Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Polpette al Sugo)

Quite a few passionate Italian cooks will get indignant about the mention of spaghetti and meatballs. Insisting that is not how meatballs (Polpettes) should be served. After tasting these you will understand.

In this recipe the meatballs are cooked in the tomato sauce. Following the Italian line of thought, the meatballs are rolled in flour before cooking. This produces a rich thick sauce served on the plate without needing pasta.

Notes on Ingredients

Although qualities are given in the recipe, it is safe to say almost any amount given could be considered according “to taste”. Consideration should be given to what side dishes are to be served, what wine will be served or for that matter the weather. Is a warming winter dish needed, or a lighter summer dish for dining al fresco or as the Italians would really say all’aperto?

Following the Italian way, these meatballs are made without garlic. Same with the sauce. The traditional parsley is included. I have also added fresh oregano that I think enhances the taste of any meats. In total you want about 3 tablespoons or to taste. In general, it is best to use what you have at hand fresh as opposed to dried, if possible.

A high quality canned tomato sauce made with Roma or preferably San Marzano tomatoes can be used. The recipe is sized for an American can 15 oz (425g).

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Polpette a sugo)


For the meatballs

  • 450 g ground beef (5 to 10% fat)
  • 1 egg
  • 1-2 thick slices dry bread crusty Italian or French (see note 1)
  • milk, as neccesary to soak the bread
  • 80 ml Pecorino cheese, grated
  • 1-2 tbsp parsley, fresh chopped (see note 2)
  • 1-2 tbsp oregano, fresh chopped (see note 2)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • flour, for dusting

For the tomato sauce

  • 425 g tomato sauce, canned or freshly made (see note 3)
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • salt


  • Soak the dried bread in a small bowl covered with just enough milk. Let it assorb for about 5 to 10 minutes. The resting time is more neccesary if the crust is used.
  • When the bread is ready, add the meat, egg, cheese and herbs to a medium sized bowl. Lightly squeeze access milk from the bread and add to the meat mixture. Mix until the ingredients are homogeneously spread. Form into medium size balls about the size of a small peach. The qualities listed should give 12 meatballs.
  • Using a medium saucepan, start the sauce by drizzling olive oil on the bottom and adding the onion. Cook onions until a light golden brown. Add the tomato sauce and rosemary and raise heat to produce a light simmer.
  • When sauce is simmering, rolled each meatball on a plate of flour to coat lightly. Gently place the meatballs in the sauce. The sauce should cover about two-thirds of the meatballs. Raise the temperature to boil, then cover with lid. Deduce heat to a low simmer and cook for about about 40-45 minutes with the lid. Check the progress from time to time turning the meatballs as needed for uniform cooking.
  • Serve hot with ample sauce served on top of the meatballs. Add some chopped parsley on top, if desired.


View posts by jz
Analytics professional for 30+ years and avid cook. Passionate about bringing the two interest together.

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