Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs seem to always be a family favorite in any household. Extra-large and tender meatballs swim in a sea of mouth-watering marinara sauce. This made-from-scratch recipe will prove to have you coming back time and again to re-make this forever beloved dish.
Why I love “The Best Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs” Recipe
- Both the sauce and the meatballs incorporate onions, garlic, fresh herbs and spices that boost the flavors of each.
- This recipe makes a large batch that is perfect for weeknight leftovers. And truth be told, this dish is better the second time around because of the merging of all the flavors.
- It’s the perfect comfort food dinner to remedy the winter “blahs” trying to take hold during these cold-weather moments.
Step by Step Instructions for Making this Recipe
The Marinara Sauce
#1 Sauté the Onions and Garlic
Use sweet onions (a lot of them-2 large) to give the sauce an added sweetness. These can be chopped coarsely because they’ll be going through a food mill in the end.
Before you add the onions, heat a heavy-bottomed pan like a Dutch Oven really hot over medium-high heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the chopped onions and turn the heat down between medium and medium-high. Add a generous amount of salt and pepper while the onions are cooking. Cook for about eight to ten minutes stirring frequently until they are tender and translucent.
The garlic goes in at the end of this stage and cooks for only one minute. Within this short time frame, their fragrance will fill your kitchen. It’s important not to burn the garlic. It can become bitter if it is overcooked.
Remove the pan and immediately add three tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir it for one minute. Adding tomato paste early in the cooking process causes the tomatoes in the paste to caramelize and enrich the flavor of the sauce even more. A thickening agent is another added benefit from the paste.
#2 Deglazing the Pan with White Wine
Don’t miss out on all those lovely brown bits of cooked onions on the bottom of the pan where all the flavor is hiding. The term “deglazing” is just a fancy word for removing those bits. Place the pan back on the stove and turn the heat to medium-high again. This recipe calls for adding 3/4 cup of dry white wine to the hot pan and scraping with a wooden spoon or spatula until the bottom is clean.
Turn the heat down to a low boil and cook until most of the wine has evaporated leaving a nice fruity taste for enriching the sauce further.
#3 Adding the Rest of the Marinara’s Ingredients
Three cans (28 ounces) of Crushed Tomatoes. Fire-roasted is my favorite because it adds a nice smoky contribution. The brand that I always reach for is Glen Muir.
- Tip for Roasting your own Tomatoes: In the summer, at the peak of the tomato season, you can roast your own straight out of the garden. It takes about 36 whole tomatoes to equal three of these cans. Cut in half, drizzle a little bit of olive oil, sprinkle on some salt and pepper and cook them in a 400°F oven for about 30 minutes, add a few sprigs of oregano and several torn basil leaves and cook for another 10 minutes or until the skins begin lifting off the tomatoes. Let them cool and smash them in a bowl.
Fresh Oregano and Basil. If at all possible, use fresh herbs in the sauce. If you have to substitute one, substitute the oregano. There’s just something so lovely about fresh basil in a marinara sauce.
Sometimes it’s difficult to find good fresh basil this time a year, but I’ll let you in on a little secret, I’ve found really nice basil at Sprouts every time I’ve gone recently. I’m sure it’s the same at Whole Foods. Look where the packaged fresh herbs are found.
I use a generous amount of oregano and basil – 4 tablespoons chopped oregano (or 4 teaspoons dried) and 3/4 cup chopped basil (or 3 tablespoons of dried). Believe me, the flavor that these two fresh herbs add is so incredible.
- Tip for adding herbs: The best way to add “fresh” herbs is 1/2 at the beginning and 1/2 at the end of cooking. The first addition will just become part of the sauce while the later one will retain its freshness and flavor. If you use “dried” herbs, add all of them at the beginning of cooking to simmer all the way through.
Onion and Garlic Powder. These are in addition to the sautéd chopped onion and garlic. It doesn’t need a lot, just one and one-half teaspoon each. Adding these just deepen those two flavors.
Fennel Seed. This seed is actually a spice and taste like licorice and anise only milder and somewhat sweeter. One and one-half tablespoon is all you need for this recipe.
Brown Sugar. For a little more sweetness, I added three tablespoons of brown sugar. Depending on whether you like your sauce sweet or not, you can either add less or none at all. The brown sugar is a personal preference item.
#4 Let the Sauce Simmer for One to Two Hours
Simmering the sauce is what improves its overall characteristics. A low and slow cooking process allows the flavors to concentrate and deepen into a rich satisfying pan of goodness. Patience is a key ingredient here. Simmer over low heat while stirring every once in a while – one to two hours. Just watch it so that it doesn’t burn on the bottom.
- Tip for Simmering. Don’t throw your parmesan rinds away, toss one into your sauce while it’s simmering. Throw your rinds in a ziplock bag and keep them in the freezer for when you need them. The cheese rind will add wonderful savory notes to the sauce while acting as a thickening agent as well. It won’t melt in the sauce, only soften and then you can remove it before you serve the dish.
#5 Using a Food Mill
My kitchen cabinets have never contained a food mill so I recently purchased one. I wanted to try it out on my Tomato Basil Soup and my Crockpot Lasagna sauce. I fell in love with it from the moment I used it and wondered why I’ve never had one before now. For this recipe, I used a medium blade and it turned out perfect.
If you don’t have a food mill, there’s no need to go out and purchase one though. You can get similar results with pureeing in a food processor. Just be careful putting really hot sauce in a food processor or blender as it can blow the lid off and make a mess of your kitchen.
Some people like chunky sauces, so if that’s you, leave the sauce the way it is. Chop the onions much smaller though.
#1 The Ingredient List
Three Ground Meats – Veal, Lamb and Beef (80/20). Using the fatty meats of lamb and beef along with the delicate meat of veal makes for profoundly tender meatballs. For this recipe, I used one pound each of these meats.
Chopped Onion and Garlic. These are the foundation of almost any savory dish, so of course, they would not be left on the side-lines in this recipe. One medium onion and six cloves of garlic (minced). Make sure and chop the onion finely.
The Cheeses – Grated Parmesan Cheese and Ricotta. You can find parmesan in pretty much any meatball recipe, but creamy ricotta is the secret ingredient here that helps produces a light and tender meatball while still holding its shape. I used 3/4 cup each of ricotta cheese and freshly grated parmesan.
Bread Crumbs. I didn’t use a lot of breadcrumbs because I didn’t want the meatballs to be heavy. One-third cup was all I used in order to give them a little bit of substance.
Spices and Seasonings. These are the ingredients that bring a depth of flavor to the meatballs but not overbearing – onion and garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes, Italian seasonings, fennel seed, salt and pepper.
Fresh Parsley. The last ingredient to give it some freshness is chopped Italian parsley. I added a good 1/4 cup of this chopped herb.
- Tip for Mixing the Meatballs. Don’ overmix the ingredients. It will make for a tougher meatball. How the meat is handled has a direct impact on how tender it is. Mix with your hands and only until the ingredients are combined.
#2 Forming the Meatballs
Use gentleness when forming the meatballs. You don’t want them compressed and tightly packed, otherwise, they become tough, dense and rubbery.
- Tip for rolling the balls. Lightly coat your hands with oil while you are rolling them. It helps with the meat not sticking to your hands.
It’s best for the balls to be evenly formed in size. Smalls meatballs will cook too fast and become overcooked and dry while the larger ones will be undercooked. My meatballs ended up being about 2 ounces each and the whole batch made 30-32.
- Tip for sizing the balls evenly. Use a small ice-cream scoop and then gently roll them with your hands. This way you ensure consistency and, also, you’re not over-handling them.
#3 Bake instead of Frying
The one thing I absolutely detest is spattered grease all over my stove and countertop. Good news – this recipe avoids all of that mess! These go on a baking sheet and into a 400°F oven to cook for about 20-25 minutes. No mess, no fuss, no spattering!
Be careful not to overcook. Meats in general when they cook too long, are tough and dry. Watch them after 15 minutes to see how they are cooking.
- Tip for cook meatballs. When they come out of the oven, immediately pull them off the baking sheet and place them on several sheets of paper towels in order for the grease to be absorbed.
#4 Add the Meatballs to the Sauce
You want the meatballs to simmer in the sauce for a good amount of time at this point. Simmering these two components together will continue the flavoring process of this dish.
Although the ingredient list for both the sauce and the meatballs are somewhat long, the recipe itself is very easy to pull together. And most of them will be found either in your pantry or your spice drawer.
Freezing the sauce and the meatballs
An added bonus is the meatballs in the sauce can be frozen for up to three months. Let the spaghetti and meatballs cool completely and ladle them into either a large ziplock bag or smaller bags for individual servings. When ready to serve, thaw them overnight in the refrigerator and either reheat in the microwave or in a saucepan over low heat.
- Tip for Freezing just the Meatballs. Consider making a second batch of meatballs and freezing them. There are so many ways to use the extra meatballs. Check this link on kitchn.com to see all the exciting things you can do with your frozen meatballs.
What to serve with your Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs
#1 Noodles that have been cooked al dente which is tender but still firm to the bite. I cooked brown rice noodles with this and they were fabulous. If your looking for a healthier pasta, definitely grab a bag of these noodles.
#2 Crusty bread like ciabatta. Find an artisan bread that is very tender in the interior yet nice and crispy on the outside. If you really want to liven it up, slice it, slather it with butter, rub it with fresh garlic and toast it under the broiler.
#3 A nice side salad. Just something very simple, it can be some romaine lettuce, grape tomatoes, and sliced cucumbers.
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The Best Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs
Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs seem to always be a family favorite in any household. Extra-large and tender meatballs swim in a sea of mouth-watering marinara sauce.
- Prep Time: 25 minutes
- Cook Time: 1 hour
- Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings with 4 meatballs 1x
- Category: Pasta Dishes
- Method: Baking and Stove Top
- Cuisine: Italian
Homemade Marinara Sauce
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 2 cups Chopped Onions
- 8 large Garlic Cloves (minced)
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper, to taste
- 3 tablespoons Tomato Paste
- 3/4 cup Dry White Wine (I used Chardonnay)
- 3 – 28 ounce can Fire Roasted Crushed Tomatoes (I prefer Glen Muir)
- 4 tablespoons chopped Fresh Oregano, divided
- 1 cup chopped Fresh Basil, divided
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Onion Powder
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoon Fennel Seeds
- 3 tablespoons Brown Sugar
- 1 pound Ground Veal
- 1 pound Ground Lamb
- 1 pound Ground Beef (80/20)
- 1 medium Finely Chopped Onion
- 6 large Garlic Cloves, minced
- 3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan Cheese
- 3/4 cup Ricotta Cheese
- 1/3 cup Bread Crumbs
- 1 teaspoon Onion Powder
- 1 teaspoon Garlic Powder
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes (to taste)
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian Seasoning
- 1 teaspoon Fennel Seed
- 2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
- 1 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1/4 cup Freshly Chopped Italian Parsely
Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Heat a Dutch Oven or a large heavy bottom pan over mediun-high heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil until hot. Lower the heat to medium and add 2 cups chopped onions and cook until tender and translucent, approximately 8-10 minutes. Stir frequently.
- Add 8 large minced garlic cloves and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Remove the pan from the heat and add 3 tablespoons of tomato paste. Stir for one minute.
- Place the Dutch Oven back on the heat and immediately add 3/4 cup dry white wine. Turn the heat to medium-high and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to a low boil and continue to cook until most of the liquid is evaporated.
- Add 3 – 28-ounce cans of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano, 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 1/2 teaspoon onion and garlic powder, 1 1/2 tablespoon fennel seeds, and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Cool slightly.
- Using a food mill with a medium blade and grind the marinara sauce through it.
- Simmer for one to two hours.
- Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oregano and 1/2 cup of basil the last 15 minutes before serving.
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 pound each of ground veal, ground lamb, ground beef, 1 medium finely chopped onion, 4 tablespoons large minced garlic cloves, 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 3/4 cup ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup bread crumbs, 1 teaspoon each garlic and onion powder, 1/2-1 teaspoon crushed red peppers (to taste), 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, 2 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper and 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley.
- Using a small ice-cream scoop, scoop out a round of the meat mixture (2 ounces each). Gently roll out the meat mixture into balls. Do not over handle at this stage.
- Place the meatballs on a baking sheet leaving space between them.
- Bake the meatballs for 20-25 minutes or until they are tender but fully cooked. Be careful not overcook them.
- Immediately remove the meatballs from the baking sheet and let them drain on layers of paper towels.
- Add the meatballs to the marinara sauce and simmer for the remaining time.
Serve the marinara sauce with the meatballs over al dente spaghetti noodles.
- The best way to add “fresh” herbs to the marinara sauce is 1/2 at the beginning and 1/2 at the end of cooking. The first addition will just become part of the sauce while the later one will retain its freshness and flavor. If you use “dried” herbs, add all of them at the beginning of cooking to simmer all the way through.
- Don’t throw your parmesan rinds away, toss one into your sauce while it’s simmering. It won’t melt, only soften and then you can remove it before you serve the sauce. Throw your rinds in a ziplock bag and keep them in the freezer for when you need them.
- If you don’t have a food mill, there’s no need to go out and purchase one. You can get similar results with pureeing in a food processor. Just be careful putting really hot sauce in a food processor or blender as it can blow the lid off and make a mess of your kitchen.
- Some people like chunky sauces, so if that’s you, leave the sauce the way it is. Chop the onions much smaller though.
- Don’ overmix the ingredients for the meatballs. It will make for a tougher meatball. How the meat is handled has a direct impact on how tender it is. Mix with your hands and only until the ingredients are combined.
- Use gentleness when forming the meatballs. You don’t want them compressed and tightly packed, otherwise, they become tough, dense and rubbery.
- Lightly coat your hands with oil while you are rolling the meat mixture into balls. It helps with the meat not sticking to your hands.
- Use a small ice-cream scoop and then gently roll the meatballs with your hands. This way you’re not over-handling them.
- When the meatballs come out of the oven, immediately pull them off the baking sheet and place them on several sheets of paper towels in order for the grease to be absorbed.
- An added bonus is the meatballs in the sauce can be frozen for up to three months. Let the spaghetti and meatballs cool completely and ladle them into either a large ziplock bag or smaller bags for individual servings.
- Serving Size: 1 1/2 cup Sauce with 4 meatballs
- Calories: 652
- Sugar: 15 g
- Sodium: 1210 mg
- Fat: 38 g
- Saturated Fat: 15 g
- Unsaturated Fat: 6 g
- Trans Fat: 0 g
- Carbohydrates: 33 g
- Fiber: 2 g
- Protein: 40 g
- Cholesterol: 95 mg
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