Make the best slow cooker meatballs in tomato sauce with this recipe. These homemade ground beef meatballs are juicy, tender, and a little spicy. Made with freshly grated parmesan cheese, garlic, and red chillies, then slowly cooked in a tasty tomato, basil, and garlic sauce. These meatballs can be eaten as an appetiser, with spaghetti or made into a meatball sandwich.
🌟 About This Recipe
- These meatballs can be served for a hearty and filling meal or used to make Italian meatball appetisers.
- The meatballs and sauce are easy to make.
- Can be prepared ahead and frozen.
- This recipe is made healthy by using lean minced (ground) beef and very little oil.
To Make The Meatballs:
In a large bowl combine the onions, ground beef, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, salt, pepper, chillies, parmesan cheese, garlic, and mix well. Divide ground beef mixture and shape into 46 - 48 balls. Heat oil in skillet and brown the meatballs without cooking completely. Transfer the browned meatballs to the slow cooker and start making the sauce.
To Make The Tomato Sauce:
Fry onions until soft, then add garlic and chilli and cook for a minute or two. Turn down the heat, add the tomato paste and briefly cook. Sprinkle on the flour, stir and cook for another minute, add the chicken stock, and the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, turn of the heat. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs in the slow cooker. Cook on high for 5-6 hours.
Hints And Tips For Making The Meatballs
- Before making the meatballs, fry the diced onion in a little oil, until the onion softens and becomes lightly golden in colour. I do this because, I like the taste of fried onions and find that it gives a richer flavour to the meatballs. Allow the cooked onions to come to room temperature before adding to the ground beef.
- Use panko breadcrumbs or fresh breadcrumbs in the meatballs. The panko breadcrumbs will soak up some of the juice produced by the meatballs as it cooks, which in turn creates a moist and tender meatball.
- I like to add finely sliced red chilli to the meatballs to give them a little spiciness. If you don’t like chilli you can leave it out.
- After you have mixed all the ingredients for the meatballs together, take a teaspoon of the mixture and make a tiny patty, fry the patty in a little oil until it is cooked, then taste for salt. If you find that the meat patty is lacking salt, mix a little more salt to the raw meatball mixture, then do a taste test again, by frying another tiny patty, keep doing this until you are happy with the seasoning before shaping the ground beef mixture into balls.
Shaping the Meatballs
You should get about 1.43 kg of raw meatball filling. If you make the meatballs about 28 - 30 grams each, you will end up with around 46 - 48 meatballs. This size is perfect for serving with pasta.
As meatball appetiser, you can reduce the size of the meatballs and make the recipe stretch further. You could make them about 20 – 25 grams each and this would give you about 57 – 71 meatballs.
- To shape the meatballs, I like to use kitchen scales to weigh the meat mixture, then divide it into the required number of meatballs. Alternative you can use a small cookie scoop to divide the meat mixture.
- When you have divided the meat mixture into the required portions, roll each portion into balls, by rolling between damp hands. Having your hands slightly wet when rolling the raw meat into balls will prevent the meat from sticking to your hands. Fry the meatballs until they brown on the outside and are still raw on the inside before adding the sauce. Browning the meatballs will give more depth and flavour to the sauce as it slowly cooks.
- However, if you a short on time, or you just don’t want to brown the meatballs, it's okay to add raw meatballs to the sauce (after all, the meatballs are going to get cooked anyway).
Once you have done all of the above, place the browned or raw meatballs into the bottom of your slow cooker (or crock pot) and start making the sauce.
Tips for Making The Sauce
You are going to have to do a little stove top cooking to make this sauce, but it will be worth your while, you will end up with a sauce that rich and full of flavour.
- Start by browning the onions, in a large frying pan. If you browned the meatballs as suggested in step 7 above, use this pan to make the sauce in. The “golden brown” cooking residue that is left in the bottom of the pan, will add flavour to the sauce. If you have opted not to brown the meatballs, use a clean frying pan to fry the onions in.
- Once the onions have browned, add the tomato paste, mix and cook for a minute or two, this will help intensify the tomato flavour of the paste.
- Next sprinkle on some flour, mix well and cook for a minute. You want to be careful not to have the heat too high as the flour can burn quite easily. The flour will help thicken the sauce as it cooks.
- Gradually add some of the chicken stock to the onion, tomato paste and flour mix, stirring all the time to avoid lumps forming. Once you have a smooth mixture add the remaining stock and canned tomatoes mixing well.
- Add the remaining herbs and seasons to the sauce. Bring to sauce to the boil. Remove from the heat, then spoon or pour the sauce over the meatballs in the slow cooker.
How to Cook The Meatballs
Cooking the meatballs is the easiest part of the recipe (not that the rest of the recipe was that hard). Just put the lid on the slow cooker, turn the setting to low and simmer for 5- 6 hours.
This recipe makes enough to feed eight people. If that’s too much for you, the recipe can be halved, or make the full batch and freeze half for later.
You will get about 1.2 kg of sauce, which can be served as is with pasta. However, if you are using these meatballs for appetisers, you will want a slightly thicker sauce that will coat the meatballs.
To thicken the sauce. Transfer the sauce to a saucepan, bring the sauce to the boil and simmer until the sauce has reduced and has thickened slightly.
Alternatively, bring the sauce to the boil, and stir in a mixture of 2 - 3 heaped teaspoons of cornflour that has been mixed to a smooth paste with water.
How to Freeze Meatballs in Sauce
To freeze the slow cooker meatballs in tomato sauce, allow it to come to room temperature, before packaging and popping into the freezer. This can be frozen for three to four months.
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📋 Recipe Card
Meatballs In Tomato Sauce - (Slow Cooker Recipe)
For the meatballs
- 150 grams onion finely chopped
- 3 garlic cloves finely chopped or grated
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 kg ground beef lean
- 50 grams panko breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- 20 grams fresh parsley finely chopped
- 3 level teaspoon salt to taste
- Black pepper freshly ground
- 2 red chillies optional, small and finely chopped
- 40 grams parmesan cheese grated
- 3 cloves garlic finely chopped
For frying the meatballs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus a little extra if needed
For the tomato sauce
- 150 grams onions finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves crushed
- 2 red chillies optional, chopped
- 2 level tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 level tablespoon plain flour all-purpose flour
- 300 ml chicken stock
- 2 x 400 grams canned diced tomatoes
- 2 level teaspoons white sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon dried basil leaves
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 1 bay leaf
- Making the meatballsHeat the oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until soft and golden in colour. Remove from the heat. Transfer the onions to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool completely.
- Once the onions have cooled, add the all the remaining meatball ingredients (except the 2 tablespoons of oil) to the bowl with the onions. Mix well.
- Evenly divide the mixture into 42 pieces and shape into balls.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a frying pan, and brown the meatballs, but don’t cook them all the way through. When the meatballs have browned, transfer them to the slow cooker.
- Making the tomato sauceIn a fry pan heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and fry on medium heat until soft.
- Add the garlic and chilli and fry for a minute or two. Turn the heat down to low.
- Add the tomato paste, stir and briefly fry.
- Sprinkle the flour over the onion and tomato paste mixture, stir and fry for about minute.
- Gradually mix in a little of the chicken stock, stirring constantly to avoid lumps. Once you have added all the chicken stock, turn up the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Bring to the boil, turn off the heat.
- Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs in the slow cooker. Cover with a lid and cook on low for 5-6 hours.
Recipe was first published October 1, 2018. Updated February 10, 2020 with new images and changes made in the recipe.