The Best Meatballs and My Three Day Marinara Sauce

Anytime I make meatballs and sauce, It motivates me to make them more often.  I cooked these up this weekend for my family and friend’s.

Needless to say, the sixteen of us feasted.  Not one strand of spaghetti or spoonful of sauce was left.  No leftovers whatsoever.

I use the pan drippings from my meatballs in my red sauce which gives it a nice rounded out flavor.  I make the sauce over three days because the flavors mature over that time period while the meatballs remain tender.  The meatballs also freeze well and reheat nicely if you want to save some for later.

If you are tired of your old stand by red sauce, try making this one, it’s worth your time.

In a large mixing bowl stir together bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, milk, 1 cup of beef broth, parsley, eggs, oregano, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, basil, red pepper flakes and nutmeg.

Add ground chuck and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Using a fork prevents overmixing and compacting which can toughen meatballs.

The best way to shape meatballs is with a portioning scoop that has a retractable blade that releases the meat.  Make each meatball about 2″ in diameter or 1.5 ounces each.  Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the meatballs on a pan so they are not touching.  I can get 35 meatballs on a tray and this recipe makes two trays so 70 meatballs.

Cover the bottom of the pan with 1 cup of beef broth and bake for 25 minutes at 450 degrees. 

Remove meatballs from pan and pour pan juices into a large, glass (2 cup) measuring cup to be used for the sauce.  Repeat process for second tray of meatballs.

Once you have pan juices from both trays, place measuring cup in the fridge for the fat to settle on the top (about 30 minutes).  Remove from the refrigerator and discard settled fat, reserving leftover juice.  Set aside.

This is the only picture of the sauce I have, it is very easy to make and packs a lot of flavor.  I also prefer it to be very thick so it coats well to the pasta.

Day One

In a large pot (I use my Dutch oven) sauté onions in oil over medium-high heat until translucent (about 6 minutes).  Stir in garlic and cook until you can smell it (about 30 seconds).  Add tomatoes, pan drippings from the meatballs, parsley and sugar.  Simmer for one hour on low, uncovered.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely and place in the fridge overnight.

Day Two

Remove sauce from the refrigerator and puree until smooth in the food processor in small batches.  Return sauce to the pot and add tomato paste.  Bring to a boil and simmer on low for one hour.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely and place in the fridge overnight.

Day Three

Add cooked meatballs (as many as you are going to serve)  to the sauce and simmer uncovered until heated through (about 15 minutes).  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain.  Stir in the cooked pasta and toss well to coat.  Garnish with lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

Meatballs

2 cups unseasoned bread crumbs
1-1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 cup whole milk
3 cups beef broth, divided
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 eggs, beaten
4 Tablespoons dried oregano leaves
2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
4 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
4 lb. ground chuck

In a large mixing bowl stir together bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, milk, 1 cup of beef broth, parsley, eggs, oregano, garlic, kosher salt, black pepper, basil, red pepper flakes and nutmeg.  Add ground chuck and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Using a fork prevents overmixing and compacting which can toughen meatballs.

The best way to shape meatballs is with a portioning scoop that has a retractable blade that releases the meat.  Make each meatball about 2″ in diameter or 1.5 ounces each.  Coat a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the meatballs on a pan so they are not touching.  (I can get 35 meatballs on a tray and this recipe makes two trays so 70 meatballs.)

Cover the bottom of the pan with 1 cup of beef broth and bake for 25 minutes at 450 degrees. 

Remove meatballs from pan and pour pan juices into a large, glass (2 cup) measuring cup to be used for the sauce.  Repeat process for second tray of meatballs.  Cool meatballs completely, cover and keep refrigerated until use. 

Once you have pan juices from both trays, place measuring cup in the fridge for the fat to settle on the top (about 30 minutes).  Remove from the refrigerator and discard settled fat, reserving leftover pan juices.  Set aside.

Three Day Marinara

3 cups yellow onion, diced
4 teaspoons garlic, minced
3 cans (28 oz. each) whole plum tomatoes
Reserved meatball pan drippings
1/2 cup dried parsley
1/2 cup dried basil
2 Tablespoons sugar
3 cans (6 oz each) tomato paste
Parmesan cheese, grated

Day One

In a large pot (I use my Dutch oven) sauté onions in oil over medium-high heat until translucent (about 6 minutes).  Stir in garlic and cook until you can smell it (about 30 seconds).  Add tomatoes, pan drippings from the meatballs, parsley, basil and sugar.  Simmer for one hour on low, uncovered.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely and place in the fridge overnight.

Day Two

Remove sauce from the refrigerator and puree until smooth in the food processor in small batches.  Return sauce to the pot and add tomato paste.  Bring to a boil and simmer on low for one hour.  Remove from heat.  Let cool completely and place in the fridge overnight.

Day Three

Add cooked meatballs (as many as you are going to serve)  to the sauce and simmer uncovered until heated through (about 15 minutes).  Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions; drain.  Stir in the cooked pasta and toss well to coat.  Garnish with lots of grated Parmesan cheese.

Post a Comment

55 Comments and 4 Replies

  1. Shelby 1

    I will DEFINITELY be trying your meatball AND sauce recipe. I only wish I had it tonight!

  2. Liz C. 2

    Strangely enough, I’ve never made meatballs. Yeah, yeah, I know how crazy that sounds, but I could always get them at our favorite Italian place.

    That said, I’m thinking how perfect they would be on the buffet table at our Christmas party, including the marianara & a few other sauces….

    Thanks chicka!

  3. Puhleeeezzeee come make dinner for me or invite me over! Looks and sounds de-lish. I will have to try your sauce sometime. Nutmeg, huh. As Rachael Ray would say, “Makes them go, hmmm, what’s in there?”

  4. dawn 5

    Those meatballs are the money shot! Wow, must have those.

  5. dawn 6

    meatballs cooking is one of the great smells I just love.
    you rocked it out on this one Momma Cath.

  6. Barbie with a T 7

    This looks like a good way to cook meatballs for a big crowd. I only make meatballs for the two of us, but some of your ingredients are interesting and maybe I could incorporate them into my meatballs.

    I did make the upside down apple pie today. Cathy, it was to die for! Thanks a million for that recipe. It is now my husband’s favorite pie. Thanks to you!

  7. pam 8

    I love using the meatball drippings to make the sauce! Perfect!

  8. I was mildly hungry when I started reading about your meatballs…now I’m starving! Thanks for sharing the recipe!!!

  9. Lydia 10

    Three-day sauce? Wow! I love how you deepen the flavor every day. I’m going to try this method.

  10. Amanda 11

    Can’t say I’ve ever spent three days making red sauce, but I bet it;s really good. I might try your meatballs, I am getting tired of mine, :-p I just made some changes to my sauce this last time I made it, so changing the meatballs won’t be a bad thing :)

  11. Lisa Sipple 12

    This is a lovely signature recipe. I love the drippings idea, very down- homish. Your meatball pictures are exquisite, you even make raw meat look beautiful.

  12. Charles 13

    Hi.

    I was just wondering why you leave everything for three days? why can’t you do it all at once?

  13. will 14

    Those look awesome!! Cant wait to make.

  14. Mouth watering! All great ideas used in these two recipes. I’d never heard that tip about using a fork. Will definitely be trying it!

    Shirley

  15. grace 16

    if i’m gonna put three days into something, i want it to be worthwhile. i hereby deem this worthwhile. :)

  16. Biz 17

    Okay, you have me beat – my sauce is a two day process – but I love the meatball recipe and adding that into the sauce – brilliant and delicious!

  17. Dynamite recipe, Cathy. Baking the meatballs saves so much time and splattering on the stove. With some of your sauce and meatballs in the freezer I’m ready for any last minute company. Thanks for sharing this.

  18. imom 19

    My husband has been searching for a meatball recipe. I’ll definitely be showing him this one! I swear I could smell the aroma while reading this post!

  19. Candy 20

    The meatballs are a must have, but I can’t spend 3 days making sauce. If I made it all in one day, how much would I give up in the taste?

  20. Noble Pig 21

    Flavor development occurs over time.  You could make it all in one day but the sauce won’t have the same robust taste.

  21. Marjie 22

    Ah, to have the luxury of leaving something for 3 days, secure in the knowledge that it won’t disappear from my fridge! Even for Thanksgiving and other holidays, I must label things which are specifically being made in advance for the celebration, or it will be consumed.

  22. Barbara 23

    I haven’t made meatball in forever! Yours are chock full of perfect ingredients- just what I like in a meatball. Your marinara looks great as well- do I have the patience to wait???

  23. xcm 24

    Looks delicious! I’m totally with you on not overmixing the meat but because I am lazy and impatient, I use a potato masher. Not the kind of masher with small openings; the other kind– mine looks like a giant squiggle. Have you ever tried it? It’s a wonderful thing.

  24. WOW! I am so coming to stay in one of those inns! SOON!

  25. Jody 26

    Yummy! In August my family went on a 6000 mile driving adventure. Part of that took us down the Columbia River gourge and down the Oregon Coast! It was fantastic! We stayed in Oceanside and ate at the “Bigfoot”! I’m sort of jealous of the “Fred Meyer’s” stores you have! I don’t think my grocer would even know what canned plum tomatos are! I sort of live in the boonies and alot of things that you speak of just don’t exist in our stores but I do love to dream!

  26. We’re not at all surprised there were no leftovers of these meatballs from your party! Love your method of letting the meatballs cook in a broth pool + adding the pan juices to your sauce. It must really bring the flavors together for a heavenly experience!

  27. This looks GREAT! I am bookmarking this!

  28. I will definitely be trying this one. I love meatballs and sauce. I don’t need the pasta. Just some bread and butter and I’m good.

  29. pat 30

    oh now those meatballs just look divine, something I have never made but I am going to try now!!! Thanks…

  30. Charles 31

    Oh, thank you. This is interesting, I am going to use this to improve the taste of all my sauces.

  31. Wow, those meatballs look amazing…and that sauce too! My family would go nuts smelling this for two days before they were ever allowed to eat it! Me too!! Think I need to print this one out…

  32. Marni Sandberg 34

    I already had meatball subs on the menu for tonight, so I decided to try your recipe. My boys gave it the thumbs up! The recipe made enough for both tonight and for spaghetti and meatballs in three days, with your sauce recipe. Now, lets hope I can find tomato paste here in the Czech Republic!

  33. Perhaps, I will make this one instead of the pasta with brie, but I can’t eat this tonight, so I’m debating. I like that these meatballs don’t use any pork..I don’t eat pork!

  34. bee 37

    I am thinking of making this for a party and have a couple of questions:

    1. Do you ever use fresh herbs instead of dried in the sauce?

    2. How much pasta do you cook to go with it?

    Looks great!

  35. Noble Pig 38

    I do not use fresh in this sauce because over three days they would lose all nuances and flavor.  For me, fresh herbs are something I finish a dish with right before serving.

    For this sauce, (if you are going to eat it all in one serving) 3 lbs of pasta is the right amount.

  36. bee 39

    Thank you for the swift reply! Can’t wait to try it. :)

  37. pat 40

    I had to tell yuo I made your meatball recipe, cut in half…It was outstanding!
    I added a little leftover Italian sausage I had in the freezer, didn’t have any nutmeg, but otherwise followed to the letter. And soo easy, thanks so much!

  38. Amanda 41

    I made these tonight and they were very good. Unfortunately my family wasn’t crazy about them because the taste of the oregano was pretty prominent :( I ended up getting 100 meatballs out of this recipe as I only have a cookie scoop, which yielded 1 ounce balls instead of 1.5 ounces. I’ve frozen the meatballs and going to give some to my neighbor to try as we were talking about the recipes. I will eat the rest myself over time (lunch, etc). I really liked this recipe and everyone else said they were good, just too much oregano. So I am going to make them again and cut that down. Thank you for this :)

    Oh and I have a question. You said you fit 35 (1.5 oz 2″) meatballs per baking sheet. I was only able to fit 35 1-oz meatballs, about 2/3 the size of yours. How in the world did you get all those on there? I ended up having to use 3 baking sheets. I used standard sized cookie sheets, what did you use?

  39. Noble Pig 42

    My baking sheets are 17 x 12.5.  I do weigh every meatball so I know they were all 1.5 oz..  I have no idea what the size of your baking sheets are so it’s hard for me to comment.  Mine fit perfectly on that size.  Glad you made them!

  40. Amanda 43

    That makes complete sense then, mine are more like 15X10 :)

  41. Amanda 44

    Hi Cathy – I blogged about your yummy meatballs and also created a Meatball Soup to use them in. It was delish. Would love it if you tried it! link to amandascookin.com

  42. Allison 45

    Noble Pig:

    Your meatballs and 3-day marinara was an absolute hit at the Jellie household last night. With the long weekend, we thought it would be a fun project. So delicious.

    Quick question though; we like it spicy down here in Houston, Texas. What would you recommend adding to the sauce for an extra kick? And in what step of the process?

    A Big Yee-Haw for this recipe! Much love.

  43. Noble Pig 46

    Great! I think I would add your favorite hot sauce at the end of the process for some heat.

  44. Allison 48

    NP: My blog post about your meatballs, link to jellieandco.blogspot.com. De to the lish!

    Much love.

  45. Thank you for sharing all this great information

  46. I was very pleased to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this great read!! This is a very informative post, it helps me more.

  47. Kim in MD 51

    I can see why this was one of your top ten recipes of 2010! I am going to pu this on my “must try a.s.a.p.” list!

  48. greg jones 52

    There is no compelling reason to let the sauce sit for even one night in the fridge, in fact you dont get more flavor, you get less. because tomatoes have flavor compounds that break down if they go under 45F or so. they also have some flavors that are alcohol but not water soluble, so add some red wine, or even vodka.

    • Cathy 53

      Hi Greg, thanks for your comment. As someone who has made this recipe countless times, I can assure you a deeper, better flavor once the sauce has been made over days. While it might be true some flavors of the tomato disappear, this actually let’s other favors shine through. I have had the same experience with my chili when made over days at a time. And yes, a little bit of alcohol does help carry water and fat soluble compounds into food, providing a more rich flavor. So a little of that will also not hurt.

  49. Melinda 54

    When do you add the 1/2 cup of basil to the sauce?

  50. Brittany 56

    Can I make the sauce without the meatballs? I know you add the pan drippings on day 1 but is it something that I can leave out and still get the same flavor? Meatballs aren’t a big hit with my family so I dont want to make a big batch of meatballs and have them go to waste. But we LOVE a good pasta sauce!

  51. Hi Cathy. I’m 60 and my Dad’s sauce was the talk of the town. I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention when I was younger before he passed. His was a 12 hour sauce, but it always tasted better the next few days after refrigeration. Your ingredients look very close to what I remember him using. I have 2 questions for you if you don’t mind. He deep fried the meatballs, I’ll bake according to yours and use the juice. I’d like to 50/50 the beef with pork, any issues? And on the second day, Would you have an issue with frying or “pincage” the tomato paste in a few cloves of additional garlic and another half chopped onion before adding to the heated sauce? I’m a deep south Louisiana boy and always double the garlic and onion, haha. I think you’ve got the perfect Marinara here. Thanks for posting.

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