Hidden gem meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce

Hidden gem meatballs with spaghetti and tomato sauce

Dinner Like A Boss
4 people
20 mins
Cooking time
25 mins
Benito Martin

These meatballs are one of the first answers I get from my kids to the ‘What do you want for dinner tonight?’ question. I don’t mind one bit because they are full of vegetables (the ‘hidden gem’). My kids had no idea for a long time – of course, now that they love them so much, it’s far too late to complain about the vegetables!


Quantity Ingredient
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, coarsely grated
2 garlic cloves, crushed or finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely grated
2 zucchinis, peeled and finely grated
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard
600g lean minced beef
75g panko breadcrumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
700ml tomato passata
350g spaghetti
or other pasta shape
50g finely grated parmesan
or tasty cheese
2 tablespoons coaresly torn basil leaves, optional


  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic for 4–5 minutes, or until softened, then transfer them to a large bowl.
  2. Using clean hands (or a clean tea towel/dish towel) squeeze out any excess liquid from the grated carrot and zucchini. Add them to the bowl along with the parsley, mustard, meat, panko breadcrumbs and egg. Season with salt and pepper (if liked). Using your hands, combine the mixture, mixing for a couple of minutes. Form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs. If you have time, chill them in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, but this is not vital.
  3. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil for the pasta. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan over a medium heat and add the meatballs in a single layer (or do this in two batches if necessary, but return all the meatballs to the pan when adding the passata). Cook for 4–5 minutes, turning occasionally, until the meatballs start to brown. Add the passata to the pan and shake the pan. Using a wooden spoon, carefully scrape between the meatballs to dislodge any crusty bits from the base of the pan. Turn the meatballs to coat them in the sauce, then cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through.
  4. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of the cooking liquid.
  5. Stir the reserved cooking liquid into the tomato sauce. Divide the spaghetti between bowls and top with the meatballs and sauce. Scatter over the cheese and basil (if using).


  • For speed, the onion and garlic can be left out. Sometimes I add them, sometimes I don’t. They are there for a little extra flavour. Also, it’s a great way to subtly introduce kids to the flavour of garlic.


  • These meatballs can also be baked. Once they’ve had their initial browning, transfer them to an ovenproof dish. Spoon over the sauce and turn to coat, then scatter over the cheese and bake in a 190°C oven/170°C fan-forced for about 15 minutes.
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