Italian-inspired tender and juicy beef meatballs in fresh marinara and served warm with spaghetti for a simple, hearty and comforting dinner. Sharing my best lessons to make the perfect meatballs that stay in shape and don't fall apart while cooking.
You all know my love for meatballs, don't you? It all had started with a short stint with the low-carb diet a few years ago where I made everything into meatballs for ease of sharing the calories in our lunch and dinner. Recipes like Chicken Machboos meatballs, Daoud Basha, Dawood Basha, Kofte, etc. became our favourites. Currently, I am not into any kind of diet but I am still very much in love with meatballs, just that, I no longer go through the hassle of measuring! 😁
He loves Spaghetti Bolognese and I love Spaghetti Meatballs but I am the one who cooks so we eat Spaghetti and Meatballs! 😁And honestly, I used to buy store-bought pasta sauce for ease but when tomatoes are in season, I make fresh marinara sauce and you should do too.
Whenever I shared my bowl of spaghetti and meatballs in fresh marinara on Instagram stories, I get asked for the meatballs recipe. I had no plans to share this dish on the blog until I realized that Spaghetti and Meatballs is on repeat here and it is only fair for it to be featured on my blog.
If you are a beginner, then please read the entire post before heading to the kitchen. Spaghetti and meatballs in fresh marinara have three things to them - meatballs, marinara and the pasta itself. You can make the entire dish in less time with a store-bought jar of pasta sauce. But we all know that homemade sauce is hands-down the best.
- sliced bread
- veggies: onion, garlic, parsley, tomatoes and basil
- meat: ground beef
- Spices: freshly ground black pepper, Italian seasoning and chilli flakes
- freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (you may use parmesan)
- olive oil
How to make meatballs that won’t fall apart?
Unlike the Middle Eastern kafta or meatballs, these Italian meatballs are made with the addition of bread or fresh breadcrumbs and egg. I have used only ground beef and you all know by now, that I don't wash ground meat. If you must, then give it enough time to drain completely else the chances of them breaking is high. The recipe add-ins are not set in stone so feel free to experiment with the flavours. Whatever way you flavour the meat mixture, make sure to use your hand to mix but do not overmix. Make equal-sized balls using a scooper or measuring spoons.
In a bowl add crumbled bread with milk and grated onion. Next, add the minced garlic, ground beef, egg, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, chilli flakes, parmesan and parsley.
Use a fork to mix the ingredients and then use your hands to combine the ingredients just until they are well distributed and the mixture comes together.
Important pointers to ensure the meatballs don't fall apart:
- Use your hands to combine the ingredients. Don’t overmix.
- Add fresh breadcrumbs to the mixture. Oats make a good breadcrumbs substitute if you’re following a gluten-free diet. I use fresh white bread, torn into small pieces, rather than dried breadcrumbs, and I think it makes a big difference in the tenderness of the final product!
- Add a lightly beaten egg for every 500gms of minced meat.
- Roll them in flour, if your meatballs tend to be too wet and sticky to shape.
- Do not crowd the pan while frying. I always fry in batches, so that each meatball gets a chance to form a delicious golden crust.
- The best way to sear the meatballs is to shake the pan. If you try to flip them, they tend to tear or break. If you must, you may use a thin-edged spoon to turn the meatballs. More details are in the recipe section.
Divide the meat mixture into equal-sized meatballs using a measuring spoon or scooper and roll between your palm lightly to shape them into balls.
Place a few meatballs in warm olive oil and sear them by shaking the pan until browned on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Do in batches.
So don't bother to cook through as they will sit in the sauce later to finish cooking.
Prepare the marinara sauce in the same pan. Add meatballs in fresh marinara and simmer until they are cooked through.
How to boil spaghetti?
It is easy to say boil any pasta as per the pack instructions but most of the time people empty the pack into containers and fail to note the instructions. So, please make it a point to cut the instruction from the box and place it in the container. As spaghetti comes in different thicknesses, the cooking time will differ.
Whatever size, bring a pot of water (more the better) to a full boil on full flame. I learnt that adding salt after the water comes to a boil will help prevent any stains on your steel pots. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add the spaghetti as a whole. Do not add any oil to the water. Don't have to break the spaghetti to fit in the pot. As it boils away, they will lose shape and drown in the water.
Your time to track the minutes starts after the water comes back to boil. You can check the doneness by cutting a strand of spaghetti, taking a bite and checking how chewy it is. You need to cook until almost done or fully done. Keep your draining system ready in the sink with a colander over a bowl. Drain and put the pasta into the meatball sauce.
Yes, marinara sauce can be used for spaghetti or any kind of pasta with or without meat.
Cook the seared or browned meatballs in marinara sauce for 20 to 30 minutes on low heat.
Of course, you can put raw meatballs into the sauce but make sure the sauce is kept at a simmer until the meatballs are cooked through.
Spaghetti & Meatballs in Fresh Marinara
- 2 slices of white bread diced (approx ⅓ cup to ½ cup fresh bread crumbs)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 medium-sized onion grated
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 450-550 grams ground beef
- 1 large egg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano you may use parmesan
- ¼ cup chopped parsley
- 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil to sear or bake
For Fresh Marinara
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic smashed and peeled
- 1 small onion diced finely (optional, but recommended)
- 1 teaspoon tomato paste optional
- 500 grams fresh ripe tomatoes
- Fresh basil see notes to use dried
- Salt and pepper to taste
- water or reserved pasta water if required to thin the sauce
- 2 litres water to boil pasta
- 2 to 3 teaspoons of salt
- 200-250 grams spaghetti
Prepare the meatballs mixture
- In a bowl, mix the crumbled bread with milk and grated onion. Next, add the minced garlic, ground beef, egg, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, chilli flakes, parmesan and parsley. Use a fork to mix the ingredients and then use your hands to combine the ingredients just until they are well distributed and the mixture comes together.
Divide and shape meatballs
- Divide the meat mixture into equal-sized meatballs using a measuring spoon or scooper and roll between your palm lightly to shape them into balls. I like small-sized meatballs so used 2 tablespoons for each meatball and roughly got around 18 to 25 meatballs. At this point, you may refrigerate or freeze the meatballs for later use.
Sear and brown the meatballs
- Heat olive oil in a heavy and wide-bottomed skillet over medium to high flame. Place a few meatballs and sear them by shaking the pan until browned on all sides, about 2 to 3 minutes. Shaking the skillet will help keep the meatballs in shape. At this point, we are only searing the meatballs to lock the flavour. So don't bother to cook through as they will sit in the sauce later to finish cooking. Transfer the meatballs to a plate and repeat with the rest of the meatballs. Remember not to overcrowd your pan but allow the meatballs space to move as they cook. Add more oil between batches if required. Don’t scrape out any bits of meat from the pan because we will continue to make the sauce in this pan.
Prepare the fresh marinara
- In the same skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil and minced garlic and let it sizzle until lightly browned. Next, add and saute the chopped onion until soft and golden. Now, add the tomato paste, if using, and chopped tomatoes along with some fresh or dry basil or mint and a pinch of salt and cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens.
Cook the meatballs in the sauce
- Add meatballs to the marinara pan and bring this to a full boil. Partially cover with a lid to reduce the splatter. Reduce the flame to low and cook partially covered for 30 minutes, stirring the meatballs occasionally. Meanwhile, get your pasta ready.
- Boil and drain the spaghetti as per the pack instruction. The general rule would be to boil 4 cups of water with 1 teaspoon of salt for every 100gms of spaghetti. Add the spaghetti only after the water comes to a full boil and continue to boil on high heat for 9 to 12 minutes or until fully cooked. Check if it is cooked through by cutting a piece. If you find a white dot in the centre, then it needs a few more minutes. Drain the spaghetti and add to the fresh marinara and meatballs sauce pot.
- Toss gently to combine the pasta with sauce. Add a few more fresh basil or mint and cook on low to medium flame for a minute. Switch off and serve with an extra drizzle of olive oil and grated parmesan, if required.
- Tomatoes: You can use any kind of fresh tomatoes but cherry tomatoes, Roma tomatoes or beef tomatoes work great here. You may add a teaspoon of tomato paste along with your fresh tomatoes to add a bright hue and intensify the flavour.
- fresh bread crumbs: You need approximately ¼ cup of fresh crumbs for every 500gms of minced meat. I don't discard the crust.
- Parmigiano Reggiano: This is not the same as parmesan but if you cannot source this, you can use grated parmesan. A bit more pricy but you will never go back to parmesan once you get used to this real deal - Parmigiano Reggiano.
- Marinara: You can skip making the sauce and use a jar of your favourite brand of pasta sauce - a jar usually comes 380ml for which I use 250g of spaghetti
- If you choose to make the sauce and sear meatballs simultaneously, then make sure to deglaze the meatballs pan using the hot pasta water and add that to the marinara pot.
- If the sauce is not saucy enough to hold all the meatballs, you may add some pasta boiled water or hot water to make it thin.
- Fresh vs dried herbs: If like me you can't source fresh basil or any of the other substitutions, then feel free to add a dried version. If using dried herbs, make sure to add them at the beginning of the cooking process, preferably into the warm olive oil.
I hope this article was helpful to make your first batch of spaghetti meatballs! If you enjoyed it, please do not forget to let me know here or find me on Instagram @butfirstchaai.