This Italian meatball recipe features pork, veal, and beef simmered in homemade tomato sauce.

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Photo: © Nicole Franzen
Active Time:
1 hrs 30 mins
Total Time:
2 hrs
4 to 6

This recipe for meatballs comes from Dan Holzman of NYC's Meatball Shop. He makes a quick tomato sauce of canned San Marzano tomatoes, carrots, and aromatics like onion, garlic, bay leaves, and oregano. While the sauce simmers, you can make the meatballs.

Holzman uses the classic holy trinity of pork, veal, and beef for deeply flavorful meatballs. Balancing aromatics like onion, ground fennel, and garlic round out the flavor profile, while red pepper flakes offer a bit of heat. Breadcrumbs, eggs, and grated pecorino Romano cheese bind the meatballs together. Holzman skips browning his meatballs to make the dish easier; he prefers to simmer them right in the delicious tomato sauce. 

Don’t have all three types of meat? You can use just two different meats; the meatballs will still be tasty. Serve these meatballs as appetizers or alongside your favorite pasta, salad, or vegetables. And if you have any leftovers, stuff them into a hoagie roll to make a mouthwatering meatball sub.


Tomato Sauce

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 onion, coarsely chopped (1 cup)

  • 2 carrots, sliced 3/4 inch thick (3/4 cup)

  • 3 large garlic cloves, crushed

  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 6 oregano sprigs     

  • Two 28-ounce cans whole peeled San Marzano tomatoes with their juices, crushed by hand

  • Pinch of crushed red pepper

  • Kosher salt


  • 3/4 pound ground chuck

  • 3/4 pound ground veal

  • 3/4 pound ground pork

  • 1/2 cup Italian-style dry breadcrumbs (2 1/2 ounces)

  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (1 ounce)

  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 2 large eggs

  • 1/2 cup minced onion

  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley

  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel

  • Grated Grana Padano cheese, for serving


Make the tomato sauce

  1. In a large ovenproof saucepan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion, carrots and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until lightly caramelized, about 3 minutes. Add the bay leaf, oregano, tomatoes and crushed red pepper and bring to a simmer. Cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 15 minutes. Season with salt and keep at a bare simmer.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the Grana Padano and mix by hand until well incorporated. Using a 1 1/2-ounce ice cream scoop (3 tablespoons), scoop 24 meatballs (1 1/2 inches in diameter) and roll into neat balls.

  2. Add the meatballs to the simmering tomato sauce and bring to a boil. Braise in the oven until firm and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and oregano sprigs. Serve the meatballs and sauce with Grana Padano on the side.

Make Ahead

The meatballs can be refrigerated in the sauce overnight and rewarmed before serving.

Suggested Pairing

Concentrated, medium-bodied Italian red.

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