Juicy Baked Meatballs ‘Polpette’

Spaghetti and meatballs, nothing could be more Italian right? Wrong. Though spaghetti and meatballs have been drilled into us as the cornerstone of the Italian kitchen, starring in movies, books, advertisements, songs and more, the dish is actually an American invention, likely created by Italian immigrants to the U.S in the 1800s. You will never find spaghetti and meatballs on the menu of any restaurant here in Italy, but just because it isn’t traditional doesn’t mean it isn’t delicious!

Today I’m sharing one of my most popular dinner recipes: Juicy Baked Meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. I love cooking meatballs, and after loads of experimenting, I have discovered that the easiest and most delicious way to make them is to bake them in the oven, together with the sauce. There’s no wrangling frying pans of hot oil with meatballs sticking and spitting, you simply blend up the sauce, plonk the meatballs on the top and let the oven take care of all the work. You can get on with cooking the pasta, preparing the salad and enjoying a well-deserved glass of wine.

Meatballs are great to make in advance, as like most mince based dishes they get better after a night in the fridge. This recipe can be doubled or even tripled, though to make sure the sauce reduces properly when doubled up, you will need to cook it in a fanbake oven on multiple trays. It’s by giving the sauce such a big surface area that it can cook down and reduce in the oven in such a short time.

If you don’t fancy serving the meatballs with pasta, they are great just with some crusty bread to mop up the sauce. I like to make them with a mixture of pork and beef, but this technique will work just as well with turkey, chicken or even lamb.

How do you like to eat meatballs? On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese like the song? Or stuffed into a Subway style sandwich? Let me know in the comments below. Take care out there and happy cooking! xJ.

Juicy Baked Meatballs

Let me know if you try this recipe in the comments below, or using the hashtag #daysofjay on Instagram. Happy cooking!

Juicy Baked Meatballs

Juicy Baked Meatballs ‘Polpette’

Yield: Serves 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes

My favourite, no-stress way to make meatballs, this recipe for Juicy Baked Meatballs or Polpette served with a rich tomato sauce is a real crowd-pleaser. The sauce and the meatballs cook together in the oven in the time it takes to cook the spaghetti. Buon Appetito!


for the meatballs:

  • 75g stale white bread, cubed
  • 100ml milk
  • 1 small red onion, very finely diced
  • 25g Parmesan, grated
  • 500ml mince, beef, pork or a mixture
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 50ml olive oil

for the sauce:

  • 800g tinned whole tomatoes (2 standard tins), or 700g jar tomato passata
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • ½ tsp hot chilli flakes
  • ½ beef stock cube, crumbled
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • freshly ground black pepper

to serve:

  • 500g dried spaghetti, fettuccine or similar
  • extra grated Parmesan


Place the bread into a medium-sized heat-proof bowl. Heat the milk in a small saucepan until nearly boiling, then pour over the bread. Stir, then cover and allow to stand for 10 minutes to soften. Meanwhile, prepare the sauce.

To make the sauce combine the tomatoes, red onion, tomato paste, oregano, sugar, salt, chilli flakes and stock in the bowl of a food processor with the blade attachment fitted. Process to a smooth sauce. Stir through the garlic and season with pepper then Pour the sauce onto a large oven tray with a shallow rim. If you don’t have a food processor, use tomato passata and chop the onion finely before stirring all sauce ingredients together.

Heat the oven to 220°C / 425°F / Gas 7. Use a wooden spoon to stir the bread, breaking up any lumps, then add the onion, Parmesan, mince, egg, oregano, salt and pepper to the bowl. Use your hands to knead well, then roll into meatballs, each slightly larger than a golf ball, placing each on top of the sauce as you go along. I usually get at least 16 meatballs out of this much mixture.

Drizzle the meatballs and sauce with the olive oil, then bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, gently turning the meatballs once in the last 5 minutes of cooking time. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until al-dente.

Divide the pasta between 4 serving plates or bowls, spoon over the meatballs and sauce, and serve with plenty of grated Parmesan.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 938Total Fat: 42gSaturated Fat: 13gTrans Fat: 1gUnsaturated Fat: 24gCholesterol: 181mgSodium: 1347mgCarbohydrates: 84gFiber: 9gSugar: 17gProtein: 58g

Nutrition information is calculated automatically and isn’t always accurate.

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meaning, at no additional cost to you, I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


My meatballs are too soft to roll, what can I do?

To get juicy meatballs they do need to be fairly soft, but not faling apart! This can be to do with how dry your bread was to start with. You can make them a bit sturdier by addding a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs.

Can I freeze the Juicy Baked Meatballs?

Absolutely! They freeze brilliantly.

Can I make bigger / smaller meatballs?

Yes, you can. You’ll need to adjust the cooking time upwards a little bit for bigger meatballs. For smaller meatballs you may need to cover the dish with tin foil for the last 5 minutes of cooking.

This easy recipe for meatballs takes away all the stress. The meatballs and sauce cook together in the oven in the time it takes for the pasta to boil on the stove.

Juicy Baked Meatballs
Juicy Baked Meatballs
Juicy Baked Meatballs


Looking for more Italian recipes? Why not try:

Italian Sausage Stuffed Zucchini
Jay Wadams
Jay Wadams

Jay Wadams is a cookbook author, food photographer and Le Cordon Bleu Gastronomy and Nutrition graduate. Based in Italy 🇮🇹 Germany 🇩🇪 and Australia 🇦🇺.

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