Nonna’s Spaghetti & Meatballs

This is our family recipe for Spaghetti and Meatballs given to me by my Mother-in-law, who makes the best red sauce I’ve ever tasted, and I have been making it myself for over thirty years. The trick to this recipe, as in most Italian cooking is to use the best ingredients you can find.

Although my Mother-in-law cans her own tomatoes from her garden, I don’t have that option, so I buy a good canned, tomatoes imported from Italy. Pomi is one brand that is now available in grocery stores, and is a personal favorite of mine.

The choice of meat is up to you, but I usually add a couple of sausages, plus a piece of beef to the sauce, and prefer a combination of ground beef and veal for the meatballs. Although I use strained tomatoes or passata most often when I make my sauce, chopped tomatoes work well also.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 

Nonna's Spaghetti And Meatballs

Nonna's Spaghetti And Meatballs

Yield: Serves 6
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 20 minutes

This is our family recipe for pasta sauce with meatballs, and it makes the best meatballs I've ever tasted.


For The Sauce:

  • 2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • 3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
  • 2 or 3 Small Pieces of Meat (Pork, Beef, or Chicken)
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Basil
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Parsley
  • Dash of Red Pepper Flakes (Optional)
  • 1 (6oz) Can Tomato Paste
  • 1 Large Can Pureed Tomatoes ( I use 1 (26oz) box Pomi Tomatoes)
  • About 2 1/2 Cups water
  • 3 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Pound Of Spaghetti or Pasta of Choice


  • 1 lb. Ground Beef
  • 1/2 lb. Ground Pork or Veal
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons Fresh Chopped Parsley
  • 2 Tablespoons Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Egg
  • 1 Cup Soft Bread Crumbs (best made from soft bread)
  • 1/2 Cup Milk


  1. Brown the meat pieces in the oil until well colored, then add the garlic, onion, and saute until tender.
  2. Add the paste, tomatoes, water and herbs, and bring to a boil, then season with salt and pepper to your own personal taste.
  3. Turn mixture down to a simmer.
  4. For the meatballs, add the bread crumbs to the milk to moisten.
  5. Mix all the meatball ingredients together with the bread crumb mixture.
  6. Shape into golf ball sized balls, and gently drop into the simmering sauce.
  7. Do not stir for the first 15 minutes or so until the meatballs begin to firm up.
  8. Continue to cook for 2 hours over very low heat, stirring occasionally, and adding extra water as needed if the sauce becomes too thick.
  9. This sauce, can be used over your pasta of choice while you serve the meatballs and meat pieces in a separate bowl.
  10. Just before serving, stir the 3 tablespoons of grated cheese into the sauce.
  11. Serve over pasta cooked al dente, and offer a little more parmesan cheese at the table.

Did you make this recipe?

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  1. I am a Scotsman (97% – the rest Norwegian), but am totally committed to Italian cuisine! A grandmother (100% Scots) taught my mother (94%) to put raisins in her meatballs! Sacrelige? No! Delicioso!!! I also use Italian-flavor bread crumbs and about three eggs/# of meat (no milk) to make the meatballs. Unconventional, but worth a try! The sweetness of the raisins does wonders. Fresh basil, as you recommend, is another secret…

  2. This sounds really good. I’m looking for a good meatball recipe to have over pasta and later for sandwiches. I think I’ll try this, maybe make it in the slowcooker (like your slow cooker turkey ragu). Should I add the meatballs toward the end? Do you think they will fall apart if I put them in the sauce for too long? Thanks for the great ideas.

  3. I’m preparing bison/beef/pork meatloaves wrapped in bacon with a carmelized onion gravy. This is a good recipe for e to use to get the spices just right! Thanks!

  4. My mother-in-law was from Calabria, and she taught me to make sauce and meatballs the same wsy. No browning the meatballs ahead of placing them in the sauce, as so often people do. Just drop them in raw and let them simmer slowly in the sauce. They taste so hood! I am enjoying your blog…thank you!

  5. We have a severe dairy allergy in my family so no milk, no cheese. I can’t bring myself to use the other “milks” out there we don’t like the taste.

    I sauté all the onion, garlic etc… and add and sauté Italian sausage. Once done I add a large can of paste cook that until it turns a rich color of redish brown. I then add a large can of whole tomatoes, crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce along with my Italian seasonings.

    When I make my meatballs I make them pretty close to the recipe above, but I use the red gravy that is cooking in place of the milk, but before it comes to a full boil. When I am done rolling my meatballs, I drop them in the gravy once it comes to a boil. I wait about 1/2 hour for them to firm up and then give them a gentle stir every now and then. When the gravy is done I do skim the fat off the top, with the hamburg I use min of 85% lean and the pork about the same, so there is always that extra fat that rises to the top.

    I noted above someone added raisins to the meatballs, my dad who was 100% Italian did the same, he use to soak them first. His parents were off the boat Italians so meatballs, sausage, meat, and red gravy as they called it in my area of the country were his specialty. He was one of those old school Italians that never set foot in a kitchen except to make his gravy ( mom was Irish, lol),it was rare and so wonderful when he did. He passed when I was still a kid so I learned by watching, no recipe

  6. We made this for dinner tonight – hands down the nicest pasta sauce my husband and I have ever tried! Thank you, this will be on high rotation from now on! 

  7. I have been using this recipe for the past 5 years whilst living in the UK, Middle East and Malaysia! . It has never failed me, always transports me back to Italy. The quality of ingredients does make a difference. The only thing I have not tried is adding the raisins, as I am making this again today I might just try it. 

  8. I just tried this recipe and it was OUTSTANDING!!!
    I used the sauce for pasta……yummmm
    I just made more sauce and I’m about to make meatball subs for the kids tomorrow. 
    Can’t wait to see how the meatballs turn out! 

  9. Hoping to make this today – can someone clarify the meat for the sauce? Recipe says 2 or 3 small pieces of meat – how small are we talking? Will 1 sausage be enough or should I add a small pc of steak as well? Thanks! 

    1. Joanne, this is an Italian home cooking recipe. You really cannot go wrong, but I’d use maybe one large sausage, and half a small steak or a small pork chop.

      1. I was curious about this, too. Does the meat stay in there to consume or is it just for flavor? Do you just throw in a few small pieces, or dice them up?

      2. Erika, the pieces of meat are very tender and of course edible. You serve them with the meatballs to whoever wants them.

  10. First let me say thank you for this website. I really am enjoying it. I so appreciate Nonna’s recipe. My Nonna is from Palermo and my mother from NY. Over the years I’ve tweaked how I was taught to make meatballs. No one in my family drops raw meatballs in the gravy/sauce to cook. I do. I also do not use my hand to mix as I think it toughens the meat. I also use wine as I roll and shape the meatballs. Plus, I add cheese rind to the gravy/sauce. Mom was shocked but was pleased with outcome. Again, thanks for the recipe, it confirmed I wasn’t crazy.

  11. Used the recipe today for the first time, perfecto! I added fresh parmasean to the sauce while it brewed, threw more on top of dish before severing and it was excellent. I used my own meatball recipe but next time I’ll use your recipe. 

    Thank you for sharing Nonnas recipe…..hit with my family! 

  12. Hi! Amazing recipe. I was wondering a do you mix the sauce + meatballs together with the pasta or separately? 

    1. You can serve it however you like. Typically the sauce is used to dress the pasta (tossed with the sauce) and the meatballs are passed around in a separate bowl.

  13. i am so so happy i found your recipe and so is my family. for me i can no longer eat any other meatballs because of how good this recipe is it has ruined all other ones that i have ever had. i love the flavors of them and the sauce so much. i am even going to have this for my birthday dinner this Thursday on January 10. i cannot wait until my birthday so i can have meatballs again. only 2 people plus myself eat this dish last time and there was no left overs at all this time there is going to be five people eating this dish i am asking my sister if we can make a double batch thank you for sharing this most amazing wonderful dish ever. i wish i could eat this everyday.
    thank you

  14. I grew up in a large Italian community in Canada, we love our pasta and meatballs 
     I add 1/2 cup of tomato juice to the meat
    Makes an even more juicy meatball if you could imagine it

  15. I plan on making your Meat Ball and Spahgetti Sauce tomorrow. I was wondering perhaps if you ever made Italian Meatball Subs on the second day If you had any leftover meatballs and subs and how you would assemble it.

    Thanks in advance.

  16. Tried this recipe yesterday and it’s amazing, doesn’t have to cost a lot either as you can buy cheaper alternatives if you are on a budget, the kids loved it also and I’m finishing the left overs as we speak ??? highly recommend everyone to try this. Thanks for sharing ??

  17. The recipe was actually easy to make. The meatballs tasted delicious. The sauce started out tasting good during the 2 hr cook time, however in the end, it was very thin and actually pretty acidic. I used all the exact ingredients as specified in the recipe. I think I will continue with the meatball recipe but use a different sauce.

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