Classic Italian spaghetti meatballs

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Original Italian spaghetti with meatballs in tomato sauce

Spaghetti  doesn’t have to be boring, there are so many  different flavours  you can use to vary the seasoning and  sauce base. This is a classic Italian  beef  meat ball recipe  distinguished by the addition of  lemon zest. The meat balls are  braised in a saucepan before adding to the tomato sauce, giving  rich caramalized flavour to  the meat balls. As with many Italian dishes the rich tomato sauce is flavoured with oregano leaves.

Cooking tips:

  • To get tender meatballs, add bread while mixing the mince. 
  • The secret to flavorful meatballs lies in using a combination of meat. Buy lean ground beef with at least 7% to 15% fat content as it enhances the taste of the dish and provides a contrasting texture. You can use a mixture of veal and pork with beef. You can also substitute chicken or turkey or chicken as a healthier option. You can also use Italian sausage meat. Just remove the casing and use the sausage.
  • Broil the meatballs before you simmer them in the tomato puree. This keeps the meat together in shape and enhances the surface, texture and taste. Don’t forget to flip the meatball cooked under the broiler to get both sides browned equally. It introduces a number of flavours and aromas to the dish.
  • Only add freshly grated parmesan. If you use pre-packaged shredded cheese, then make sure its threads are fine.
  • Avoid using garlic in the meatballs as well as the sauce.
  • Do not mix the meatball mixture more than needed, as it will make your meatballs tough.
  • You can boil 1 pound of spaghetti at one time in case you have a small pot.
  • Follow all the instructions mention on the package to boil the spaghetti.
  • Simmering meatballs for a longer time in the sauce allows the liquid to entice the appetizing flavours when added to the meat. 
  • Make sure the sauce is thick, so it clings to the noodles. You can adjust its consistency with water or beef stock. 

What can you serve Italian spaghetti meatballs with?

You can serve Italian spaghetti meatballs with Focaccia bread, Caprese salad, grilled veggies, tomato salad with balsamic vinaigrette, and spinach and strawberry salad. 

Should you bake the meatballs or fry them?

For making meatballs, the meat is mixed with egg and bread to keep it together. So, none of the options will affect the taste or texture. However, frying can help you cook meatballs quickly, and baking can help you cut in calories.

Spices used in this recipe


  1. To make the meatballs:  Combine all the meatball ingredients into a large bowl. Using your hands’ mix thoroughly, kneading the mixture until sticky enough to form small golf ball size balls. Use your hands to form the meatballs, using enough pressure to keep the ball shape.  Cover with glad wrap and refrigerate for 15 min, while you prepare the sauce base.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a deep-dish pan, add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent approx 5 min. Stir in the tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, oregano, sugar and simmer to let the flavors develop approx 10 min. If the sauce is too thick, a little water may be added.

  3. In a separate saucepan, heat the oil and add the meatballs. Saute until the meatballs are browned well on each side. Reduce the heat and add the tomato sauce to the meatballs,  simmer a further 10 min.

  4. Cook the pasta as per packet instructions.
    Serve the spaghetti meatballs with pasta and garnish with parmesan and oregano.

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