Madeline’s Signature Italian Tomato Sauce and Oven Roasted Meatballs

spaghetti and meatballs plated


Once a month on a Sunday, we grew up with my Mom making a huge pot of Tomato Sauce on the stove so we could have spaghetti, and sausage and meatballs for dinner, then freeze containers of the sauce for three additional meals that month. We’d switch up our pasta with baked ziti, rigatoni, or rotini. We could always tell what was for dinner when we came into the house and smelled the sauce full of garlic, onion and tomato! Oh what a smell it was! 

Tomato sauce as it begins to cook

The other day as I was reading Samin Nosrat’s book, “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat”, and she writes about sometimes taking the time to cook a meal nice and slow, and being able to enjoy preparing food while doing a couple other things in between the cooking. Now, when you are arriving home from work or your home office, and trying to help your children with your homework, or getting the kids ready for activities, you can’t always take the time to cook a meal over a 3 – 4 hour period. But when you have a few hours and can enjoy the experience of cooking a delicious Italian meal for the family, my Signature Tomato Sauce and Oven Roasted Meatballs are the way to go!

spaghetti and meatballs plated with a fork


Now I have made sauce with fresh tomatoes from my cousin’s friend’s farm in Swope, Virginia, and it is amazing! Yet you can make a great sauce with canned tomatoes from your grocery store. I always keep cans of peeled, crushed and pureed tomatoes along with tomato paste and tomato sauce in my pantry. I always have olive oil, garlic and onions, and fresh parsley, basil and oregano if I can, and if not, I use an herb paste or dried Italian herbs. In addition to flavoring the sauce with meatballs, sausage and sometime braciola (a thin steak rolled up with a basil, garlic and grated locatelli cheese filling), my mother and father always sautéed pork of some kind to start the sauce off, and let it cook in the sauce all day. I highly recommend that or use a few chicken thighs…the flavor is unbelievable! 

sautéed garlic and onion in olive oil with pork at the bottom of a pot

Cooked porkchops in onions and garlic

Once your pork, vegetables, herbs and oil are sautéed nicely, it’s time to add the varying cans of tomatoes and begin cooking them down. It is really to reduce the liquid some, so the tomatoes become tender and juicy before adding the paste and some extra sauce. A sprinkle of sugar to cut the acidity of the tomatoes, some grated cheese, and a couple additional spices, and you’re all set to let it do its thing! Just keep it on medium low and stir frequently so it doesn’t “get under” or stick to the bottom as we used to say! After a few hours, your sauce it ready! 

tomato sauce in a big pot

While your sauce is cooking, you can make my Oven Roasted Meatballs and REALLY WOW your family and friends! But if time is of the essence, just sauté ground beef and dump (yes, dump) into the sauce! With the drippings! It will add more flavor! Trust me! 

raw meatballs ready to cook


meatballs out of the oven in an aluminum pan


When you set aside a few hours in the day to make this sauce, you won’t regret it in the least! If you have a few hours by yourself, put on some music, binge a season of Outlander or Ozark, or watch “Moonstruck”! Or, if you need to multi-task, this is the meal to do it with! Catch up on some work you may need to do, throw in some laundry or straighten up around the house (I’m constantly doing that), or get a run on the treadmill or ride your Peloton! Whatever you choose to do while you make my Signature Tomato Sauce and Oven Roasted Meatballs, it will be worth it! I promise! 

tomato sauce in a big pot

Until next time,

Let’s get cookin’


Madeline's Signature Italian Tomato Sauce and Oven Roasted Meatballs

Making a batch of my Signature Tomato Sauce and you and your family will never open jarred sauce again! (Well, not unless you must!) Spoon it over any kind of pasta, and you feel like your eating in an Italian restaurant!
Prep Time1 hour
Cook Time3 hours
Course: Dinner
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: familydinner, Spaghettiandmeatballs, Tomatosauce, pastaandtomatosauce, freshtomatosauce, onionsandgarlic,
Servings: 4 large meals serving a family of 4-6
Author: Madeline Kohler


  • 1 8 - 10 Quart Sauce Pot
  • 1 Cutting Board
  • 1 Chef's Knife
  • 1 Long Wooden or Stainless Spoon
  • 1 Large Mixing Bowl
  • 1 9" x 13" aluminum pan or glass dish


Madeline's Signature Tomato Sauce

  • 1 pound pork short ribs or chops, preferably boneless You can substitute chicken thighs
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 28 ounces peeled tomatoes, canned You can substitute crushed tomatoes
  • 28 ounces crushed tomatoes, canned You can substitute tomato puree
  • 28 ounces tomato sauce, canned
  • 15 ounces tomato paste, canned or in a tube
  • 1 cup parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsps kosher salt
  • 1 tbsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsps Kirkland No-Salt Organic Seasoning optional if you don't have in your pantry
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped You can substitute 2 tsps dried parsley or parsley paste in a tube
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, chopped You can substitute 2 tsps dried basil or basil paste in a tube
  • cup fresh oregano, chopped You can substitute 2 tsps dried oregano or oregano paste in a tube
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine

Madeline's Oven Roasted Meatballs

  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef I like 80% / 20%
  • ½ cup bread crumbs I like Italian Seasoned Panko
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbps olive oil
  • 3 tbsps milk
  • 2 tbsps ketchup or tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ black pepper
  • 2 tbsps parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp onion, minced
  • 2 tsps fresh parsley, finely chopped You can substitute 1/2 tsp dried parsley or parsley paste in a tube
  • 2 tsps fresh basil, finely chopped You can substitute 1/2 tsp dried basil or basil paste in a tube
  • 1 tsp fresh oregano, finely chopped You can substitute 1/2 tsp dried oregano or oregano paste in a tube
  • 1 tbsp red wine optional


Madeline's Signature Tomato Sauce

  • In your large pot, turn heat on low-medium. Pour in the olive oil, and sauté garlic and onions until they begin to turn translucent (about 5 - 8 minutes). Be careful not to let the garlic brown.
  • Push the onions and garlic to the sides of the pot, and add the pork. Toss the onions and garlic back on top of the pork. Brown on both sides, (5-7 minutes each side).
  • Add fresh herbs, and simmer on low with the lid on the pot about 5 minutes.
  • Pour peeled tomatoes into pot, and before discarding the can, fill 1/3 with water to loosen any tomato liquid from the bottom and sides. With your hand, squeeze the tomatoes until they break into pieces or you can use a potato masher to break apart the tomatoes in the pot.
  • Repeat with the crushed tomatoes or tomato puree can (adding water to 1/3 of the can like you did with the first can) and stir the mixture until well combined.
  • Cook on medium, stirring frequently for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the can of tomato sauce (filling the can 1/3 of the way with water and swishing the liquid left in the can), the tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, red wine (optional), grated cheese and Kirkland's seasoning (optional).
  • Mix the sauce together, making sure the paste is dissolved and everything is well combined. Turn heat up to medium to bring sauce to a slight boil, stirring to make sure the sauce doesn't "go under" (stick to the bottom).
  • Put the lid on, turn heat down to simmer, and stir every 15 minutes, for about 2 hours.
  • About 30 minutes before serving the sauce, put cooked meatballs and drippings in sauce, gently stirring, to mix them in. Keep on simmer until ready to serve over pasta.
  • Cook your pasta according to directions. I usually get my pot of water boiling about 30 minutes before I want to serve dinner. Based on the cook time of my pasta, I make sure I count back from my serving time how long the pasta will take, plus add 10 minutes for draining it, adding to the sauce (or vice a versa), and serving the meal itself.

Madeline's Oven Roasted Meatballs

  • Preheat oven to 375° F on Convection Roast setting. If you don't have convection roast, heat oven to 425° F on Bake setting.
  • In a large mixing bowl, add all the ingredients beginning with the ground beef.
  • Gently work the beef and the rest of the ingredients until well combined, but avoid over-working the mixture as it will begin to toughen the meat. I like to wear plastic gloves so the mixture doesn't get into the nooks and crannies of my hands and nails!
  • Prepare your pan or dish with non-stick spray.
  • You can take an standard ice cream scoop to gather a meatball in your hands and gently roll in your hands to form a rounded ball about 2 ½ - 3 inches in diameter.
  • Place each meatball in the pan with a little space between each one. I typically can get 12 meatballs in the pan, 3 across and 4 down.
  • Place meatballs in oven on the middle rack. If roasting, roast for 20 minutes. If baking, bake for 10 minutes, and turn meatballs over and bake another 10 minutes.
  • Place meatballs and any juices that are in the pan in the sauce about 30 minutes prior to serving. They will cook in the sauce and begin to both flavor the sauce and absorb the sauce's flavor.
  • Serve with pasta of your choice or in a Kaiser or long Italian roll with provolone cheese, peppers, onions and spices of your choice!


sautéed garlic and onion in olive oil with pork at the bottom of a pot Tomato sauce as it begins to cook raw meatballs ready to cook meatballs out of the oven in an aluminum pan tomato sauce in a big pot spaghetti and meatballs plated with a fork


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