Meatball Sauce (20 Minute Recipe)

6 people
20 min

This easy meatball sauce recipe is quick, simple and the perfect accompaniment to any type of pasta and/or meatballs. I've added fresh herbs, tomato puree and balsamic vinegar in addition to the typical meatball sauce ingredients to add even more richness and flavour. With just 20 minutes of cooking and prep time, this super tasty sauce is a viable option for any night of the week.

The post contains additional information and helpful tips to ensure the recipe turns out great the first time. Please use the link above to jump to the recipe card at the end if you are in a hurry!

✅ 5 reasons why you'll love this recipe:

  • Rich and delicious with fresh herbs, tomato puree and a dash of balsamic to make the sauce extra flavourful.
  • Ready in 20 minutes
  • Make-ahead and freezer friendly
  • Versatile with many serving options.
  • Uses simple everyday ingredients

🛒 Ingredients and variations:

Wondering what you need to make meatball sauce? Here's a brief overview of the ingredients including substitutions.

Onions and garlic: Onions add a little sweetness that cuts through the acidity of the tomatoes and garlic and heightens the other flavours in the sauce. I highly recommend using fresh garlic if you can but you can use ¼-1/2 tsp of dried garlic if you need to.

Tinned chopped tomatoes: I recommend buying the best ones you can afford. I find chopped tomatoes are one of those ingredients where you can really taste the difference if you spend a little more. Petti and Mutti are my go-to's.

Tomato puree: adds tomatoey richness and is highly recommended, but if you're out of puree, don't worry, you'll still get a tasty meatball sauce without it

Fresh basil and oregano: Use fresh herbs where possible as they will bring more flavour to the sauce. You can switch fresh oregano for one-third of the quantity of dry oregano but I really recommend using fresh basil.

Balsamic vinegar: I love adding balsamic vinegar to tomato sauces. It brings a lovely richness and introduces a new depth of flavour as well as sweetness. If you can, opt for the thick, gloopy and sweet kind instead of the cheaper, thinner, watery and more acidic varieties. I really like Due Vittorie.

🧑‍🍳 Meatball sauce in 3 easy steps

1. Fry the onions and garlic

Place a frying pan on a medium heat, add olive oil and fry the finely chopped onion until soft. Add the crushed garlic and cook for a further minute.

2. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer

Add the chopped tomatoes, fresh basil and oregano, sugar, balsamic vinegar and tomato puree. Simmer on a low heat for 10 to 15 minutes until the sauce is reduced. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

3. Add meatballs and serve

Add your meatballs of choice and serve over pasta.

a pan of turkey meatballs in tomato sauce
Serving suggestions

While spaghetti meatballs or a meatball sub might be the first things that spring to mind, there are so many ways to enjoy this sauce, which is why it's worth making a big batch and freezing some.

As well as pairing up nicely with most types of meatballs it can also add tomatoey yumminess to a number of recipes including lasagne and baked aubergines.

The best meatball recipes

When it comes to meatball recipes there are so many choices from traditional Italian meatballs made with beef and pork to lighter turkey meatballs and many other tasty options:

  • Lamb meatballs
  • Beef Italian meatballs
  • Baked chicken meatballs
  • Mushroom and quinoa meatballs

👍 Top tips

  1. Choose your ingredients wisely - while fresh herbs, balsamic vinegar and tomato puree are optional, they're worth the additional effort and are sure to take your meatball sauce to the next level.
  2. Simmer - be patient and let the meatball sauce simmer for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the flavour to deepen as the sauce thickens.
  3. Make a large batch - it doesn't take much longer and is well worth it when this versatile sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months.
A serving of Italian Meatballs
🙋 FAQs

Can I use frozen meatballs?

You can serve the sauce with store-bought or homemade frozen meatballs. Prepare store-bought meatballs according to packet instructions. Allow home-made frozen cooked meatballs to defrost in the fridge overnight and simply add them to the sauce. Homemade uncooked meatballs should also be left to defrost in the fridge overnight, fried until brown and then added to the sauce to cook completely.

What is the difference between meatball sauce and bolognese sauce?

Both are tomato-based sauces but the key difference is that bolognese sauce contains meat and has a thicker consistency. Meatball sauce tends to be thinner and often does not contain meat.

What type of meatball sauce is best for a meatball sub?

A tomato-based sauce like marinara works nicely. Adding a cheese like Parmesan or mozzarella is highly recommended.

Should you fry meatballs before adding them to the sauce?

Browning the meatballs before you add them to the sauce creates an improved texture on the outside and deepens their flavour. It's okay to cook raw meatballs in the sauce but searing first will vastly improve the texture and flavour.

📦 Storage

Making meatball sauce ahead of time

The sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to four days, making it a great choice for a make-ahead meal. With multiple serving options you could use the same batch for two different meals during a week.

Freezing meatball sauce

Because meatball sauce can be frozen for up to 3 months, I'll often make a large batch. Simply leave the sauce to cool, add the desired amount to freezer bags or plastic containers and place in the freezer. Defrost overnight in the fridge and reheat in the stove or the microwave.

😋 More easy dinner recipes to try

Italian Meatballs

Pesto Crusted Salmon

Ground Turkey Meatballs

Spinach pasta sauce

Did you try this recipe? It would be really great if you could leave a comment and a star rating ⭐️. I would love to receive your feedback and know that other readers find it helpful too.

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📖 Recipe
Meatball Sauce (20 Minute Recipe)
Recipe details
  • 6  people
  • Prep time: 5 Minutes Cook time: 15 Minutes Total time: 20 min
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  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic crushed (Note 1)
  • 2 400g tins/cans (14 oz) chopped tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano chopped (or 2 tsp dried oregano) (Note 2)
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves roughly torn
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar optional (Note 3)
  • 1/4 tsp Fine sea or kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp Freshly ground black pepper

Place a large frying pan or Dutch oven on a medium heat and add olive oil. Add the onion when the oil gets hot and fry for a few minutes until soft and translucent.
Add the crushed garlic and cook for a further 1-2 minutes.
Pour in the chopped tomatoes and stir in the tomato puree, oregano, basil, sugar and balsamic vinegar.
Simmer on a low heat for 10-15 minutes
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add your meatballs of choice to the sauce and serve over pasta. (Note 4)
  • Garlic: I highly recommend using fresh garlic but you can use ¼-1/2 tsp of dried garlic instead.
  • Fresh herbs: use one third of the quantity of dried herbs instead.
  • Balsamic vinegar: optional but highly recommended as it adds depth and flavour to the sauce.
  • Meatballs: ensure meatballs are cooked according to packet instructions before adding them to the sauce and that they are simmered in the sauce until warmed through.
Helen | Knife & Soul
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