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The ultimate spaghetti and meatballs recipe in a rich tomato sauce. Slow cooker/crock pot method

Spaghetti and meatballs in a rich tomato sauce

Spaghetti and meatballs in a rich tomato sauce

“Wow! This is the best spaghetti and meatballs that I’ve ever tasted.”
Danny was reaching for seconds before he’d even finished his first portion.

Now before you reach for your shopping list I just want to make one thing clear. I have never sampled American spaghetti and meatballs. My recipe tasted pretty good to me too but this recipe is just how I imagined perfect American spaghetti and meatballs should taste.

As a child I’m certain that we didn’t eat spaghetti with meatballs. I’ve always thought of it as an American dish. Wikipedia informs me that there are areas in Italy that have meatball recipes that pre date the American ones. Meatballs were added to pasta as a festival treat. However meatballs with spaghetti seems to be an American speciality.

If I was making these just for me I’d add a half teaspoon of dried chilli flakes. But Danny doesn’t like hot, chilli flavours. I did add a half teaspoon of chilli sauce to my portion and then this recipe hit every spot for me.

I started playing with meatball recipes when I overdosed Danny on Bolognaise sauce. He still looks feverish at the mention of bolognaise and, between you and me, it’s quite fun to pretend that’s what I’m cooking when I’m actually preparing a sauce for meatballs. Naughty, I know but all is forgiven when I place a dish of steaming, tasty meatballs in front of him.

My mum loves meatballs too. So we always try and hold back a bit to leave a couple of dainty portions for her freezer. Aged 92 how did she discover them? Was it from American soldiers during the war or a ready meal from Waitrose?

I think a large dish of spaghetti and meatballs in a rich tomato sauce is one of my ultimate comfort foods. Over the years I have played with meatball recipes a lot and have come to the conclusion that the sauce is best made in the slow cooker/crock pot. This both reduces and thickens the sauce and intensifies the flavours. Meatballs need a thickish sauce to cling to the spaghetti for ultimate chin splattering guzzling.

There’s just on thing to remember when you are cooking at home. Only the worst recipes are set in stone and if you find one of these kick it out of the kitchen immediately. A good recipe will always invite you to tweak to create a dish that is tailor made to your taste. If you are wary about fiddling with a recipe, try playing with a couple of tablespoons of the sauce – if you don’t hit gold you can toss your experiment away without anyone even knowing that you’d even been testing the options. If you do hit gold, just rack up the quantities and change the entire sauce. If you try and tweak the entire sauce you might be filling up your bin and having to serve something else. Until I discovered thi tricks, Danny ate an awful lot of omelettes. And that was before the world announced that eggs are good for you.

The sauce in this recipe is made and left to chill for 24 hours before heating it up gently in a sauté pan and adding freshly made meatballs and simmering them for just twenty minutes. This guarantees that the meatballs are soft, tasty and a great foil for the rich sauce.

So finally after D’s accolade this tomato rich sauce is actually my swansong basic recipe. I’d like to try an experiment with the meatballs – mixing pork and beef mince or even try lamb mince. The sauce could be tweaked with a splosh of red wine or a sprinkle of chilli flakes but the basic recipe will remain the same.

If you want an easy, foolproof spaghetti and meatballs recipe try this one. You won’t regret it.


The ultimate delicious spaghetti and meatballs recipe in a rich tomato sauce. Slow cooker/crock pot method
Recipe Type: Main
Author: Fiona Nevile
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours 30 mins
Total time: 4 hours
Serves: 4-6
  • The sauce:
  • 2 sweet Romano red peppers – deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 2 cm chunks
  • 1 sweet red bell pepper – deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 2 cm chunks
  • 2 x 400g cans of good quality tinned tomatoes
  • 500ml of passatta
  • 1 tsp of garlic granules/or a large clove of garlic
  • Half a tsp of dried oregano
  • Half a tsp of dried thyme
  • Half a tsp of balsamic vinegar
  • Half a tsp of Lea and Perrins Worcesetershire sauce
  • 2 tsp of soft brown sugar – optional (taste, taste, taste)
  • 2 tsp of vegetable stock powder
  • Salt and pepper to taste at the end of cooking
  • The meatballs:
  • 700g of very fresh minced beef
  • 100ml of milk
  • 70g of fresh white breadcrumbs
  • Half a tsp of dried mixed herbs
  • Large pinch of salt and a good dash of white pepper
  • 1 tbsp of finely grated Parmesan/ Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 tablespoons of finely grated Parmesan/ Grana Padano cheese to garnish before serving.
  1. The sauce:
  2. Add all the ingredients to the slow cooker/stock pot and stir well. Turn the knob to high and leave (lid on) until the sauce is simmering (this usually takes about an hour). Then turn to low and simmer for 2-3 hours. Taste testing after 2 hours. The pieces of sweet pepper should have vanished, just leaving their sweetness in the sauce. Sample the sauce and season to taste.
  3. Cool the sauce completely and leave for 24 hours.
  4. The meatballs:
  5. Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and stir well. Cover the bowl with cling film or a tight lid and refrigerate for a day.
  6. I prepare the meatball mixture 24 hours before but make the meatballs up just minutes before cooking them. Fashion them gently into the size of a large walnut. This insures that they are soft and gently yielding all the way though rather than the compressed cannon balls that I’ve choked on in the past.
  7. Combine the sauce and the meatballs:
  8. In a large sauté pan heat the sauce gently and add the meatballs. Our large sauté pan will hold 15 meatballs so with us they have to be cooked in two batches. The first batch happily sits in a warm place with a little sauce until the other half is ready.
  9. Serve on warm plates with a decent sprinkle of finely grated Parmesan cheese – or any other hard Italian cheese, such as Grana Padano.

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  1. Beatrix McCormick

    I love stopping by. You always have such fun recipes, gardening tips, and chicken stories!

    I can’t wait to try this sauce. I grew up on a farm on the U.S. and we always had spaghetti and meatballs for Sunday supper.

    I’ll concur with the other commenters. Americans use a lot of onions. Especially in beef dishes.

    May I toss my hat into the pot with a meatloaf recipe. This is the one I also grew up on. It was served with buttered mashed potatoes, and corn or green beans. We always looked forward to meatloaf in late summer when the corn was fresh off the cob and the potatoes were boiled with their soft skins still on!

    My mother and grandmothers never measured anything, and my measurements here are close estimates. This original recipe doesn’t use herbs, but I like to add fresh thyme or tarragon occasionally. I’d recommend trying it without additions first. The simplicity allows the flavor of the beef to come through.

    1 small onion, diced
    1/2 cup red bell pepper, diced
    1 cup mushrooms, sliced (common button mushrooms are fine)
    1 Tbsp butter
    1 lb lean ground beef (I use 85% lean)
    1 handful rolled oats (about 1 cup)
    1 large egg
    1/2 tsp salt
    1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
    bread crumbs (1/4 cup or more)
    ketchup (I like Heinz brand)

    Sweat the onions, peppers, and mushrooms in butter, over low heat, until they begin to turn translucent. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl. Add the hamburger, oats, egg, salt, and pepper to vegetable mixture and mix thoroughly. Add enough bread crumbs to give the mixture body, but not so much that it becomes stiff. Mix in enough ketchup to make the mixture moist and gooey. About the consistency of a thick brownie mix. Shape the meat into a loaf and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F. (176 Celsius?) for about 45 minutes, or until cooked through. Don’t over cook or it will get tough. Move the meatloaf to a serving platter and slice. Serve hot. (Leftover meatloaf slices make great sandwiches.)

  2. MerryB

    I made this a couple of days ago. When I took the Worcester sauce out of the cupboard, I saw the bottle was nearly empty, and thought “not worth putting that back “, so I tipped it all in ( a lot more than half a tsp!)and was then worried I had overdone it. I shouldnt have worried, the sauce was absolutely delicious. with a really intense full flavour. Yum! Thanks for the recipe Fiona.

  3. eleanorthegreat

    I haven’t made meatloaf in a while, either, and would have to play around to figure out what it was I did differently last time that made it so good.

    My base recipe, the one I changed every time even though I never wrote down the changes, was hilariously enough from the Better Homes and Garden Junior Cookbook from 1955. My sisters and I used it when we were kids, although it probably belonged to my grandmother at one point, as it was already older and well-loved when we were growing up. The only cooking we really did then consisted of creative hot dog dishes, of course, but we did look at the book. And it had creative hot dog dishes. 😉

    I remember Worcestershire sauce being an addition, and sometimes Tabasco. I also remember ignoring the idea of putting tomato ketchup on the tops – that always grosses me out. I also probably tried the Fannie Farmer recipe at some point.

    The biggest win as far as making meat loaves that I found when I was making them was that I make them in muffin tins when I do. They are then portioned ahead of time, so taking “seconds” is a much more conscious thing, and they are also suddenly very portable.

    I -do- have a VERY good vegetarian nut loaf recipe that is better than any meatloaf I’ve ever had, and I’ve never had a meat eater dislike it. Nuts, bread, onions, cheese, milk and some bullion cubes. That’s the gist of the recipe. I always pull out my old cast iron hand cranked grinder for it, too, because the food processor never gives you the same effect. Also, it takes the fun out of making a family recipe. 😉

  4. Hi Danny,

    I have to confess, it has been quite a long time since I have eaten meatloaf, and even longer since I have actually enjoyed it. Maybe Eleanor has a good recipe. If you find one, would love to read a post about it — maybe it’s time to try it again.


  5. Thanks, Ellie. Great to read an American viewpoint.

    Can you recommend a favorite recipe for meatloaf?

    I would then encourage My Darling to branch out from small balls to produce the full shebang 🙂

  6. eleanorthegreat

    This is printing as I type. I’m from the US, and I definitely love spaghetti and meatballs, but haven’t ever tried making a sauce myself. I agree with Ellie that onion is a common ingredient in US recipes, but I will also try this as is first, hopefully this summer. I’ve loved all your recipes so far! Thanks, F & D!

  7. Hello Fiona! I was so happy to see your comments about American spaghetti and meatballs, and, as an American who loves to cook, am even happier to offer a response. Your recipe sounds absolutely delicious! The only thing missing from the recipe, if you want a more American version, is onions. I’d say, mince and brown one medium-sized onion before you throw it in the slow-cooker. That flavor might actually replace the Worcestershire. Lots of meatball recipes have onions in them, too. But to be honest, yours sounds a lot tastier than most I’ve tried — bland spaghetti and meatballs is all too common. The next time we get a chilly, rainy spell (and it’s been a while), I’ll try your version! Thanks.

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