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Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Polpette al Sugo)

Quite a few passionate Italian cooks will get indignant about the mention of spaghetti and meatballs. They insist that is not how meatballs in tomato sauce (Polpette al Sugo) should be served. So what makes meatballs authentic Italian meatballs?

Italian Meatballs in Tomato sauce

In this recipe, Italian Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, 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. After tasting these you will understand, why all the fuss.

Notes on Ingredients

Although quantities are given in the recipe, it is safe to say almost the amount of any ingredient listed could be considered according “to taste”. Consider what side dishes you are planning to serve, what wine will be served, or for that matter the weather. Is a warming winter dish needed? A light summer dish for dining al fresco, or as the Italians would really say all’aperto?

No, Garlic does not belong in Polpette al Sugo

Following the Italian way, these meatballs are made without garlic. Same with the sauce. Traditional parsley is included. I have also added fresh oregano (optional) in the meatballs which I think enhances the taste of any meat. 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.


I have added rosemary to the tomato sauce. I frequently saw this in my Italian recipe research, but rarely see it used elsewhere. You will find the difference outstanding.

Pecorino not Parmesan

This recipe calls for Pecorino cheese, made from sheep’s milk, instead of Parmesan. The flavor oozes into the sauce. This gives a creamier, milder flavor. Along with the pecorino, use fresh rosemary in the tomato sauce. The two will result in a freshness not usually found in an Italian tomato sauce.

Italian Canned tomatoes are your best bet

Use a high-quality canned tomato sauce made with Roma or preferably San Marzano tomatoes. I have scaled the recipe is scaled for an American can of 15 oz (425g).

Italian Meatballs in Tomato sauce

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce (Polpette al Sugo)

Yield: 4 Servings
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 40 minutes
Total Time: 55 minutes

The simplicity but yet depth of flavor of the rosemary seasoned tomato sauce will surprise you.


For the meatballs

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

For the tomato sauce

  • 425 g tomato sauce, canned or freshly made
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • salt


  1. Soak the dried bread crumbs in a small bowl covered with just enough milk. Let it absorb for about 5 to 10 minutes. The resting time is more necessary if the crust is used.
  2. 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.
  3. Prepare a plate of flour to dust the meatballs.
  4. 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.
  5. When the sauce is simmering, roll 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 a lid. Reduce heat to a low simmer and cook for about 40-45 minutes with the lid. Check the progress from time to time turning the meatballs as needed for uniform cooking.
  6. Serve hot, with an ample amount of sauce on top of the meatballs. Add some chopped parsley on top, if desired.


Note 1: Substitute other fresh herbs, if needed

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 603Total Fat: 26gSaturated Fat: 10gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 12gCholesterol: 162mgSodium: 1204mgCarbohydrates: 46gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 44g

Calculated Nutrition is estimated.

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