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5 from 1 vote

Spaghetti & Meatballs in Fresh Marinara

Learn to make the best Italian-inspired meatballs cooked in fresh marinara sauce and served warm with spaghetti for a hearty and comforting dinner.
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time1 hr 10 mins
Total Time1 hr 35 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian
Keyword: marinara meatballs, spaghetti and meatballs recipe
Servings: 3 people
Author: Famidha Ashraf


For Meatballs

  • 2 slices bread slices 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 fresh parsley
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil to sear or bake

For Fresh Marinara

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic cloves smashed and peeled
  • 1 small onion diced finely (optional, but recommended)
  • 1 teaspoon tomato paste optional
  • 500 grams tomatoes ripe
  • fresh basil see notes to use dried
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • water as required (or reserved pasta water) to thin the sauce

For Spaghetti

  • 2 litres water
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons salt to taste
  • 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.

Cook spaghetti

  • 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.