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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.