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Italian spiced meatballs with tomato sauce recipe

Diana Henry / 18 February 2015

Find out how to make Diana Henry's Italian spiced meatballs with tomato sauce, ideal served with spaghetti.

Italian meatballs, ideal served with spaghetti

Cooking time

10 minutes




  • 400g tin of tomatoes (ideally cherry tomatoes) in thick juice
  • 100ml water
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp soft light brown sugar
  • Salt and pepper

200g pasta (spaghetti or penne) to serve

For the meatballs:

  • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ½ red chilli, deseeded and chopped
  • 450g minced beef
  • 1/4 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp ground mixed spice
  • 1 tbsp finely chopped parsley


This makes more tomato sauce than you need but there is no point in opening a tin and using half of it. Put the rest of the tomato sauce in the fridge and serve with pasta the next day. Alternatively you can double the quantity of meatballs and make enough meatballs and sauce for another meal (this freezes well).

You can have the meatballs with rice or mash, but I’ve suggested pasta here.

How to make Italian spiced meatballs with tomato sauce

Make the sauce first. Put all the ingredients for it into saucepan – you don’t need to brown anything – and bring to the boil. Reduce to a simmer and leave to cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, or until the sauce is thick and soft. Keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get too dry and stick to the bottom of the pan.

Taste, adjust the seasoning and leave to cool. Once it’s cool puree the sauce using a stick blender or a food processor. Return half the sauce to the pan (put the other half in the fridge for a meal the next day – you can just serve it with pasta).

For the meatballs put ½ tbsp of the olive oil into a pan and cook the onion until it is soft and pale gold. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for another minute then tip this into a bowl with the beef, spices and parsley. Season this really well and mix it together with your hands. Now wet your hands (this stops the meat sticking to them) and form the beef into meatballs.

Heat the remaining oil in a frying pan and brown the meatballs all over. You don’t need to cook them through as they’re going to finish cooking in the sauce, but you want a good colour on the outside. Tip the meatballs into the pan with the tomato sauce, bring up to a simmer and cook them gently for about 10 minutes. The meatballs should be cooked inside.

Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water. When it’s ready drain and immediately toss it with the tomato sauce and meatballs. Serve with grated parmesan on the side.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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