Meatballs in tomato sauce

Polpettine al Sugo. A lot of people mistakenly think that this dish was invented in the USA, but although it’s not nearly as common here as it seems to be in the states, it is Italian through and through. It tastes even better heated up the next day. I served it with linguine(a bit of a crime: ragu should be served with a ribbon pasta such as tagliatelle) the first day and polenta the second, but it goes with pretty much every kind of pasta.

meatballs in tomato sauce ingredients

  • 300g  minced beef
  • 100g Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 4 sprigs parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp parmesan cheese — grated
  • 1 egg
  • 30g dry bread crumbs
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 500g passata
  • 1 handful basil leaves, torn
  • olive oil
    1. Mix together the beef, sausage, the breadcrumbs moistened in a little water, garlic and parsley in a bowl. I find it easiest to use my hands. When it is well mixed, season with salt and pepper and mix in the egg.
    2. Form into small meatballs, about the size of a marble.


  1. Fry the meatballs in plenty of olive oil until they are evenly browned. Drain on Kitchen towels.
  2. Drain the excess oil from the pan, add the onions and fry for about 5 minutes over a medium heat.
  3. Add the passata and basil, season with salt and pepper and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
  4. Add the meatballs and cook for a further 15 minutes.
  5. Serve with your favourite pasta or with polenta.

meatballs in tomato sauce finished dish

meatballs with polenta


Now I’ve been here a while I realise that I’ve been very English and got things a bit wrong. :hangs his head in shame: The recipe above is still authentic, but the Italians don’t serve the meatballs with the pasta. They are eaten as the secondo.

Maryann puts it better than I can(see comments):

I think why most people say spaghetti and meatballs originated in American is that they eat it all on the same plate, in the same course. In my family, first the macaroni, then the meat from the sauce.

9 thoughts on “Meatballs in tomato sauce

  1. I think tomato paste is usually concentrated. It makes a good sauce, but you’ll need to dilute it or the sauce will be too thick.

  2. thank you for your reply. I am in the US and now I understand that passata is tomato paste which is available in 6 oz cans.

  3. Hi Trudy, glad you like the blog

    Passata is sieved tomatoes. It’s pretty easy to find in the UK (I’m not sure where you’re based) It’ll be with the tinned tomatoes in the supermarket. If you can’t find it, use tinned chopped tomatoes instead.


    You’re probably right about the spaghetti with meatballs thing. I have to admit that I was very English and had them together with the pasta this time. Next time I do braciole, I’m going to add sausage and meatballs. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  4. Hi. Just getting familar with your blog. Love the recipe for the meatballs. Just wondering what is the passata. I believe it may be a pasta which is added after make the meatballs.

  5. Ah! You put sausage in your meatballs where we have meatballs, sausage, and braciole. Seperate. I think why most people say spaghetti and meatballs originated in American is that they eat it all on the same plate, in the same course. In my family, first the macaroni, then the meat from the sauce.
    North and south have a little tug that probably stems a lot from food differences, believe it or not. I liked this post 🙂

  6. Thanks Nick

    There is certainly no love lost between north and south. It’s similar to the UK in that respect. Being Italian, there is much greater rivalry between neighbouring regions. Between Bari and Lecce or between Bergamo and Brescia for example.

    One of the names the northerners have for the southerners is ‘soap eaters’. Apparently during the struggle to unify Italy, Garibaldi sent a shipment of soap to aid his southern allies. Not knowing what it was, so the story goes, they ate it.

    Generally I’ve found that there are a lot of jokes and banter, but when it comes down to it, on a personal level, Italians seem to get on fairly well together.

  7. Nice site. Saw your post on bbc messageboards. You yourself may find this chap/website interesting:

    He runs a cooking school in Seliano. Writes about Puglia, Italy …based in New York.

    As for me, I’d love to hear about the differences between living in the North and the South. I knew a Milanese who insisted that there was no south of Italy – it was all a part of Africa. And some people I know from the south say some very amusing things about the northerers.

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