Mmmmm …. Spaghetti & Meatballs


I wanna talk about spaghetti & meatballs. I often want to talk about spaghetti & meatballs. Whenever there’s a chance to work spaghetti & meatballs into a conversation I do.   I suggest you do the same, for it will change your life; only and always for the better.

Take these conversations I recently made up, for example:

Your mother:  “I don’t really like your hair that way, dear. You look like a squirrel..”
You:  “Do you like spaghetti & meatballs?”
Your mother:  “Oh my Lord! I LOVE spaghetti & meatballs. I remember this one time when your father and I … is that a new hairdo? It looks sharp!”

Another example:

Your Boss:   “Did you finish that assignment I gave you today?”
You:   “No. You can suck it. I’m taking a 5 hour lunch today that will involve eating spaghetti & meatballs, you miserable wound.”
Your Boss:   “Did you say spaghetti & meatballs? I LOVE spaghetti & meatballs. Hey! When’s the last time I gave you a raise?  Or a day off for no reason?  And do you have a company car? You totally need a company car. Jeez … I can’t believe you love spaghetti & meatballs. I love ’em too.”

There’s just something about spaghetti and meatballs that brings out the best in us.  And by “us” I mean human beings, dogs, cats, most other animals and the occasional stray from outer space.

There are a multitude of ways to cook spaghetti & meatballs including using fresh tomatoes, but my preferred way is to use tomato sauce that I jar in the fall.

The taste of this recipe completely changes according to how long you cook it.  The longer you cook it the smokier and denser it tastes … the less you cook it the more vibrant and bright it tastes.

As you can see from the recipe … if you don’t have a couple of quarts of homemade tomato sauce you can use the secret ingredient … tomato juice.  From the can.  Yup … that tomato juice.  The kind you’d normally drink in a juice glass while lounging in the velvet booth of  a 1970’s steak house.

Make sure you get reduced salt tomato juice though, otherwise your spaghetti sauce will be too salty.  Dead sea salty.  Salt lick salty.  Long Shoreman salty.

Here we go …






Gather your ingredients and preheat the oven to 375 °F





Pour all of your tomato juice (homemade or otherwise) into a roasting pan.





Add a full can of tomato paste. The recipe says a “large” can but I just add a full small can (the most common in stores)





Add your chopped onion and garlic.





Add in all of your spices and remember to crush them in your fingers to bring out the aroma and flavours of them.





Grate in about 2 Tablespoons of fresh parmesan cheese. Or used the stuff in a cardboard can. I won’t judge or give a care.





Stir everything up and then set it aside because ….





It’s time to make meatballs!!! I use 100% ground beef most of the time, but occasionally I’ll mix things up and do a 50/50 blend of ground beef and ground pork. Also, judge for yourself how much bread crumbs you’d like to use. I find adding in a little extra bread crumbs tends to make the meatball less hard and dense. I like a slightly softer textured meatball. So I add extra bread crumbs.





Taking a large tablespoon of meat, roll it in your hands with medium pressure. Again, the harder you roll the meatball the more dense it will be. If you barely form it together it will be too soft and will fall apart. Medium pressure.





Once you have rolled all the meatballs …





Throw em in the roasting pan full of sauce.





You may find they just sort of float on top of the sauce. Not to worry. Just smush them down a bit with a spoon.





Disaster averted.





Cover the roasting pan with a lid and put it in the preheated oven for an hour or so. Once the sauce is bubbling and gurgling, you can remove the lid so the sauce will thicken.  Cook for another 1 ½ – 2 hrs until sauce is thickened.  Remember … the earlier you take it out the sharper and more tomatoey it will taste … the later you take it out the smokier and richer it will taste.  I go for smoky and rich.  Total cooking time … around 3 hours.





Serve on a skillfully folded tea towel, placed in front of some artfully arranged parmesan cheese and shavings.





And the reason it’s called “Gramma’s Spaghetti & Meatballs”? Because when my niece first moved out of her parent’s house I typed out a bunch of her/my favourite recipes to give her. (GREAT gift idea by the way)

And the originator of this recipe is … her gramma. My mother. Betty. Who happens to like my hair … at the moment.


  1. Shannon says:

    eeew is that all meat stuck under your nails in the meatball pic Karen!?

    I can’t touch raw meat, I always wear gloves.

    Which is odd because I am totally fine walking around on dirty (I am talking forest floor dirty) wood floors with no shoes on in the kitchen. I get black feet…but raw meat hands, I draw the line!

  2. Kate says:

    Thanks Karen. I know what I’m having for dinner tonight!

  3. den says:

    mmm, comfort food! i have to say though, nothing like freshly grated parmesan, or even better, romano cheese! the pre-grated stuff you shake out of canisters tend to be saltier.

  4. Whitney says:

    Oh my, how you make me laugh! I want a raise… I’m going to talk to my boss about Spaghetti and Meatballs tomorrow!

    And make that recipe as soon as I recover from my wisdom teeth extractions… medium meatballs or no…they are just a little too ambitious for me at this point!

  5. marilyn says:

    wow i love spaghetti and meatballs and i always make extra meatballs because john loves meatball subs. sounds so yummy, and i like your hair with or without the

  6. dee says:

    just invited the High School Soccer Team over for Pasta before our Big State Game – was gonna go Store bought but You’ve made this look Oh So Yummy –

  7. debi says:

    A regular meal around here but I have never heard of cooking it in the oven!?! What a great idea! In my mother’s recipe the sauce and meatballs and sometimes pot roast, are simmered on top of the stove for hours the day before, left to cool overnight. Before serving skim off the fat, and reheat. Next time I’ll try your quicker oven method, thanks.

  8. Joni says:

    I just made spaghetti & meatballs last night – recipe from Joy of Cooking. I definitely will be trying your mom’s version. Thanks!

  9. deborahinPS says:

    I’ve made a lot of sauce in my day and I’ve never tried it oven style…well fo shur it’s goin’ in the oven today. As in this morning.
    Because that’s just danged ingenious!

  10. Natalie says:

    Haha. I didn’t realize spaghetti and meatballs had such hypnotizing powers! Looks great!

  11. Can’t wait to try this — thanks! My lower fat tip for the meatballs: make them first, place on a foil-lined cookie sheet, then par-bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes or so while you put the sauce together. Drain rendered fat (into empty tomato paste can!) and add meatballs to sauce. This step helps bind the meatballs, too.

  12. Ana says:

    Holy Moley, you read my mind, I was going to make meat sauce tonight because I have all the ingredients, but now I can make MEATBALLS!

    Karen, do you think meatballs would freeze well??

    • Karen says:

      Ana – I know for a fact these meatballs freeze perfectly. You can either freeze them uncooked or cooked. They come out perfectly either way! ~ karen

      • Ana says:

        In the sauce or separate from the sauce?

        • Karen says:

          Either or. Doesn’t matter. Whenever I have leftover meatballs from a cooked batch I stick them in the freezer. And sometimes I make extra meatballs and set them aside. I line them up on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper and freeze them. Once they’re hard, take them off the cookie sheet, throw them in a freezer bag and they’ll stay perfect for months.

        • Ana says:

          Perfect! Thanks!!

  13. Michelle says:

    I tried for the second time last night to make meatballs … they all fell apart and it was more like lumpy spagetti. Fail! Will have to give yours a go next time and make the sauce then throw them in. If they’re a winner I’ll name them The Art of Meatballs 🙂

  14. June says:

    You are so right about working spaghetti & meatballs into a conversation! Thanks for the laugh.

  15. vickie says:

    my husband puts in a stalk of celery. When the celery wilts the meatballs are done.

  16. Andrea says:

    Could I make these in a slow cooker instead?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Andrea! I don’t see why not. I’ve never done them in a slow cooker (don’t own one … GASP!) but as long as you have a vent (to allow the spaghetti sauce to thicken) you should be fine. The only disadvantage is when you cook this in the oven it gets a smokey sort of taste that I don’t think you’ll get with a slow cooker. Also, when you cook them in the oven, the tops of the meatballs which float up towards the top of the sauce and get nice and browned. You probably won’t get this with the crock pot. If you give it a shot let me know how it goes! – karen

  17. Patrice says:

    OMG…just finished my second helping and I have to tell you this is fabulous. I put the sauce and meatballs in the oven, went outside to cut up some wood so that I could have a fire in the pit outside tonight…did a little prewinter maint on the car. Came back inside to the most heavenly of smells. Thanks so much for this recipe…I’m a sucker for spaghetti and meatballs and I’ve been jonesing for a fix for several weeks now. Hands down the best I’ve had in years!

    • Karen says:

      Excellent! Glad you liked the recipe. My boyfriend thinks the best part about spaghetti and meatballs is meatball subs with mozzarella cheese the next day. I’d rather just have more spaghetti and meatballs … 🙂 ~ karen

  18. Kelly Kline says:

    Thanks for posting this recipe Karen!! Can’t wait to try it!

  19. Candy says:

    I loved this recipe. Absolutely delicious sauce, I made this on New Years day and then had the left overs the day after.
    I wasn’t so keen on the mess it baked onto my roasting dish but I do the cooking and the boyfriend does the washing up so I wasn’t *that* bothered.

    Thanks for sharing.


  20. alice says:

    Just popped this in the oven — nice to have the prep done so early. I used ground chicken instead of beef, because it was on sale, but what with all the tomato and garlic flavours, I don’t think anyone will notice.

  21. Chrissy says:

    I made this sauce in a slow cooker yesterday. I can’t believe how insanely easy it was for as great as it tasted. I’m sure the oven roasting would add even more flavor, but it was great in the slow cooker just the same.

    • Karen says:

      Chrissy – Excellent! Did it thicken up nicely in the slow cooker? I imagine if your cooker has a vent it would. Isn’t it easy and delicious? Those are my fav. recipes. 🙂 ~ karen

      • Chrissy says:

        It thickened just fine, no vent, and I only used the little can of paste. There’s six in our family and this made enough for two meals. Thanks for the recipe!

        • Karen says:

          Chrissy – Um … heh … well that’s embarrassing. This feeds my family of 2 for two meals. Maybe I should get off the meatballs, LOL. They’re an addiction. 🙂 ~ karen

  22. miriam says:

    Tomato JUICE, seriously? How does this work with tomato juice? I’m trying to believe all these rave reviews, but I can’t get past the whole tomato juice situation. Tomato juice. Like Sacaramento Tomato Juice. How is this possible?

    • Karen says:

      Miriam – When you “press” tomatoes like I do every fall, what you end up with is basically tomato juice. It’s the basis for almost all tomato sauces across every Italian kitchen. Buying a can of tomato juice is actually the closest thing you can get to home pressed tomatoes. Give it a shot. You’ll see. 🙂 ~ karen

      • miriam says:

        You’re right, it was delicious and filled the house with a yummy smell all day. My meatballs did fall apart, so it was more of a meat sauce, but I might have cooked it a bit too long, or didn’t use enough pressure, or too many breadcrumbs, or whatever.

        Still, it’s definitely a keeper, and yes, with ordinary tomato juice–who knew? Thanks for the recipe!

  23. Celine says:

    Wow, just found your blog today…I love you! haha Thank you thank you thank you! I will these meatballs for my 3 boys this weekend, I’ll let you know if it was a hit!

  24. Celine says:

    It made it in my books! WOW My husband said this should have won an award!! Made it on a cold day, took the kids out to Winterlude and came home to this meal. So good with a nice glass of red wine! 🙂

  25. Judy D. says:

    I come from an Italian family and make meat sauce and/or spaghetti and meatballs fairly often. I’ve always cooked it on the stovetop. I’m so anxious to try your oven method as I can understand why it would get that smokey flavor. I just found your blog today and I know I’m going to learn a lot from you. Grazie molte.

    • Karen says:

      You’re welcome Judy D.! If you browse around a little bit you’ll find my post on pressing tomatoes somewhere. You could probably just punch “pressing tomatoes” or “canning tomatoes” into the search bar on the right and find it. 🙂 That’s the tomato “juice” I use to make my sauce. Give it a shot in the oven! It’s a great dinner. 🙂 ~ karen

  26. Bridget says:

    Help! I am making this now and just saw the part about “low sodium tomato juice” I used regular V8! Will it be too salty to eat? Should I put a cut up potato in it to absorb the salt? Seems like I read that somewhere….

    If that doesn’t work, I guess we’ll all have to be longshore man salty dogs tonight.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Bridget – V8? I’m not sure how that’ll turn out. Does it taste like regular tomato juice? From what I remember V8 is kind of sweet, LOL. Oh dear. This might turn out like an interesting sauce. Don’t bother with the potato, it doesn’t really work. DON’T add the sugar if you haven’t already. Taste the sauce about halfway through cooking if it’s too strong (either sweet or salty) add in a whole container of water. Yup. Water. It’ll take quite a bit to dilute the sauce. The other thing is, if you don’t boil it down as much the salt and sugar won’t be as sweet because you won’t be evaporating as much liquid. This will be your practice batch. 🙂 ~ karen

      • Bridget says:

        Thanks for the speedy reply, Karen! I already have it all assembled ready to pop in when the family arrives from out of town! Argh. So, no to the potato, yes to more water if needed. Thanks for the suggestions! You could probably tell I was stressing out over this…

        I thought v8 was what you really meant when you said “Yup, that tomato juice” and that you were just being careful how you worded it…I should know that you aren’t shy! I have never considered drinking true tomato juice.

        Well, at least I have a frozen pizza or two for emergency back up if this is a complete fiasco. On the other hand, it could turn out to magically be my best dinner yet! Time will tell. I will report back afterwards.

        • Bridget says:

          It’s a miracle! I tasted midstream as you suggested, and the V8 doesn’t seem to have harmed the sauce! Tastes really wonderful – not too sweet or salty either. Whew! What a relief.

          Now, I can relax and enjoy that wonderful aroma! My family will arrive from out of town in an hour, and I know they’ll be eager to eat this up! It will be so nice to greet them with these lovely smells!

        • Karen says:

          Excellent! Don’t forget … keep tasting. The longer it boils down, the stronger the salt and sugar become. Have a good dinner! ~ karen

  27. angie says:

    Okay so I was just in the kitchen throwing this together and um…my pan was too small so I had to pour the sauce and meatballs into my turkey roaster. I’m not too good at math, but I figured that if you got two meals out of this recipe and there are two of you then maybe I should double the recipe for my family of 6 since we all like to go back for seconds. Did you know that doubling your recipe makes enough to FILL UP A TURKEY ROASTER?!? Yes, it does. I read where you said the balls freeze up great, but have you ever frozen the sauce before? If so please tell me what you put it in before freezing, I was thinking just a ziplock freezer bag.
    Oh, and this sauce smells really great as it’s cooking….neighbors sniffing the air as they walk to their cars like they do when someone barbeques great. I feel kind of like a rockstar for making my own sauce from scratch. Thanks for that.

    • Karen says:

      LOL. Hi Angie. Sounds like you’ve got some sauce goin’ on. I freeze the sauce w/ meatballs all the time. Just put it in baggies, or Tupperware and throw it in the freezer. Label it though. You’ll look at it 2 months from now and think What the hell is that? For the meatballs to be their absolute best, let them float to the top until they get browned. Once you look in and see them browned, stir them up so their undersides, or the meatballs underneath can get browned. Good luck. You’re gonna love it! ~ karen

  28. Jan in Waterdown says:

    I was looking for a yummy dish to serve to visiting family this week on Hallowe’en night after trick or treatin’ and thought to myself “What would Karen do?”. That brought me to this recipe, just a tad later than most! Just wondered if you have any thoughts on using bottled passata? It was on special recently so I have a whole whack of it just waiting to be used. Also, was thinking about all that grease floating around in the sauce . . . does it just get absorbed or do you skim it off? Thanks!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Jan! What do you mean bottled passata? I .. I don’t think I know what that is, lol. Do you mean jarred pasta sauce? No. NONONO. No. Just buy the cans of tomato juice (reduced salt). It makes a much better sauce. Honestly, I wouldn’t steer you wrong. And let it boil down until you’re almost worried it’s too thick. That’s when you get the good roasty flavour. If you think too much of the sauce has boiled away just add some water once you take it out of the oven and stir it in. I just stir the grease in, but if you notice there’s a TON of it, just skim it off once the sauce is cooked. ~ karen!

  29. Shawn says:

    Hi, Karen. I’m planning to try your recipe tonight, but my kiddos don’t like meatballs, so I usually just crumble browned meat into the sauce to hide it from them 😉 Do you think the sauce will still turn out well without meatballs?

    • Karen says:

      Sure it’ll be fine Shawn. But why not make a few meatballs for yourself and just don’t serve them the meatballs? Either way it’ll be fine. Remember the longer you cook it the thicker and less “sharp” it tastes. So if you taste it and think “that’s too acidic for my tastes or for the kids”, just cook it a little longer. If it gets too thick just add some water and stir it in to loosen it up a bit. ~ karen!

  30. Shawnna says:

    Making this recipe now, it’s been in the oven for 2 hours (took the lid off after 1 hour when the sauce was bubbling), the sauce doesn’t seem to be thickening yet, any suggestions to make it thicker?

    • Karen says:

      Hi Shawnna – It’ll thicken up, don’t worry. Just leave it and check on it every half hour or so. If you want to rush it up a bit turn your oven up by 25 degrees. ~ karen!

    • Karen says:

      Or use convection if you have it. ~ karen

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