Famous Traditional Italian Meatballs in tomato sauce (polpette al sugo pomodoro) are my nonna's famous recipe. Made with simple ingredients and stewed in a delicious tomato sauce.
These meatballs 'polpette" are going to be your family’s favorite new recipe. They are on weekly rotation in our home for a good reason. I can smell them now as I remember them stewing when my nonna made them when I was a little girl.
You may also want to try these recipe: Creamy Polenta with Polpette al Sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce) and Best Authentic Lasagna Bolognese with Bechamel Sauce.
These meatballs are so famous they were feature in a magazine! My Nonna would be so proud.
- Ground beef
- Stale bread
- Parmigiano reggiano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 large (28 oz/ 794 grams) can good quality crushed tomatoes
- ½ an onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 5 fresh basil leaves
How to make Nonna's Famous Traditional Italian Meatballs (Polpette)
In a small bowl soak the bread in the milk, set aside. In a medium bowl combine the bread with the remaining ingredients, gently mix to combine well.
Gently form into small balls. I like to use a spoon or fork to scoop and then roll in the meat mixture in the palm of my hand- just like nonna Laura taught me!
Make your tomato sauce and let the meatballs gently simmer in the sauce until perfectly tender.
The meatballs are cooked in the sauce and remain perfectly tender and soft this way. Every family in Italy makes their meatballs slightly differently. This is our way and I can tell you they are melt in your mouth tender!
Why I Love this Traditional Italian Meatball Recipe...
These succulent Italian meatballs are a comforting dish that brings everyone to the table! These nutritious homemade meatballs are the perfect meal to make on a Sunday afternoon and freeze for weeks to come!
Let your children take part in the recipe by having them roll the meatballs in their tiny hands.
What is the best meat to use?
This recipe (and also the way my nonna made them) is with one pound of 80-85% lean ground beef, if you prefer you can add half ground beef and half ground pork or even Italian sausage with the casing removed.
Tip for Soft and Tender Meatballs
Soaked bread = soft meatballs. Bread soaked in milk will puff up when cooked, creating little air pockets that makes these meatballs extra soft. Our family prefers it to using breadcrumbs that has the tendency to make meatballs tough or dry (panko breadcrumbs are an okay variation).
Can you cook raw meatballs in tomato sauce?
YES! This recipe does exactly that. It saves you time in baking them first and dirtying more pans. The raw meatballs will cook in the tomato sauce and come out tender and scrumptious. They juices will flavor the tomato sauce and the tomato sauce will flavor the meatballs. This is the traditional way we do it in Italy!
These soft and tender Italian meatballs are delicious served with hot al dente pasta or any of the following:
If you want to add some greens to the table try these recipes: Sautéed Zucchini and Onion (Italian Recipe), Simple Petite Peas (Side Dish), or Arugula, Apple, and Pistachio Salad in Parmigiano Cups
You can make a gluten free version by adding a slice of gluten free bread of your choice. Instead of the breadcrumbs you can use a gluten free variety!
The cooked meatballs can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three to four days.
They can also be frozen cooked in a freezer safe container for up to three months.
If you prefer you can even freeze them uncooked. Place on a cookie in the freezer until firm then transfer to a freezer safe container or bag. They will keep for three to four months.
I make big batches and freeze so that I always have some on hand.
Traditional Italian Meatball Recipe
This is another tried and true simple, flavorful and mouthwatering recipe from my Nonna. I’ve sat at so many different kitchen tables and rolled these exact meatballs with her countless times.
The smell of onion frying in olive oil, fresh tomatoes, basil, and beef and parsley bring me back to all those tables and all of our conversations.
My favorite part about all my Nonna’s recipes is the simplicity and authenticity of the fresh ingredients. It’s about highlighting the natural flavors of the food and this recipe exemplifies just that. Read more about my nonna and her meatballs.
Made with Amore, Elena.
More Delicious Recipes for you!
From my cucina to your table- enjoy our traditional meatball (polpette) recipe for years to come! It will be your new family favorite.
Make sure to leave a ⭐️star rating on the recipe card and comment below if you make the recipe. I love to connect with you through my recipes.Print
- 1 pound of 80-85% lean ground beef
- 2 slices of stale bread
- ½ cup milk
- ½ cup parmigiano reggiano, finely grated
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoons fresh minced parsley (optional 1 Tbs fresh minced garlic)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- extra parmigiano for serving
- 1 large can (28 oz) good quality crushed tomatoes
- ½ an onion, diced
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 5 fresh basil leaves, whole
- Pour extra-virgin olive oil into a large frying pan and brown the onion (about 7 minutes on medium heat). Add canned tomatoes and simmer, 10-15 minutes. Turn off heat and cover with lid.
- Place bread and milk in large mixing bowl, let sit for 2 min, until soft.
- Add egg to bread and milk mixture and mix to combine
- Add ground meat, parsley, garlic, parmigiano, salt, pepper. Mix WELL with your hands. If it too wet add some breadcrumbs
- Take the beef mixture and gently roll between your hands to form 1 ½-inch meatballs. Use breadcrumbs to prevent sticking. Set prepared meatballs on cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap.
- Plunge your meatballs into pot with the tomato sauce. Turn on heat to medium low. Cook for 20 minutes or until meatballs are fully cooked in the center. Once finished cooking add the basil and cover with lid. Turn off heat.
Cook your favorite pasta or gnocchi, as directed by package, to serve with meatballs. You can also eat without the pasta and serve on yummy bread. Try with Easy Polenta Recipe. Generously top with parmigiano and serve hot!
Freeze portions of meatballs and sauce in a freezer friendly container and have a healthy meal ready to go! Freeze up to 2 months
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Savory
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: italian meatballs in tomato sauce recipe, polpette con sugo recipe