Recipe: Bucatini with meatballs and homemade tomato sauce

A couple weeks ago, Lara from Simply Irresistible posted two pasta recipes that looked SO good. Well, I mean, all of her recipes look really good, but I must’ve been craving pasta, because the minute I saw these, I wanted to make them right then and there. Which is weird, because at home, Joe and I typically stay away from pasta, mostly for dietary reasons. But the weather has been cooler, and the thought of a big, warm bowl of noodles just sounded really delicious!

Two Saturdays ago, we spent the day out and about, running errands and buying a coat for Joe, and it was drizzling all day. Inspired by Lara, I suggested pasta for dinner to make up for the miserable weather. I was blown away when Joe said, “Spaghetti and meatballs?” Done and done. And to make things extra special, I told him I’d even make the sauce from scratch.

This dish turned out really well! If you’re following exactly what I did, I’d recommend you save this one for a weekend, when you have a bit more time. However, you could easily make it a weeknight meal by using your favorite jarred marinara sauce.

Get the recipe after the jump!

Bucatini with meatballs and homemade marinara

For the meatballs:
2 large eggs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c grated parmesan
1/2 lb ground beef (chuck is fine)
3/4 lb ground pork
1/2 small onion, finely diced (save the other half for the sauce, below)
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs (see note, below)
10 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves striped and minced (half will be used in the meat; half in the sauce)
1/3 cup loosely packed parsley, chopped
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

For the sauce:
1.5 small onions, cut into julienne (use one whole small onion, and the other half from the onion used in the meatballs)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp tomato paste (see note, below)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flake
1 cup dry red wine
2 28-0z cans crushed tomatoes, cans set aside (I like San Marzano brand.)
2 tbsp sugar
1 lb bucatini or the long pasta of your choice (spaghetti, angel hair, fettucine, etc.)

–kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the meatballs:
In a large bowl, combine the eggs, the garlic, the grated parmesan, the ground meat, the diced onion, the breadcrumbs, half the oregano, and the chopped parsley. Season with 1 teaspoon of kosher or sea salt and half a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Use your hands to mix until all the ingredients are well combined and evenly distributed.

In a heavy bottomed pot (I used a cast iron enameled Dutch oven), heat the olive oil over medium high. Using your hands, begin rolling the ground meat mixture into meatballs the size of golf balls. Set the first few on a plate; once the oil is hot, carefully add them in. While these cook on the first side, roll the rest of the meatballs and set them on the plate.

Use a slotted spoon or tongs to gently roll the meatballs onto another side to brown. Each side should brown in a minute or two. I find that I can usually get three sides of the meatball browned. Once browned, remove the meatballs to the plate, and swap in the un-browned ones. Repeat until your meatballs are all browned. Use paper towels to quickly soak up some of the excess fat at the bottom of the pot, but leave enough to have a thin coat, about 3-4 tbsp.

For the sauce:
Add in the onions and garlic into the pot and stir. Lower heat to medium and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent. Stir in the tomato paste and chili flakes and continue cooking until the onions are meltingly soft, and the tomato paste has begun to caramelize on the bottom of the pot. You’ll notice it smells like sun dried tomatoes.

Pour in the red wine and stir to release any browned bits on the bottom of the pot . Allow to cook for 1-2 minutes. Add in the crushed tomatoes. Fill one of the cans about half filled with water, and swish around to get that extra bit of tomato sauce. Pour in 1/2 cup of the ‘tomato water.’ Add in the sugar, and the rest of the oregano, and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, and let cook for half an hour (or however much time you have). Taste, and re-season, either with more sugar, salt and/or pepper.

Use tongs to add the meatballs into the sauce. Be sure to pour in any juices that have accumulated on the plate. Continue simmering until the meatballs are cooked through and the sauce tastes really good.

To finish:
While this is happening, you can bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta according to package directions. From here you, can either drain the pasta and serve some of the sauce on top, or to make things extra delicious do this:

Cook the pasta two minutes fewer than whatever the box tells you to do. In a large skillet, heat two tbsp of olive oil, and ladle in several cups of the tomato sauce (without any meatballs). Once the pasta has finished cooking, do not drain it, but instead, use tongs to transfer the noodles directly into the skillet with the sauce. Toss to combine. This will coat the noodles in sauce and allow them to finish cooking. It also prevents you from having water tomato sauce at the bottom of your bowl. This is my favorite way to finish pasta.

Pile the pasta onto plates or bowls, ladle a bit more sauce over the top, and garnish with as many meatballs as you want. Sprinkle parmesan cheese on top, and serve. YUM.

Notes: For fresh breadcrumbs, you can take some white sandwich bread, cut away the crusts, and quickly pulse it in a food processor for crumbs. Or, do what I did, which is even more rustic: I bought a ciabatta roll from the bakery, cut it in half, and used my fingers to tear out the inside part, leaving the crust behind. I tore this up into tiny pieces, and mashed it in with the meat. Works great. Fresh breadcrumbs will help make the meatballs seem even more moist and tender.

If you don’t want to buy a jar of tomato paste only to waste most of it, look for tomato paste sold in tubes. You can squeeze out what you need, then save the rest in the refrigerator for another day. Genius!


  1. 11.15.11

    Oh my god. You are killing me!!! (Juice cleansing over here…) That looks heavenly!

  2. 11.15.11

    Great job! I really like the onions in the pan photo…

  3. 11.15.11

    Lovely looking meal, seriously. I’d love to have a plate of that put in front of me right now.

  4. 11.15.11
    rooth said:

    My goodness, my mouth is watering already!

  5. 11.15.11
    Jacquelyn said:

    This looks unbelievable – and I am officially craving spaghetti and meatballs! One thing I’ve never been able to master successfully is a good tomato sauce. I’ll have to try this one!

  6. 11.15.11

    That looks SO delicious, I think you’re inspiring my Sunday night meal this week!

  7. 11.15.11
    Patience said:

    This looks so so good. Yum

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  8. 11.15.11
    Alexa said:

    OMG. This looks amazing. I’m Italian and it just looks fabulous! :)

  9. 11.16.11

    I don’t know how I missed this yesterday but it looks SO good. Now I want that.. right now.

  10. 11.16.11

    Looks delicious! That photo is making me crave pasta right now. I’m heading over to Simply Irresistable to check out her recipes!

  11. 11.16.11

    Lara, how have you never been to California?! Come visit stat! Love this detailed look into the lovely Lara!

  12. 11.16.11

    It’s kinda weird, I usually crave spaghetti on Mondays. Maybe cause it’s fairly easy and need that on a Monday. I made some, that’s right, on Monday. I use ground turkey and wheat pasta to be healthy. But meatballs is the way to go.

  13. 11.17.11

    That looks so yummy!

    – Sara @ Gameday Stylist

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