I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something magical about spaghetti and meatballs – especially when those meatballs are first caramelised until golden brown before being cooked in a luscious, flavoursome tomato sauce. It’s comforting, homecooked meals like this that I feel are just the best, and they appear on my family dinner table time and again for good reason! Pasta with Baked Meatballs in Garlicky Tomato Sauce is a simple but filling, wholesome dish that everyone enjoys to the very last bite, feeling sad when the last meatball is gone. There’s only 15 minutes of prep required, and then the meatballs are baked, rather than fried, meaning no stove-splatter. A simple sauce simmers away, which the meatballs are added to at the end.

You can use any pasta you like in this recipe, but here I’ve chosen to use curly fettuccine.
You can use any pasta you like in this recipe, but here I’ve chosen to use curly fettuccine.

And for those of you who are really short on time, you can even skip the baking step and add the uncooked meatballs straight to the sauce. As these meatballs are so popular at my place, I tend to make a big batch to freeze. I thaw them out as needed and repurpose them into other meals like meatball subs, pizza toppings or lunchbox fillers. The kids just love them – and I love the glass of red wine and lashings of parmesan that accompany my serving. I’m pretty much transported straight to Italy … in slippers! Added bonus!

Do I have to cook the meatballs first before adding them to the sauce?

Baking allows for the meatballs to caramelise and the caramelisation = extra flavour! I prefer baking over frying because it’s just so easy. It requires less oil and means less stove-splatter. Just roll and bake! The other benefit of baking the meatballs first is that you can bake extra and use the meatballs in other recipes (I’ve given you some suggestions below). But sometimes time isn’t on our side and on those days, baking is not essential. You can plonk the meatballs, uncooked, directly into the sauce to slowly cook through. The result is a tender, juicy meatball with a milder flavour. Depending on my energy levels, I sometimes choose this method. I’ve included all the details for this method in the recipe!

How else can I use the baked meatballs?

I regularly make a double batch of the meatballs to repurpose and use in different recipes. Some suggestions are:

•   Make meatball subs with meatballs, some of the tomato sauce, creamy mayo and pickled onions.

•   Use them as lunchbox fillers – they taste amazing hot or cold!

•   Add as a side to soup, such as Roasted Pumpkin Soup or Minestrone Soup.

•   Make meatball sliders – load the meatballs onto brioche buns with creamy Homemade Coleslaw.

•   Use them as a topping for Mediterranean Pizza.

•   Serve them with Freezer Friendly Mashed Potatoes and steamed vegetables or a leafy green salad.  Make Loaded Burger Bowls and use them in place of the minced (ground) beef.

This pasta and meatballs dish is extra delicious as the meatballs are first baked until golden and caramelised, before being added to the sauce
This pasta and meatballs dish is extra delicious as the meatballs are first baked until golden and caramelised, before being added to the sauce

What meat can I use?

I love a combination of minced (ground) pork and beef, which was introduced to me in a cooking class in Italy. It creates an amazing texture and flavour, but you can absolutely use any minced meat in this recipe. Regular minced beef (must be 20% fat, not lean, otherwise the meatballs will dry out), pork or chicken all work well.  

Can I spice it up?

If you want an extra hit of spice, add 1 finely sliced long red chilli to the sauce at the same time as the garlic, or add 1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes to your meatball mix!

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Pasta with Baked Meatballs in Garlicky Tomato sauce Recipe and utensils

Pasta with Baked Meatballs in Garlicky Tomato sauce

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With just a few simple, low-cost ingredients you can create your own comforting, family-friendly Pasta with Baked Meatballs in Garlicky Tomato Sauce. Serve these easy, delicious meatballs over your favourite pasta.

  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4 1x

Ingredients

Scale

Meatballs

  • 500 g (1 lb 2 oz) regular minced (ground) beef (not lean mince, see note 1)
  • 250 g (9 oz) minced (ground) pork (see note 1)
  • 1 large onion, grated
  • 1 cup (60 g) panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup (10 g) finely chopped fresh parsley, plus extra to serve (optional)
  • 2 tbsp freshly grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • Olive oil spray, for cooking

Sauce and pasta

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 700 g (1 lb 9 oz) tomato passata
  • 1 tsp white sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
  • 350 g (12 1/2 oz) pasta of choice (curly fettuccine pictured)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) (180°C/350°F fan). Line a baking tray with baking paper.
  2. To a large bowl, add the meatball ingredients and combine well using your hands. Measure out a heaped tablespoon of the mixture and roll it to form a ball (just smaller than a golf ball). Repeat with the remaining mixture. If the mixture begins to stick to your hands, moisten your hands with water and continue rolling.
  3. Arrange the meatballs on the baking tray and spray them generously with olive oil.
  4. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown. (Need dinner on the table extra fast with minimal fuss? See note 2 to skip baking.)
  5. While the meatballs are cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat the olive oil in a large, deep heavy-based pan over medium–high heat.
  6. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the passata, sugar, salt and pepper.
  7. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and simmer for 2–3 minutes.
  8. Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions, less 1 minute – they will cook further in the sauce.
  9. Stir the cooked pasta through the meatballs and sauce.
  10. Top with parmesan and parsley and serve immediately.

Notes

Note 1 – The combination of minced (ground) beef and pork gives these meatballs a beautiful depth of flavour. You can use all regular beef (not lean mince, the regular kind from the supermarket is best, it must be at least 20% fat), all pork or all chicken mince, if preferred. 

Note 2 – Skip oven-baking the meatballs and add the uncooked meatballs directly into the cooked sauce. Spoon the sauce over the top of the meatballs and simmer over medium–low heat for 20–30 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through. The meatballs will steam and become amazingly tender. Although the flavour is more intense when oven-baked first, the meatballs are equally delicious using this method.

Make ahead:

Assemble the meatballs as per the recipe. Refrigerate the uncooked meatballs for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Store in an airtight container or reusable sandwich bag. Use baking paper between the layers of meatballs to stop them from sticking together. Thaw completely overnight in the fridge and cook as per the recipe.

Leftovers:

Refrigerate the cooked meatballs for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. For best results, freeze the meatballs and sauce separately from the pasta and reheat them separately. Thaw completely in the fridge overnight prior to reheating.

  • Author: Nicole
  • Prep Time: 15 mins
  • Cook Time: 45 mins
  • Category: mains, pasta, batch cooking, meal planning, budget-friendly, freezer friendly, beef
  • Method: pan, roasting
  • Cuisine: Italian