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.
Try these recipes: Creamy Polenta with Polpette al Sugo (meatballs in tomato sauce) and Best Authentic Lasagna Bolognese with Bechamel Sauce.
Nonna's Famous Traditional Italian Meatballs (Polpette)
These meatballs 'polpette" will 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.
These meatballs are so famous they were featured in a magazine! My Nonna would be so proud.
Simple Ingredients for Traditional Italian Meatballs (Polpette)
You only need a few pantry staples and fresh ingredients for these authentic Italian meatballs.
- Ground beef
- Stale bread
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Sugo al Pomodoro (homemade tomato sauce)
- 1 large (28 oz/ 794 grams) can of 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)
Soak the bread in the milk in a small bowl, and set aside. In a medium bowl, combine the bread with the remaining ingredients and gently mix.
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!
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. Add half-ground beef, half-ground pork, or even Italian sausage with the casing removed if you like.
Try this recipe that uses Italian sausage- Italian Sausage Meatballs Recipe (In Sauce).
Tip for Soft and Tender Meatballs
- Soak the bread for soft meatballs. Bread soaked in milk will puff up when cooked, creating little air pockets that soften these meatballs. Our family prefers it to use breadcrumbs that tend 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 tomato sauce and come out tender and scrumptious.
The juices will flavor the tomato sauce, and the tomato sauce will flavor the meatballs. This is the traditional way we do it in Italy!
Serving Suggestions for Nonna's Famous Traditional Italian Meatballs (Polpette)
These soft and tender Italian meatballs are delicious served with hot al dente pasta or any of the following:
Easy Polenta Recipe Authentic Italian Style
Authentic Homemade Pappardelle Pasta Recipe
BEST Pillowy Soft Potato Gnocchi
Fast Italian No Knead Ciabatta Bread
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!
Storing Traditional Italian Meatballs
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 and cooked in a freezer-safe container for up to three months.
If you prefer, you can even freeze them uncooked. Place the meatballs in the freezer until firm, then transfer them to a freezer-safe container or bag. They will keep for three to four months.
Traditional Italian Meatball Recipe
This is another tried and true simple, flavorful, and mouthwatering recipe from my Nonna. I’ve sat at many kitchen tables and rolled these meatballs with her countless times.
The smell of onion frying in olive oil, fresh tomatoes, basil, beef, and parsley brings me back to all those tables and 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!
Spinach and Ricotta Lasagna with Tomato Sauce
Italian Sheet Pan Sausage, Potatoes, and Tomatoes
Pesto Smashed Potatoes and Roasted Tomatoes (video)
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.
I would love for you to tag me on Instagram @cucinabyelena so I can see your delicious Italian recipes. To get more ideas, follow me on Pinterest.Print
Famous Traditional Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Polpette)
These nutritious homemade meatballs are the perfect meal to make on a Sunday afternoon and freeze for weeks to come! This is another tried and true simple, flavorful and mouthwatering recipe from my Nonna.
- Total Time: 55 minutes
- Yield: 4-6 1x
- 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 tablespoon fresh minced garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Breadcrumbs (for rolling the meatballs by hand)
- 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 a large mixing bowl, and let sit for 2 min, until soft.
- Add egg to bread and milk mixture and mix to combine
- Add ground meat, parsley, parmigiano, salt, and pepper (and garlic if using). Mix WELL with your hands.
- Take a spoonful of the meatball mixture and gently roll it between your hands to form 1 ½-inch meatball. Use breadcrumbs to prevent sticking. Set prepared meatballs on a cookie sheet and cover with plastic wrap.
- Plunge your meatballs into the pot with the tomato sauce. Turn on the heat to medium-low. Cook for 20 minutes or until meatballs is fully cooked in the center. Once finished cooking, add the basil and cover with a lid. Turn off the heat.
Cook your favorite pasta or gnocchi, as directed by the package, to serve with meatballs. You can also eat without the pasta and serve it on yummy bread. Try with Easy Polenta Recipe. Generously top with parmigiano and serve hot!
Make Meatballs Ahead of Time
I always make a double batch of the meatballs and freeze them for a busy weeknight.
To freeze meatballs: Place them on a baking sheet in one layer so they aren’t touching, and place them in the freezer. Once frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe container with a tight lid. Freeze for up to 2 months. Add frozen meatballs to the broth when ready to use and simmer until warm. You can also add them to homemade tomato sauce.
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 40 minutes
- Category: Savory
- Cuisine: Italian
Keywords: italian meatballs in tomato sauce recipe, polpette con sugo recipe
Franni Eulo says
Hi Elena! I love this recipe, I've made it a few times and though I don't eat meat, my family can't get enough of them! I was wondering, though - I wanted to make these tonight and I have some ricotta I need to use up. Do you think I could add ricotta in place of the bread/milk mixture? I'm Italian too and my family always used ricotta in meatballs but I've never been able to get a precise measurement - you know how it is with old family recipes! Thanks again!
Hi Franni, yes, you can use ricotta instead. Ensure it is full fat, good quality, and drain excess liquid. For this recipe, I would say- 1/2 cup. P.S. Stay tuned this week for a new meatball recipe made with Italian sausage- it's another favorite. If you are subscribed to the free emails, it comes out on Tuesday. Enjoy this polpette this weekend.
Sauce and meatball is a favorite ! I make it once a week ! Elena is my favorite cooking instagrammer to follow
So sweet! Thank you, Donna!
Love this sauce and meatballs. Never will buy jarred sauce again . Elena’s recipes are my favorites as they are easy and come out great . My favorite cooking instagrammer to follow . My family thanks you !
Hi Donna! This makes my heart happy. I love to bring delicious recipes to you and your family. Enjoy.
Made the meatballs for dinner tonight! They were delicious. I used half ground pork and half ground beef. They were so tender and flavourful. Thank you, Elena.
Happy you loved them! They are a treasured family recipe.
Kristen Foulger says
So simple to make and delicious!! Perfect meal for our Christmas dinner!
Thrilled this recipe made your Christmas table spread! Enjoy time and time again!
I must of messed up somewhere. I did use a little less cheese then directed in the meatballs, but mine came out super mushy. I ended up with a meat sauce instead of meatballs. While delicious, I really wanted meatballs.
I've never heard of that happening. It's worth trying the recipe again with the right measurements. These meatballs are sensational. Enjoy!
Switching out the 2 slices of stale bread to gluten free bread crumbs - does 1/2 a cup sound about right? Thanks
Hi Janine-- yes that works great. Enjoy!
My God this was incredible. Best thing I’ve ever made, hands down. Thank you.
So happy you loved it! It is a well-loved recipe in our home.
Renae Meza says
This recipe is so easy and yet tastes better than any restaurant! My family was so happy and so was mama! Thank you for these recipes! They are all amazing!
So happy the family loved it! I hope to fill your tummies with many more delicious meals.
These look so good! Can’t wait to try them. What type of bread do you use? Love all your recipes!
You can really use any bread you have on hand! Enjoy!
These freeze great and are a family staple!
We make these meatballs on repeat! They're so easy and delicious. And, they're great as leftovers.
They are great as leftovers and freeze so well. Aren't they fun to make as well? Happy you love them.