Recipe: Penne and Mini Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

I did not think it would matter, but I’ve really noticed the change cooking for four people every night. Most of my recipes are serves two or serves six; there are the two of us at home, and I know three is an awkward number when I’m visiting my parents, so I usually double up on recipes I make there. But portioning for four people every night? It’s totally thrown me in a way I honestly did not see coming.

Have any of you, isolating in households different to the ones you’re usually in noticed this?

Anyway. Portion sizes. Meatballs. I started working on a recipe for some sort of mini meatball in tomato sauce with penne back in London, but it turns out this is the perfect serves four recipe, with a 400g pack of standards supermarket mince splitting between us (seasoned the same way as my Mum’s classic meatball recipe).

This is the perfect weeknight recipe: the meatballs come together quickly, and once you’ve browned them in a hot pan they simmer away in the quick tomato sauce while the pasta cooks. I’ve used penne because that is how it was in my head, but obviously use whatever pasta shapes you can get your hands on. Shower each bowl with a load of fresh parmesan and lots of fresh basil – we’ve got a pot going by the kitchen sink. 

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Penne and Mini Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

  • Author: Rachel Phipps
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4
  • Category: Pasta
  • Cuisine: Italian


This easy, weeknight-friendly bowl of penne and mini beef meatballs in tomato sauce takes just 40-minutes to make start to finish – perfect for feeding all the family.



For the Mini Meatballs

  • 400g (14 oz) beef mince (ground beef)
  • 3 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp dried sage
  • freshly ground sea salt and black pepper 
  • light oil (olive or vegetable), for frying

For the Penne & Tomato Sauce

  • large knob unsalted butter
  • 2 x 400g (14 oz) tins chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp soft light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 400g (14 oz) dried penne pasta shapes
  • fresh basil, for serving (but please don’t skimp on this!)
  • parmesan, for serving


  1. To make the meatballs, combine all the ingredients with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper until just combined. Roll the mixture into roughly 1/2 tbsp sized balls and step aside. Try to not scrunch the mince too much or you’ll have heavy meatballs, but use too light a hand and they’ll fall apart when you try to fry them – practice makes perfect!
  2. Heat just enough oil to cover the bottom of a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Working in batches if you need to, brown the meatballs, setting them aside to drain on a kitchen paper lined plate as you go – don’t worry about cooking them through at this stage, you just want them lovely and golden!
  3. In a large saucepan over a medium high heat, melt the butter and take it until it is just starting to go nutty and brown. Add the tinned tomatoes, sugar and oregano, and season well with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, and once the sauce is bubbling, stir in the meatballs and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened and the meatballs have cooked through.
  4. Whilst the meatballs are cooking, cook the pasta in a pan of boiling, well-salted water as per the packets instructions. I find this takes about 15-20 minutes depending on the shape and brand.
  5. Remove both pans from the heat and drain the pasta well before stirring it into the tomato sauce. Serve divided between four warm bowls, showered in fresh basil and parmesan shavings.