Back to Basics: Meatballs on the Menu

I suppose I am naive to think that making meatballs is a no-brainer. A few months ago, when I renovated my kitchen and was without one for several weeks, I went to a prominent food store in my area and bought some rather expensive prepared food so I could feed my family while I wasn’t able to cook. When I saw meatballs in tomato sauce on offer, I grabbed them because firstly, my kids love meat balls, and secondly, I figured, how bad can they be? Silly me…

Considering how expensive this little container of meatballs was, I was expecting, at the very least, edible food. Turns out I was reaching too far. We quite literally could not eat these meatballs. I am not sure what effort you have to go to in order to make meatballs taste and feel so bad, but it’s not the way it should be. For me, meatballs in tomato sauce  is a staple, one of those dishes I make as an extra when I want to make sure there’s always something on my table for kids to eat when I’m making more “grown up” dishes for the adults.

Meatballs in tomato sauce served with spaghetti

The key is using fresh ground beef that isn’t lean. Adding ketchup is a tip I picked up from a British celebrity TV chef, and I couldn’t believe what a difference it makes. I also make fresh breadcrumbs, and this keeps the meatballs very moist and is a good way to use up leftover bread. This may sound like a lot of work, but if you have a food processor, it’s a 3 minute step. I don’t dry them out in the oven if I am using them in meatballs, so all you need to do is slice 2-3 thick slices of day-old+ bread into cubes and put them in the food processor using the large metal blade and process for about 1-2 minutes until you get crumbs. You can store leftovers in the freezer. If you don’t want to make them yourself, use can store bought breadcrumbs.

Keeping it classic, I serve these with spaghetti. But they go just as well with rice or mashed potatoes, or when they’re left over, on a fresh roll.



1 800g (28 oz) can of crushed tomatoes

2 tablespoons of olive oil

1 medium onion finely chopped

4 cloves of garlic crushed

1 teaspoon dried basil or 5-6 chopped fresh basil leaves

1 teaspoon dried oregano or 10 chopped fresh oregano leaves

1 teaspoon of sugar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

About 1/3 cup of dry red wine

Meat Balls

500g (1 lb) fresh ground beef

1 large egg

3 tablespoons ketchup

¼ teaspoon meat spice (preferably BBQ flavor)

Salt and ground black pepper

About ¼ cup of bread crumbs (preferably freshly made)

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh parsley (optional)

How to do it

1. In a medium-sized pot, heat the olive oil and saute the onions until they are soft (they will just start to color, don’t brown them).  Add the crushed garlic and stir around in the pot for a few seconds until they just start to get some color (do not let them brown otherwise they will burn) Add the tomatoes, herbs, seasoning, sugar and wine.

2. Bring to the boil and then turn the heat down to low and let the sauce simmer uncovered for a few minutes.

3. Meanwhile…in a bowl, whisk the egg, add the spices and ketchup, and mix together. Add the ground beef and mix well until combined. Add the breadcrumbs and mix well. Check to see that you have a consistency that allows you to shape a ball that retains its shape. If the meat mixture is too soft, add some more breadcrumbs, but don’t make the mixture too dry or your meatballs will be dry.

4. Bring the tomato sauce to the boil. Make small golf-ball sized meatballs (I use a heaped tablespoon to give me a consistent amount of meat per ball) and drop them carefully into the sauce. Shake the pot occasionally to ensure the meatballs are all covered with sauce.

5. When all the meatballs are in the pot, turn the heat down low, cover the pot and allow the meatballs to simmer for about an hour.

This makes about 12-15 meatballs. I usually double this recipe.

Serve with spaghetti or rice.


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