a Nikon, so it’s a Nikkor 50 mm lens. Here’s the link: It took me a long time to invest in a lens, but now I wish I would have done it AGES ago. My photography improved by leaps and bounds when I switched, and now I hardly ever use my kit lens. I always shoot in natural light, usually with a reflector board. The lens allows me to lower the f-stop enough that I can get quality photos even in low light, as long as I use a tripod.

        • Lori | Foxes Love Lemons October 22, 2013, 5:35 PM

          Thanks for the info, Courtney! I actually also use a Nikon and that same exact lens! It gives me hope that I can eventually produce images like this. I will confess that sometimes I’m too lazy to set up a tripod, and some of my photos suffer for it. I’m thinking I need to start experimenting with black backgrounds. It’s so stunning!

          • Courtney @ Neighborfood October 23, 2013, 11:09 AM

            Thanks Lori. My photography is definitely still a work in progress, but it’s fun to see things improving little by little. This was one of my favorite things to shoot. I do like using black backgrounds a lot, and I really can’t say enough about the tripod. I just leave mine set up all the time now and rarely shoot without it. Although it is sometimes a pain to have in the kitchen!

    • Lillian Russo November 3, 2013, 12:09 PM

      What a beautifully written post! You made me want to call my family and invite them over for dinner! The recipe sounds delicious. I’m an old fashioned Italian with my own meatball and sauce recipes, but I’m always tempted to try new ones! This might be one that I try! Thank you so much for sharing! New fan here! I found you on the Food Foto Gallery! =D

      • Courtney @ Neighborfood November 5, 2013, 10:59 AM

        Hi Lillian! I’m so glad you stopped by and took the time to comment. I’m a sucker for a good meatball, so I’m always looking for new recipes. I loved these giant ones though–just felt extra special. 🙂

    • Eric November 30, 2013, 7:18 PM

      Well first time i have actually cooked an italian sauce from scratch. Made the dish for my wife and 2yr old daughter, a little wine and some Sinatra capped off a great night. Great recipe and glad i had the time to put it together. Thanks for sharing and look forward to trying other recipes…

      • Courtney @ Neighborfood December 1, 2013, 11:35 AM

        Thanks so much for coming by to comment Eric! I’m so glad it was a success. Wine and Sinatra is always a good choice. 🙂

    • Janet Schexnayder July 17, 2016, 4:05 PM

      Made a similar version today. Here are my notes.

      Stovetop version:

      Used bout 10 lbs of garden tomatoes, semi-cored, parboiled 30 sec., ice bathed, and peeled (smaller round ones and Roma types), pureed in food processor without cutting
      Next time: cut up some of the tomatoes at the equator and let some water drip out; may lose some seeds, too
      3 T olive oil (approx.)
      Did not use carrots
      No parsley
      Used frozen basil from last year’s garden
      2 T tomato paste
      No sugar!
      1 Tbsp salt, nearly 1 tbsp black pepper

      Same recipe, used 2.25 lbs beef, 1.5 lbs pork (NOT sausage)
      1 c milk
      4 slices bread
      Used 1/2 c ricotta
      1/2 c parmesan
      4 eggs
      1 Tbsp salt
      almost 1 Tbsp pepper
      1 1/2 tsp Winn-Dixie Italian Blend seasonings
      3 cloves garlc
      Did not flour and fry
      Baked in foil-lined 9x13s (metal and glass) for about 40 minutes — next time, turn once, maybe cook on a rack

      Made a similar version in slow cooker, with 6-8 lbs tomatoes
      Added several bay leaves
      Sauteed veggies in olive oil in nonstick skillet before adding to crockpot
      Used the rest of a 6-oz can tomato paste
      NO sugar

      Tastes good so far!


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