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.

Orecchiette with meatballs

  I don’t know how traditional this recipe is, but it tasted nice. There are thousands of recipes for minced meat in Italy. They range from polpettine(meatballs), increasing in size through polpette (burger shapes) to polpettone(meatloaf). This recipe calls for veal, but beef would work well too. Serves 4

orecchiette with meatballs ingredients

  400     grams  orecchiette — preferably fresh
  250     grams  veal — minced
  150     grams  fresh bread crumbs
             parsley — chopped
  1         clove  garlic — minced
  200    milliliters  fresh milk
  300    grams  tomaotes — peeled, seeded and chopped or tinned chopped tomatoes
             small handful of basil — cut into thin strips
             small handful of rocket — cut into thin strips
  1         medium  onion — finely chopped
  4         tablespoons  ricotta dura — grated
             olive oil

  • Soak the bread crumbs in the milk for 15 minutes
  • To make the meatballs, mix together the veal, bread crumbs, and parsley.
  • Season with salt and pepper and a few grates of nutmeg.
  • Knead the mixture until it comes together.
  • Form into meatballs about the size of a grape.
  • To make the sauce, fry the onion in a little olive oil for a few minutes and then add the tomatoes. Cover and cook over a low heat for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the meatballs to the sauce and cook for a further 15 minutes
  • A couple of minutes before the end of cooking, add the basil and rocket
  • Serve with the cooked orecchiette and sprinkled with the ricotta

orecchiette with meatballs finished

Rigatoni baked with aubergines and meatballs

After yesterday’s simple recipe, I’m going to the other extreme today. This takes quite a while to assemble but is worth it in the end. Real Italian ‘comfort food’  😉

Serves 4

  •  500 g Rigatoni
  • 1 Aubergine
  • Olive Oil
  • 100g Provola cheese
  • 1 Mozzarella
  • 100 g Cooked ham
  • 400 ml Tomato sauce (if you have time, make your own. As you can see from the pic, I cheated.)
  • 100 g Grated Parmesan or Grana Padano

For the meatballs

  • 450 g Minced beef
  • 25 g White breadcrumbs
  • 1 Egg
  • 15g Grated parmesan
  • Parsley, chopped
  • 1 Clove garlic, finely chopped
  • White pepper
  • Heat the oven to 180°C
  • Make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients and forming small balls with the mixture.
  • Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

    Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

  •  Boil the rigatoni in salted water until cooked. Drain. Cut the aubergine into slices 1cm thick. Grill until soft.
  • Grate the provola, slice the mozzarella, chop the ham.
  • In a baking dish put a layer of rigatoni. Place in order a layer of aubergine and then a few meatballs. Cover with tomato sauce, cheeses and ham. Repeat until all the ingredients are used up. Scatter grated Parmesan over the surface.
  • Bake for about 25-35 minutes until the mixture is bubbling and the top is golden.
Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

Rigatoni with aubergines and meatballs

This is adapted from a recipe collected by Matthew Fort in his book Eating Up Italy(excellent foodie porn). The original included sliced hardboiled eggs and he fried the aubergines. I didn’t think my arteries could cope with that 🙂