Meatball Bolognese is a recipe that the whole family will love! With juicy beef meatballs in a rich tomato sauce you will enjoy the hearty beefiness of this dish. Spaghetti bolognese with meatballs is full of flavour, deliciously satisfying and the best type of home cooking there is!
🤍 Recipe Highlights
I have summarised everything that you will come to know and love (LOVE ❤) about the recipe in the points below:
- Comfort food: whenever we are talking about a recipe that has both meatballs and pasta, you know you are onto a good thing. It warms you up from the inside out! Meatball bolognese is a meal in one!
- Back to basics: spaghetti and meatballs is a simple combination of complimentary ingredients honouring Italian roots.
- Fast cook time: we don't need hours to simmer a bolognese sauce to get maximum flavour out of the dish. This recipe works for weeknights and can be prepared in advance.
- Freezer friendly: you can choose to freeze the meatballs and bolognese sauce separately to the spaghetti or portion and freeze into easily reheatable meals that make the weeks effortless.
- Family friendly: we do use herbs in the recipe for flavour, but there is no 'spiciness' or 'heat' in the recipe, making it perfect for the everyone in the family to enjoy.
The photo below is to show you everything you need to make the recipe. Please refer to the printable recipe card for specific ingredient measurements as well as detailed instructions.
As you can see the recipe calls for:
- Spaghetti: I tend to use a thinner spaghetti when combining it with meatballs to change the texture up slightly. Not as thin as angel hair, but a no 3 spaghetti instead of no 5 or 7 and much thinner than bucatini.
- Ground beef mince: reasonably economical and often marked down at the supermarket in the late afternoons. This freezer friendly cut of meat is versatile and full of flavour.
- Breadcrumbs: an ingredient in the meatballs to help absorb moisture. I use panko.
- Garlic: chunky minced garlic from a jar is fine or chop 2 fresh garlic cloves.
- Dried onion: saves time and tears and delivers great onion flavour. You will find it in the herbs and spices section of the supermarket.
- Dried parsley: this dried herb is one of the 2 key herbs that we use to add flavour to the meatballs, a pantry staple!
- Dried basil: this is the 2nd dried herb we use in the actual meatballs. It is also excellent to use when making homemade garlic bread.
- Egg: this helps bind the meatball mixture together. You can gently whisk it or simply crack it into the bowl and mix it in with the other ingredients.
- Salt and pepper: a little of each goes into the meatball mix for seasoning.
- Olive oil: used to cook the meatballs.
🍜 Sauce for Meatball Bolognese
- Passata: also known as tomato puree in some countries, we use it to make a hearty sauce to smother the meatballs in and help create the basis for the bolognese sauce.
- Crushed tomatoes: look for a variety that is plain with no additional flavour or herbs as we are adding our own in.
- Tomato paste: thick and full of rich flavour. This can also be used as a quick go to pizza sauce!
- Worcestershire sauce: a great ingredient for sauces, marinades and meat dishes adding a little extra oomph to the recipe.
- Beef stock cubes: used to add additional flavour to the sauce.
- Pecorino romano, cracked black pepper and fresh basil leaves (optional garnishes): be generous with these and use this combination to finish off the dish prior to serving.
Tasty Tip: I like to offer a number of substitutions and variations to give you options when making the recipe. If in doubt of any of the above ingredients, or wanting alternatives, read this section (further below) before jumping into the instructions on how to make the recipe which are coming next 😉👌.
Here are the step by step instructions to make the recipe. We start by making the meatballs. You will find a medium sized mixing bowl, chopping board and tablespoon measuring spoon handy for the initial steps.
- Gather the meatball ingredients (Photo 1)
- Combine (Photo 2)
- Roll into meatballs (Photo 3)
- Cook in olive oil (Photo 4)
👩🍳 How to Make Meatball Bolognese
Use a medium sized mixing bowl to start the recipe by adding the ingredients to make the meatballs.
Add in the ground beef mince, breadcrumbs, garlic, dried parsley, basil, salt, pepper and egg. Use clean hands to mix this combination together and then use a mini cookie scoop to portion and roll into meatballs.
Place rolled meatballs on a chopping board and repeat to use up the entire mixture.
Next add olive oil to a large sauté pan using high heat. Use kitchen tongs to place the meatballs into the pan and allow them to cook.
It will take 6 to 8 minutes for them to brown on the outsides (gently move them around with a wooden spoon).
Once cooked, use the kitchen tongs or a wooden spoon to transfer the meatballs out of the pan.
If there is a lot of excess oil in the pan you can use paper towel to mop some of it up. Then without rinsing or washing the pan, start to add the ingredients to make the sauce.
- Remove meatballs from pan (Photo 5)
- Add sauce ingredients (Photo 6)
- Stir to combine (Photo 7)
- Add cooked meatballs (Photo 8)
Pour in the passata, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, Italian herbs and sprinkle crushed beef bouillon cubes over the top. Stir to combine, then turn the heat to low, add the cooked meatballs to the pan. Gently stir the sauce over these to cover and allow the dish to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Cook and drain the spaghetti (Photo 9)
Once the pasta is cooked you can add it to the meatballs and sauce and toss with kitchen tongs and a wooden spoon. Gentle combining the meatballs in spaghetti sauce.
Allow all of the elements to heat through and then get ready to portion and serve the dish!
🍽 Serving Suggestions
Whilst there are plenty of options to garnish, the old faithfuls that I turn to each time are a smattering of freshly cracked black pepper, grated pecorino romano cheese and basil leaves.
👍 How to Guide
How to Store
Store leftovers in a sealed, air tight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat prior to consuming.
How to Freeze
Allow the dish to fully cool before portioning into zip lock bags, squeezing the air out and sealing. They can then be thawed prior to use. I often also freeze just the meatballs in bolognese sauce (meal prepped) and cook fresh spaghetti when serving as frozen reheated pasta is never as good as freshly cooked al dente pasta!
How to Reheat
You can use either the stove top or the microwave to reheat the dish. The microwave will reheat the fastest however, you may find that the meatballs and sauce heat through more consistently when added back to a pan on the stove and stir till heated through.
😉 Substitutions and Variations
Here are my sub ins and outs that you might be thinking about as you read the post and I will tell you if I think they will work or why they won't:
- Parsley is a great alternative garnish to use instead of fresh basil leaves.
- You can use vegetarian or plant based meatballs if you want to turn this into a vegetarian dish. Both store bought or homemade meatballs will work well.
- You can use non beef meatballs and instead use chicken meatballs, ground turkey meatballs, lamb meatballs or pork meatballs.
- Or you can use a combination of half beef mince and half pork mince mixed together to make the meatballs.
- Crushed or diced tomatoes can be used interchangeably. The diced tomatoes will provide a little more chunky texture to the dish.
- For a low carb option you can use zucchini spirals in place of the wheat based spaghetti pasta.
- Or carb it up in a different way and use the bolognese and meatballs in Baked Meatball Subs with bread and no pasta 😉👍.
💡 Tasty Tips
Here are my top tips and tricks that I want to share with you so that you master the recipe from the get go:
- We need to be a little bit gentle when cooking the meatballs and stirring them through the sauce and pasta.
- If you don't have a mini cookie scoop, you can use a teaspoon or soup spoon to portion the wet meatball mixture.
- When simmering the bolognese sauce, the heat needs to be on low. You can also use a lid if you find some of it flicking up and splashing out of the pan.
- As you drain the pasta if it looks like it is a little sticky or stuck together rinse it in the colander under the tap in the sink, then shake the excess water off before adding it to the bolognese sauce.
- When tossing the spaghetti together with the meatballs, you will find a pair of tongs in one hand and a wooden spoon in the other, the best way to allow you to thoroughly combine each component.
- If you don't wish to combine it all together, yet rather serve the meatballs and sauce on top (not mixed in). You can layer the spaghetti into a large serving dish then pour the meatballs and sauce over the top.
🤓 Frequently Asked Questions
Is it better to cook meatballs before adding to sauce?
Whilst the meatballs can be added to the sauce and cooked straight from there, you will get better results if you start by cooking the meatballs separately and browning the edges. This helps to ensure that the meatballs won't fall apart. Then once the sauce is combined, you can add the cooked meatballs to the sauce.
How long do you brown meatballs before putting in sauce?
It will take around 6 to 8 minutes using high heat for the meatballs to brown on the outsides. To ensure they are cooked on the insides, you can take one and use a knife to cut it in half and see that the insides are brown too with no pink or raw meat.
Should eggs be beaten for meatballs?
Some recipes will call for an egg to be lightly whisked before being added to the meatball mixture. Or you can crack the egg directly into the mixing bowl and use clean hands to combine this mixture. The yolk and white will be softened in both processes and achieve the same affect.
😍 More Easy Dinner Recipes
Let's make dinner easy and effortless with some delicious ideas that get on the table without you working up a sweat. I have a feeling you will also love these recipes:
- Spaghetti Alla Bolognese
- Pasta Alla Gorgonzola
- Tagliatelle Pesto
- Fettuccine Bolognese
- Slow Cooker Pulled Lamb
- Gnocchi Gorgonzola
- Fettuccine Al Pesto
- Linguine Al Pesto
- Baked Pasta Bolognese
- Spaghetti Al Pesto
Its time to get our meatball on my friend. You can also find all of my pasta recipes in the one spot.
- 1 Medium sized mixing bowl
- 1 Mini Cookie Scoop or teaspoon to portion the wet meatball mixture
- 1 Chopping board
- 1 Large saute pan
- 1 Paper towel
- 1 Soup Spoon
- 1 Wooden spoon
- 1 Kitchen Tongs
- 1 Medium Saucepan
- 1 Colander
- 500 grams/ 1 pound ground beef mince
- ⅓ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 tablespoon garlic chunky, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil to cook the meatballs
- 700 grams/24.5 oz tomato passata (tomato puree)
- 400 grams/14 oz crushed tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tbs dried onion
- 1 teaspoon Italian herbs
- 500 grams/1 pound spaghetti
- cracked black pepper
- pecorino romano (cheese)
- basil leaves
- Meatballs: combine the ground beef mince, breadcrumbs, garlic, dried onion, basil and parsley in a medium sized mixing bowl. Use clean hands to mix together. Then use a tablespoon to portion and roll into balls. Place on a chopping board and repeat till the mixture is all rolled.
- Cook meatballs: add olive oil to a large sauté pan, turn the heat to medium and place the meatballs into the pan. Cook for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating as you go. Ensure no pink bits are visible and the whole ball is slightly charred on the edges. Then use kitchen tongs to remove the meatballs from the pan and place on a paper towel lined plate.
- Make sauce: use paper towel to absorb any excess oil in the pan then begin to make the sauce by pouring in the passata, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce, dried onion and dried Italian herbs, Stir these to combine then turn the heat down to low.
- Add meatballs: add the cooked meatballs to the bolognese sauce. Gently scoop the sauce up and over the top of them. Allow the sauce and meatballs to simmer for 15 minutes.
- Spaghetti: read and follow the instructions on the packet to cook the spaghetti in a medium sauce pan of boiling salted water. Drain using a colander.
- Combine: use kitchen tongs to add the cooked spaghetti to the meatballs and sauce. Gently stir to toss and combine.
- Serve: portion to meatball bolognese into bowls, garnish with cracked black pepper, pecorino romano cheese and fresh basil leaves. Provide utensils for the eating.