Imagine me, perched in Isabella’s kitchen, on the verge of a come-to-Nonno moment. You see, Isabella’s been droning on about her 86-year-old grandfather’s spaghetti meatballs for what feels like eons now. It had reached a point where I thought I’d scream if I heard “Nonno’s meatballs” one more time. And then she served me his masterpiece, and suddenly, I became a believer. Yup, just like that! Life-changing sauce alert, my friends.
You know the one friend who has a seemingly mythical sauce – the one that you’ve rolled your eyes at a hundred times before finally crossing paths with it? Yeah, well, Nonno totally schooled me in the spaghetti game. After wiping the sauce off my chin and unsuccessfully attempting to get a hold of myself, I politely asked for the secret formula. And being the stand-up guy that he is, Nonno decided to share it with me, so here we are, passing it on to you—the secret weapon in your spaghetti nights.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: I might have gone spaghetti-obsessed cray-cray. But isn’t that part of why we’re all here today, after all? Chasing those flavor-packed, sauce-smothered unicorn experiences. So stick with me – I wouldn’t let you down over something like spaghetti meatballs. After all, we’ve come this far together on this culinary carousel of adventures, right? Onward to meatball sauce magnificence, dear reader!
- Sausage and pork loin – These meats bring a richness and depth of flavor to the sauce, use ground beef or turkey as an alternative.
- Olive oil – Used for sauteing onions and garlic and browning the meat, canola oil or vegetable oil can be used as a substitute.
- Italian seasoning – A dried herb blend of oregano, basil, and thyme that adds a classic Italian flavor, individual herbs can be used if Italian seasoning is not available.
- Garlic, minced – A staple in many Italian dishes, it adds a pungent and savory flavor, avoid burning it as it will make the garlic taste bitter.
- Tomato sauce – The base of the sauce, it brings a slight acidity and sweetness to balance the savory meat and herbs.
- Onion – It gives a slightly sweet, savory taste and adds depth and complexity to the overall flavor.
- Sugar – A small amount to balance out the acidity of the tomatoes and bring out their natural sweetness.
- Salt & pepper – Season to taste.
- Cooked meatballs – Added to the sauce to cook together for a few hours, it makes the flavor of the meatballs even more incredible.
- First, grab your Dutch oven or large pot and place it over high heat. Pour in ¼ cup of olive oil, and toss in a small diced onion. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until it starts to soften.
- Next, add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic and let it cook for another 2-3 minutes. This is where the magic happens – the onions and garlic will turn golden and give your sauce the perfect base flavor.
- Add 1 pound of sausage and 1 pound of pork loin to the pot. Cook until the meat is golden brown and cooked through, stirring occasionally.
- Pour in 4 cans of 28 oz. tomato sauce and add 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning. Mix everything together and let it simmer for 4 hours, stirring occasionally.
- Finally, it’s time to add the cooked meatballs. Just drop them in the sauce and let them cook and absorb all that deliciousness for a few minutes.
- Serve the sauce over pasta and enjoy!
- Make a double batch and freeze half for later, so you can have this yummy sauce on hand whenever you need a quick and easy dinner.
Serving Suggestions for Meatball Sauce
- The classic way to enjoy this Meatball Sauce is over a bed of hot, freshly cooked pasta. Serve with a side of garlic bread for a complete Italian feast!
- This sauce is perfect for meatball subs! Toast a sub roll, add some cooked meatballs, top with this delicious sauce and sprinkle some mozzarella cheese. Broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- This sauce also makes a great base for a hearty meatball soup. Simply add some vegetables like carrots, celery, and potatoes to the sauce and simmer until the vegetables are tender.
- Love lasagna? Use this sauce as a base for your next lasagna creation. Simply layer cooked lasagna noodles, a mixture of ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and parmesan cheese, and this Meatball Sauce. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Did you know that this sauce can also be used as a pizza sauce? Spread it on your favorite pizza crust, top with mozzarella cheese, cooked meatballs, and your favorite pizza toppings. Bake until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
- Impress your guests with a Meatball Sauce Dip! Simply warm the sauce in a slow cooker and serve with crusty bread, crackers, or veggies for dipping.
- Last but not least, make a double batch of this sauce and freeze half for later. That way, you always have a delicious sauce on hand for a quick and easy meal.
Enjoy your Meatball Sauce in all its glory, and happy cooking!
Can I use ground beef instead of pork loin and sausage in the Meatball Sauce recipe?
Sure, you can definitely use ground beef in place of pork loin and sausage if that’s what you have on hand. You could also use ground turkey or even lamb for a different twist on the traditional meatball sauce recipe.
Is it okay to use canned tomato puree instead of tomato sauce in this recipe?
Absolutely! If you have canned tomato puree on hand, you can definitely use that in place of the canned tomato sauce. Just be sure to adjust the seasonings and sugar accordingly, as tomato puree tends to be a bit sweeter and less flavorful than tomato sauce.
How long does this Meatball Sauce recipe need to simmer for?
The recipe calls for simmering the sauce for 4 hours, stirring occasionally. This allows all the flavors to meld together and for the meatballs to cook through and absorb all that delicious sauce. But if you’re in a hurry, you can simmer it for a shorter amount of time- just know that the longer it cooks, the richer the flavor will be.
Can I use Italian seasoning from a jar instead of adding individual herbs?
Absolutely! Italian seasoning is a blend of herbs like basil, oregano, and thyme and it’s a great time-saver to have a jar on hand for recipes like this. Just be mindful of the seasoning levels in the blend you’re using, as some can be stronger or more mild than others.
Is this recipe gluten-free?
This Meatball Sauce recipe doesn’t contain any gluten products, however, it’s always good to double-check the ingredients, especially if you’re making the meatballs from scratch. If you’re gluten-free, be sure to use gluten-free pasta to serve this sauce over.
Can I use fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomato sauce?
Yes, you can definitely use fresh tomatoes instead of canned tomato sauce in this recipe. Just be aware that using fresh tomatoes will give you a different flavor profile, and it might take longer to cook the sauce to the right consistency. You’ll need to peel, core and chop the tomatoes, and then simmer them until they break down and thicken. You’ll need to add sugar and seasonings to taste. You could also use canned diced tomatoes, but you may need to puree them in a blender before adding them to the pot.
- Dutch oven or large pot
- Wooden spoon or silicone spatula
- Cutting board
- Chef’s knife
- 1 pound high-quality Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 pound boneless pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped basil
- 1 tablespoon freshly chopped oregano
- 2 teaspoons finely minced garlic
- 4 28 oz. cans of San Marzano tomato sauce
- 1 small yellow onion, diced
- 1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup red wine
- N/A cooked meatballs
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering.
- Add the diced onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the minced garlic and cook for another minute, until fragrant.
- Add the cubed pork loin to the pot and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned all over, about 5 minutes.
- Add the sausage to the pot, breaking it up into small pieces with your spoon or spatula. Cook until browned and fully cooked through, about 5 minutes.
- Pour in the red wine, and let it simmer and reduce by half, about 3-5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato paste, basil, oregano, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and brown sugar. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until the tomato paste has fully incorporated into the sauce.
- Gradually pour in the San Marzano tomato sauce, and stir until well combined.
- Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and bring to a gentle simmer.
- Cover the pot and let the sauce simmer for at least 4 hours, stirring occasionally, to let the flavors meld and intensify.
- Serve over freshly cooked pasta, and enjoy!
For a smoother texture, you can use an immersion blender to puree the sauce to your desired consistency.
This sauce can be made ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.