My Favorite Meatballs

by Andie Mitchell on May 22, 2011

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And trust me, I’ve had many a meatball.

The thing about these ones, though?

…Sorry, I just need to grab that megaphone of mine. I’ll be juuuust a minute…Ahem. Ahem. Check. Check 1, 1-2, 1-2-3. There we go-


They are as tender as tender knows to be. They’re soft centered and spiced with oregano and…mint. You can’t imagine the lovely headiness the mint brings along- it’s bright and fragrant, but in the gentlest, subtlest way. I’d never been able to pinpoint what that lingering flavor was, until a few years ago, when my stepdad, my PJ, shared his recipe with me.

He’s been making these for me and just about everyone we know and love for decades. They’re by far the most requested meal in my [sometimes unbearably] large family. This famous sauce and meatballs is simmered for hours before big events, small events, and perhaps most importantly, times when I come home to Boston for the first time in six months since moving to Seattle and call him from my just-landed plane, barely unbuckled, to let him know that I’ll be needing a meatball or five.

(PJ, that is bound to happen at least twice per year for the rest of your sweet life. I’m only 26. Sister’s got lots more years of coming home, and she’s always hungry for a meatball. Tell mom I’ll be needing a cake, too. Also, tell DeeDee that pugs are sexy, no matter what their size.)

The flavor is without question the best I’ve ever had.

I’ve been to eleven cities in Italy, traveled and tasted extensively through the mommiest and poppiest of Italian eateries here in the United States, and none (nope, none) hold a blessed candle to PJ’s.

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There’s just something about letting the beef gently bubble away in such a sweet and garlicky sauce on the stove for half a day…

Something happens to the meatballs when they soak in the sweetness of tomatoes and caramelized onions. They’re moister.

Something happens to the sauce when it absorbs the richness of the beef. The flavor deepens. The sweetness mellows with savory.

I die.

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Trust me here.

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PJ's Meatballs and Sauce

Yield: 12 large meatballs and about 4 cups marinara sauce

Serving Size: 2 meatballs and 3/4 cup sauce

Calories per serving: 320

Fat per serving: 18.3 g


    For the sauce:
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 28oz can crushed or ground, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 lb ground beef (85% lean)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Swirl to coat the bottom of the pan to coat. Add the onion and garlic and saute, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 7 minutes. Lower the heat if they begin to burn. The more color that develops on the onion and garlic, the more flavor they'll add to the finished sauce.
  2. Once the onions and garlic are tender and caramel in color, add the crushed tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir until the mixture is smooth and well combined.
  3. Add the remaining sauce ingredients (oregano through pepper), stir, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pot, and let cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the bottom does not burn.
  4. Make the meatballs: Break apart the beef as best you can in a large mixing bowl. Lightly beat the egg in a small bowl and pour evenly over the top of the beef. Add the bread crumbs, oregano, mint, salt, and pepper and use your hands to mix. You do not want to overwork you beef, or it will yield tough meatballs, but you do want to incorporate all of the ingredients into the ground beef so that each meatball will have a bit of the breadcrumbs and herbs and spices.
  5. Shape the meat mixture into 12 balls, each about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Drop them into the sauce, stir gently so that they're all covered in sauce, and then let them cook, covered, for about 45 minutes to 1 hour over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Serve over your favorite pasta.


Nutrition Information for 2 Meatballs and ¾ cup Marinara Sauce: Calories 320, Total Fat 18.3 g, Total Carbohydrate 24.7 g, Dietary Fiber 4.1 g, Sugars 10.1 g, Protein 16.9 g

{ 77 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa @ I'm an Okie May 22, 2011 at 7:46 pm

how about you come to oklahoma and make these for me?! :)


Krystina (Organically Me) May 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Sigh. Meatballs make my heart melt.


Halley May 22, 2011 at 8:45 pm

fantastic! This reminds me of home as well. I gleaned from the internet that if you add wine/broth to the breadcrumbs it makes them tender and moist. It’s really enjoyable. X H


Nelly Rodriguez May 22, 2011 at 9:17 pm

I just…died and went to meatball heaven! When are you coming to the Dominican Republic and making me these? :)


Christine May 5, 2013 at 8:40 pm

These are SO easy to make…. Even a beginner can do it!!!!


Johnny May 23, 2011 at 2:21 am

Bravo!! I can smell them simmering in the pot. They look and I bet, taste delicious! I really look forward to the recipes. Thanks! :)


Lauren at Keep It Sweet May 23, 2011 at 3:07 am

Homemade meatballs are so delicious, no wonder this recipe is always requested. I don’t usually like mint in mine, but I’m tempted to try it!


Riss May 23, 2011 at 5:06 am

And now I have a sudden urge to top my oatmeal with a meatball. This can’t be normal.


JaNelle May 23, 2011 at 5:29 am

How did you know I just had meatball fail the other day? And I’ve been looking for a new recipe to try? Are you in my head? I wouldn’t mind.. thanks!


The Café Sucré Farine May 23, 2011 at 6:18 am

Yum, these look amazing! I am intrigued by the mint – I add mint to my greek salad dressing and it does the same thing, give an amazing flavor that you just can’t put your finger on. I hadn’t thought of using mint in meatballs but I will be giving your recipe a try, can’t wait!


Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic May 23, 2011 at 7:52 am

Claiming something to be the best is a big deal, but just by reading the way you describe these meatballs, I’m inclined to believe you! Also, when family makes them, it always seems to be more apt to be called the best ever, right? My mom makes the best fettuccine I’ve ever tasted, and I think your stepdad’s meatballs can share a plate with it ;)


Stacy May 23, 2011 at 11:44 am

on your way around the Western Hemisphere making these for all previous comment-makers please also come to Colorado and make them for me. pretty pretty please!


Rachel @ The Avid Appetite May 23, 2011 at 11:59 am

There is absolutely nothing quite like a wonderful meatball. My mother is Italian and makes the best ever sauce and meatballs :) I could eat them night and day. I will definitely be trying this version!


Clarissa @ Sober and the City May 23, 2011 at 12:52 pm

My mouth is watering…!! Technically I could have these for dinner with the Raw Transition since I can have cooked food (red meat or turkey) for dinner. I wonder when this transition will end…I must make them soon!


Alexa @ Simple Eats May 23, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I can see why these are so amazing. I’m drooling right now. You’re one lucky daughter!


Evan Thomas May 23, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Great recipe! I don’t have a go-to tomato sauce recipe so this just might be it.


Lisa May 23, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I love meatballs so much, and these look amazing. I love the ingredient list—I can almost taste them!


Lu @ A Mix of it All May 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm

I love meatballs. And yes, pugs are the best. Mine is great, if not stinky. It happens. We deal. Now about that trip to OK to make meatballs for Lisa…Can you swing by San Antonio please?


Stephanie @cookinfanatic May 23, 2011 at 6:46 pm

Mint??? I LOVE!!! These sound fabulous and so incredibly comforting… yummmmmmm :)


Sarah May 23, 2011 at 7:28 pm

Ohhh this is definitely going in my recipe file! Thanks for sharing darlin’!


Johnny Kocourek May 24, 2011 at 10:24 am

I believe you when you say the meatballs are phenomenal, however my old man makes the best marinara sauce anyone has ever whipped up. It’s spicy, it’s sweet, it’s delicious, and it has italian sausage stuck right in there. Oh god. I’m gonna faint. Time to fly back home and lock him in the kitchen til he comes out with 3 pots of pasta.


Baking Serendipity May 24, 2011 at 11:46 am

I love homemade meatballs! These tucked away in a sub bun would be the perfect dinner…yum!


Samantha @ Bikini Birthday May 24, 2011 at 12:26 pm

In my opinion the best meatballs have a hefty portion of bread crumbs in them. I know it sounds like cheap filler in place of meat, but it makes the meatballs unbelievably soft and moist.


Nicole May 24, 2011 at 6:22 pm

I was just working on my grocery list and looking for a ground beef recipe… Couldn’t find any ideas, so I thought I’d check out your blog. And here is an amazing meatball recipe. Perfect timing!! Ha, ha. Hugs and a ‘thank you’. I can’t wait to make these! :)


Amanda R. May 27, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I would make a turrible I-Talian. I can’t get this sauce to taste “right” and I’ve done it three times. The meatballs though, OY MY TASTEBUDS. I made a triple batch, froze them and started handing them out. I wish I was joking. I now have no less than 3 new best friends that just so happen to fix cars. <3 I feel like I should cite you on the outside of every freezer bag!


TracyJay May 31, 2011 at 7:10 am

I made these last night, and they are amazing!!!!! A huge hit with my family, we are adding these to our regular rotation. Thanks so much for sharing!


Bekka July 13, 2011 at 8:31 am

I’m not usually a big commenter (which is silly, since I have a blog myself. I will chalk it up to no time), but I haaad to make an exception for these meatballs. You were not kidding, this recipe is perfection. Thank your step-dad for sharing it (and you, of course), it is officially my new go to!


jennie July 27, 2011 at 9:53 am

we made your sauce for dinner this week and it was fabulous!


Saba SIddiqui August 23, 2011 at 9:25 pm

My husband and I are not huge fans of meatballs – mostly because all the ones we’ve had are hard, tough, or too spicy because our ethnic families make them too “desi-fied” (indo/pak style).

But I’ve got to hand it to you Andy, or to your PJ – theses meatballs are amazing. I didn’t have the ingredients for the sauce so i have to do with Prego and add my own spices. I can’t wait to try them with the real sauce!

My husband commented ” wow these are how real meatballs taste!” Thank you again!


Blaire Edwards December 4, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I made this tonight and they are amazing!


Lee December 8, 2011 at 6:47 pm

In the description you said something about basil in the meatballs but I didn’t see it in the actual recipe. How much are you putting in them?? I am cooking some up right now, very yummy smelling :))


Lee December 12, 2011 at 2:56 pm

Update: I made these the other night w/ground turkey (used for your petite lasagna recipe too, yumm). These were delish and my husband and I especially enjoyed the leftovers on whole wheat english muffins with a little cheese.. :)


Sam December 28, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I made them tonight for dinner with my mom. Both the sauce and the meatballs turned out fantastic! Instead of having them with pasta, I put three on a hoagie roll, topped with provolone cheese and then put the sandwiches under the broiler for a few minutes. Great dinner!


Kate January 10, 2012 at 6:00 pm

Holy best marinara I’ve ever made!!! Next time I’ll have to try the meatballs!!


Lisa January 11, 2012 at 9:01 am

Made the sauce last night just to see if I could (I suck at cooking)…OH MY LANTA. So good! Tonight I’ll be making the meatballs!


Beth January 13, 2012 at 8:15 am

This recipe looks amazing (found you on Pinterest) and I can’t wait to try it. I keep Kosher and this is one of the first meatball recipes I’ve seen that doesn’t use cheese or pork in the ingredients. Thanks for sharing! I bet my 13 month old will love these.


Shay January 13, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Just had this for dinner tonight, The sauce was amazing as well as the meatballs.. I used ground turkey and whole wheat pasta to make an amazing dinner!! My husband doesnt like any kinda of red sauce, but he loved this and had seconds! Told me it was the best spaghetti hes ever had! THANKS!!!


Colleen January 18, 2012 at 6:37 pm

I read your blog regularly, but this is the first recipe I’ve made. It was absolutely delicious and easy. The mint adds something special. I’ll definitely be making it again!


Kathryn February 14, 2012 at 5:02 pm

I made this tonight and loved it! The mint in the meatballs was great. I also will use the marinara as my new go to. Thanks so much.


Meghan February 20, 2012 at 12:35 pm

I just made these and was told by my fiance that they are the best meatballs I have ever made! Question for you, I used spearmint as my mint since Penzey’s only sells that or peppermint. Do you use a specific mint?

Thanks for the recipe, I love the sauce too. I doubled the recipe and will be freezing some and eating the rest right now!


Mike February 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm

Sorry to report, but I tried your recipe, and thought the meatballs were terrible. The flavor was strange, not even close to a traditional Italian meatball. Darn.


Nova April 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm

What is the nutritional information for these bad boys? I’ve just had gastric bypass and would like to know to see if they are suitable for me! :)


Meghan May 2, 2012 at 10:49 am

These were SO good. When my hubby came home from work and saw I was making meatballs, he cringed. And then he ate one. And another. And another. And he decided they were delicious! Yesterday, he was a bit disappointed when he thought I was making them again but it just turned out to be sausage. I guess I have my go-to meatball recipe! Oh, and I am not really a meatball person and I loved them. Like I said, SO good!


Sarah May 8, 2012 at 6:31 pm

I feel like I must have done something wrong – - mine tasted kind of “off”. And really minty. Next time I think I’ll reduce the amount of mint by a lot. But otherwise these were amazingly moist, which is hard to do. :]


Liane May 17, 2012 at 8:44 am

So very yummy! I doubled the batch to make huge meatballs and decided to bake them first to help hold the shape. This is a great marinara sauce that will also be my go-to recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. Everyone enjoyed them and there weren’t any leftovers. Thanks!


Anna May 22, 2012 at 10:20 am

You mentioned basil but I don’t see it in the recipe. I can’t wait to try this because my husband loves mint.


Samantha June 12, 2012 at 7:22 pm

Hi I love most of your recipes but no one should ever put mint in a meatball, and the sauce all dried herbs, tomato paste? Really?


Kelly August 25, 2012 at 8:19 pm

In her grandmother is straight off the boat from Italy and she uses the exact same ingredients.


Tara July 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Do you think I could freeze and then reheat both meatballs and sauce on the stovetop?


Kelly August 25, 2012 at 8:18 pm

Definitely! My grandmother does this…just do it nice and slowly!


Cassandra July 24, 2012 at 11:59 am

Made these and now we are all hooked on them. The meatballs and the sauce are sooo good! Thank you for such an awesome recipe!


cheesemissile August 14, 2012 at 12:27 am

Welcome to Seattle… we have the best weather in the nation (in 2012;)


Lisa August 14, 2012 at 5:35 am

Is there basil in those beauties? You say basil, but I don’t see it listed as an ingredient?
Basil and Mint?


Anne Marie August 21, 2012 at 5:15 pm

The BEST Marinara sauce I have ever eaten! I am going to make a double batch to freeze. It is so good.


Stephanie August 26, 2012 at 7:29 pm

Amazing! We loved them, thank you!


Rebecca August 28, 2012 at 4:54 am

Made the sauce for dinner last night! Instead of meatballs, I added a pound of ground beef and a can of diced tomatoes to the sauce and cooked it in the crock pot for 10 hours while we were at the beach. Soo good!


Kim September 8, 2012 at 8:36 pm

People amaze me with their comments. Really? Indeed! I made this sauce for the second time tonight. And you are right, Andy, it has been life changing! I will never buy bottled sauce again. Thank you for sharing-everthing. Mmmmmmm…….I even licked it cold off the spoon one day while waiting for it to heat up-its that good.


Michelle September 23, 2012 at 9:30 pm

I made these tonight and they were so freaking delicious! Thank you for such a delicious recipe, Andie! Cheers!


Susan Micek September 26, 2012 at 7:59 pm

Hi Andie, I am new to your delightful blog. I am a former film commercial producer. Commercials were easier than movies – because I usually only had to be away for 2-3 weeks instead of 16 weeks. Decided to make a couple of your recipes on Sunday. So I made the Lighter Coconut Red Curry Shrimp which we devoured and I made the sauce and meatballs for the week. My first taste gave me the impression that this was a very sweet sauce which I love but my husband really loves the sauce I make from Ann Burrell’s recipe with Pancetta and no sugar. He came in and took a meatball snack and to my surprise he loved it. We love this sauce and meatballs too. I bought whole San Marzano tomatoes and put them through the food mill instead of the ground/pureed tomatoes. Both of these dishes are now in my “Favorite” recipe binder and posted on my Pinterest account. Thank you!!! Susan p.s. Years ago I use to make a sweet sauce with a couple of large spoonfuls of Amaretto.


Ktina November 8, 2012 at 6:22 am

Holy Moses! These meatballs were so tasty. My fiance said they were the best meatballs he may have ever had :)

Thank you for sharing your recipe!


DesMarie November 14, 2012 at 7:32 am

Hmm…so I’m thinkin for us “no-can’t-cook” people, you should think about making videos on certain things you cook! I need a fool-proof-dummy-Demo…I’m sure there are others like me! :)


lisa November 16, 2012 at 1:43 pm

This looks delicious. I have a marinara recipe I have been using for years that I have never been willing to change until now. I want to make this tomorrow but I am confused by the mention of basil yet it is not listed in the ingredients.


admin November 17, 2012 at 9:16 am

Hi Lisa!

Sorry, it’s a typo. Just edited the post!



New England Chef April 29, 2013 at 7:47 pm

I have made this twice hoping the second time would be different, it wasn’t. It was way too sweet! It doesn’t make a lot, so 3 tablespoons is just to much sugar. Granted when I buy jar sauce now I choose the no added sugar variety but I grew up on Prego and this is much sweeter! I wonder if it should be 3 tsp instead?


Andie April 30, 2013 at 8:21 pm

Hey there,

Sorry to hear you didn’t like it! It is a sweet sauce for sure, which I think is what I absolutely love about it; it seems to add to the overall richness. But I can see why it might not be for you. I appreciate you trying the recipe!



Online Sunshine April 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I just made your sauce and meatballs. The only changes I made was I used ground turkey instead of hamburger (my package was more than a pound so I used an extra egg, a bit more bread crumbs, and added a little olive oil), I used all olive oil (no canola oil) in the sauce, and I didn’t have mint, so I added a teaspoon of dried basil.
We haven’t been eating much sugar, so we both agreed after eating it, that it could’ve used less sugar (will only use 1 Tbsp next time). But otherwise, the sauce was divine and the meatballs were so good you could hardly tell it was ground turkey.
To make the meal even better, I made home made egg noodles from a recipe I found on YouTube (by Giuliano Hazan) and served the sauce and meatballs over them.
And then I sauteed some sliced zucchini in some olive oil with salt and pepper.
Best dinner we’ve had in awhile…and looking forward to the leftovers for lunch tomorrow. :)
As a side note, since I used more than 1 lb of turkey, it was hard to make the meatballs all fit in the pan…and after 45 min, they had soaked up a lot of the sauce. I would recommend to anyone making more than 1 lb of meatballs, to make more sauce because it is soooo yummy!


Andie April 30, 2013 at 8:23 pm

Thanks so much for the detailed review, Online Sunshine! I’m definitely going to try your turkey version next time, and definitely with those egg noodles!

Yes, the sauce is very sweet and I prefer it that way, but I understand why you’d prefer to cut down the amount of sugar if the sweetness seems overpowering. Thanks again!



Heather June 4, 2013 at 12:23 am

Hey Andie,
Just made this tonight and it is delicious! Your favorite meatballs are officially my favorite meatballs :) It is defiantly going in the Heather book of comfort food. I typically don’t add sugar to food and was a bit skeptical but loved it, as always. The only change I made was nixing the mint. I’m sure if I liked it, it too would have been amazing and added its own flavor. Next time I’m going to make it with turkey and cook the meatballs in the sauce. This time I just cooked them separately and drizzled the sauce over it. Still amazing!! And I already posted it on Instagram to share with all of my friends with your websites hash tag #CanYouStayForDinner
Thanks for sharing!


samantha November 12, 2013 at 11:05 pm

I’m not were I messed up, but mine turned out terrible! The meatballs wouldnt stay together when I was stirring, so now I have these weird meat sauce. Also, the sauce itself is on the bad tasting side. Very dissatisfied, but it could just be my cooking ability.


Lois Thomas January 7, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Hi Andie
These meatballs sounded intriguing, they turned out delish, my new fave meatball and sauce recipe as well! I must admit I reduced the sugar to 1 tsp, still very tasty! Thank you for sharing your favorite foods with us, im definitely a fan of your blog and your awesomeness!


Helen February 17, 2014 at 7:01 pm

Hi Andie,
Love your blog! You are very inspiring, real, and transparent. Looking forward to your book. These meatballs were fantastic! The only thing I did different than your directions was to add the sugar directly to the onion and garlic. I was hoping to really caramelize ! Not sure if it made any difference, but the recipe is wonderful. Don’t think I will ever try another,


nonna February 26, 2014 at 6:10 pm

i also add a handful of grated Parmesan cheese and some minced garlic to the meatball mix and saute them a bit in a little olive oil before adding to the sauce…….


Natasha June 25, 2014 at 7:16 pm

I’m new to your blog and just tried this recipe. I’ve already made it a few times, because it’s such a hit with my family. I followed the recipe as written except I cut down the mint to 1/2 teaspoon. I was also nervous about cooking the meatballs in the sauce, but I decided to go with it, and, you’re absolutely right about it adding flavor to the sauce. The texture of the meatballs also came out perfectly! Thank you for this recipe! I can’t wait to try more.


Juan July 15, 2014 at 11:57 pm

Found the recipe and decided to make them. He’s right. They’re very easy to make. I had to improvise a little since I didn’t have the exact ingredients the recipe called for; instead of using dried mint I used fresh mint and I also added some fresh basil, then used diced in place of crushed tomatoes. They turned out really good even though I missed the pepper in the meatballs lol. My only complain is that they rendered too much fat in the sauce. I used 80/20 ground beef.
They taste great just with some shredded cheese.


Erin D. November 5, 2014 at 2:00 pm

After reading all of the reviews, which were mostly positive, I was really excited about making the meatball portion of this recipe. I’m sorry, but I was very, very disappointed. I made the meatballs exactly as per instructions and did not alter a thing. All I could taste was mint, mint, and more mint. And again, I measured exactly as per the recipe. I found these to be inedible.


Juan November 5, 2014 at 8:06 pm

Next time use much less mint then!


Online Sunshine February 23, 2015 at 9:47 pm

Just a follow-up to my previous review about this recipe. The first time I made it, I made it with Turkey for the meatballs. Honestly, I’m not much of a meatball fan so I have abandoned the meatball portion of the recipe…..HOWEVER, this has become my new go-to recipe for spaghetti sauce. I still cut back on the sugar, and I omit the mint, but otherwise I follow it as written. Recently I used the sauce (I doubled the recipe) to make a big pan of lasagne. I got big compliments on my lasagne and I feel that the biggest part of making it so great is the sauce. I no longer buy spaghetti sauce….it takes a little longer to make this one than dumping a jar into a pan, but it is soooooo worth it. :)


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