Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

This easy recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce is a great freezer standby dinner for busy evenings.

A white china bowl filled with beef meatballs in tomato sauce, served on a bed of rice and showered with parmesan

When my sons were growing up, the evenings were always hectic in our house. There’d always be someone coming home late from school, work or sports training or rushing out for an evening activity. So doubling up on recipes and freezing portions for another day was a vital time saver.

Now that my boys are all grown up, I usually only cook for two but I still like having some freeze-ahead dinners stashed away.

My recipe for meatballs with tomato sauce is an old faithful that I’ve relied on more times than I can count. It is loosely based on a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s ‘Feast‘, but I’ve been cooking them for so long now that my recipe has changed a lot over the years. 

Using a food processor makes the recipe really quick and easy to make, but you can still make it if you haven’t got one. Just make sure you chop the vegetables as finely as possible for the best results.

Overhead shot of a white china dish filled with beef meatballs in tomato sauce, served with white rice and gratedparmesan

This is a great meal to prepare ahead, as you can make the sauce and meatballs earlier in the day. Then you just have to cook the meatballs in the sauce when you’re ready to eat.

But it’s also a great freezer favourite because you can easily freeze the meatballs in the sauce for another day. Remember to make sure that the meatballs are completely immersed in the sauce to prevent freezer burn, and defrost them thoroughly in the fridge before reheating. 

Serving Suggestions

I usually serve these meatballs with rice or pasta but they also go well with mashed potato or polenta. Couscous makes a really speedy option for busy evenings and although I haven’t tried it myself, I suspect they’d also be good crammed into a pitta bread or sub roll.

But whatever I serve them with, I always love to shower my plate with plenty of cheese before I tuck in!

A white china bowl filled with beef meatballs in tomato sauce, served on a bed of rice
Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Prep Time
10 mins
Cook Time
25 mins
Total Time
35 mins

Meatballs served with a simple tomato sauce for an easy prepare-ahead dinner

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Italian
Servings: 4
Author: Sally Akins
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 medium carrot
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 450 g lean beef mince
  • 1 large handful of porridge oats
  • 25 g parmesan cheese finely grated
  • 1 large egg
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp oil sunflower, rapeseed or light olive
  • 450 g passata
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 stock cube (vegetables, beef or chicken)
  • Cooked rice, pasta or couscous plus extra parmesan to serve
  1. Peel and roughly chop the onion and carrot, peel the cloves of garlic and put all of them into a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped together, then put three-quarters of the mix into a large wide saucepan and leave the rest in the processor bowl.

  2. Add the mince to the remaining vegetable mix in the food processor bowl, together with the porridge oats, parmesan and egg. Season with salt and black pepper then pulse until everything is well mixed together.

  3. Turn the mix out onto a board, form into a large patty and divide it into four equal parts. Divide each portion into eight and roll into meatballs. I never have a problem with the mix sticking to my hands but if you do, keeping your hand damp with water can help. Put the meatballs onto a plate as you make them, then cover with clingfilm and pop them in the fridge to firm up until you need them.

  4. When you're ready to cook the sauce, add the oil to the pan with the vegetables and a small pinch of salt. Gently soften the vegetables over a medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is browning. Don't rush this bit, it should take at least 5 minutes, but if you have the time, up to 10 minutes is better.

  5. When the vegetables have softened, pour the passata and 250ml of boiling water into the pan. Stir in the sugar, crumble in a stock cube, then bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes until it is slightly reduced and thickened.

  6. Gently drop the meatballs into the sauce, one by one, and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Avoid stirring the pan for at least the first 5 minutes as it may break up the meatballs. If any of the meatballs aren't completely covered by the sauce, you can just flip them over a little later on.

  7. When the meatballs are cooked through, serve with pasta, rice, couscous or whatever else you prefer.

Recipe Notes

If you are cooking this on an electric hob, you can turn the heat off 5 minutes earlier. Let the pan sit on the hot plate to use the residual heat to carry on cooking.

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