This slow cooker spaghetti and meatballs recipe is a quicker and easier version of my Nana’s spaghetti sauce. Nana cooked hers for 8 hours on the stovetop and she just called it “sauce”. I’m 3/8th Italian, so I grew up on lots and lots of spaghetti sauce. This is sort of like my Nana’s recipe. Nana/Grandma would put pork chops in the sauce and make ground beef meatballs.
This is a picture of my Nana (Italian for Grandma). She was born in 1909 in South Boston, MA. Her dad immigrated from Sicily around 1902 and was part of the Mafia. I’m not kidding. He was involved with it until he was mysteriously hit by a car and died, but at least that wasn’t until later in his life. He married a woman from Ireland and had several children.
Their youngest was my Nana. Nana’s mom died when my Nana was only 10 years old. To make things worse, besides just losing her mom at a young age, her dad re-married and Nana’s stepmother didn’t want anything to do with her. So my Nana went to go live with her Irish aunt. Needless to say, her Sicilian history was pretty much lost to her.
But then my Nana married my Grandpa. My grandpa was full Italian and his mother was the quintessential Italian Matriarch. She ran the family, including telling her children what they would study in school, what they would do in the family business and what clothes they could buy.
The family-owned a shop in Boston and she told my Grandpa he needed to go to pharmacy school so they could turn the shop into a pharmacy. They did that and that’s actually where he met my Nana. My Nana’s mother-in-law only paid them a little money, but then she did things like plan family vacations and bought clothes for them.
Personally, I would hate that and feel like she was controlling my life. But my Nana liked it. She finally had a mother of sorts. One of the best things that came out of their relationship was that she taught my Nana how to cook the real Italian way.
Our family has like 30 recipes passed down from my Nana and every one of them is Italian. It wasn’t until later that I learned how my Nana learned to cook Italian. It’s also where my Nana got her nickname. My Nana liked her mother-in-law so much and wanted her grandchildren to call her Nana too.
Well, our family’s all-time favorite recipe is Nana’s spaghetti sauce. Here’s the thing though, it takes 8 hours to cook after it’s made. You get tons of fresh tomatoes, peel them, etc. and then make meatballs, onions, garlic, etc. and put that in the pot. Then you brown pork chops and put them in.
The recipe is very good but it’s a whole page. It’s so much work that we usually make a huge batch and then freeze the sauce. We use the sauce for a lot of different recipes including spaghetti, mackies which is really rigatoni, lasagna, and pizza. It’s one of our favorite fall traditions.
As a kid, I hated the pork chops in the sauce because they always got really overcooked and disgusting. So after a while, I came up with the idea to mix ground pork or Italian sausage and ground beef for the meatballs and make them huge, so it doesn’t take forever forming little tiny meatballs. You can read the technique I use with the measuring cup below. I love how you don’t have to brown them before you put them in the crockpot!
When I was growing up, my mom would make HUGE pots of spaghetti sauce and freeze them. She would put it in quart jars or Ziploc freezer bags or disposable containers that she actually re-used many times. Then when we had a busy night, all she had to do was heat them up and cook some noodles and it tasted just as good as the fresh and looked like she slaved away all day on the stove.
She really made a ton of this in the fall when we had tomatoes coming out of our ears in the garden. She would make tons and tons of sauce and fill up the downstairs freezer and we had spaghetti sauce for months after.
Can You Freeze This?
This is a family-favorite to use with my meal-prep freezer method. I just start it in the morning either with meatballs like the recipe says or sometimes I just do a mix of ground meats like beef, turkey and Italian sausage and cook it frozen or in a big hunk in the slow cooker until it is cooked enough I can scoop out the fat. Then I crumble it right there and add the sauce and leave it alone for the rest of the day.
Sometimes I do just the cooking the hamburger part first and freeze just that in individual containers to use later in any recipe or sometimes I will do that the night before and have it in the fridge in my crock pot ready to pull out in the morning and get started cooking right away.
Heck, sometimes I don’t start cooking the sauce until my children come home from school and I stop working. When I do that it is usually done about my bedtime and I put a little in the fridge for the next day and I freeze the rest in individual freezer containers to use whenever we want spaghetti. It’s such a time saver!
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Tips and Tricks
Below is the recipe for either the Slow Cooker or the stovetop. Both are delicious, although the slower cooker version is more tender and flavorful. But, it requires planning ahead.
The instructions don’t say to brown the meatballs before placing them in the sauce. But you can if you want; Nana did. When you brown them, you get delicious bits at the bottom of the pan, but it can make them tough and it makes them not soak up as much sauce, but they are more flavorful and don’t break apart as easily when you stir them.
This is a wonderful dish for a large number of people because it’s easy to prepare ahead of time and simmer away while you are cleaning and getting ready for the party. Most diets can eat this sauce, except people who can’t have nightshades and you can do different options for the noodles, like zoodles, gluten-free pasta or just plain, cheap noodles for those of you who can eat those.
You could totally use ground turkey in place of one or both the meats. I love ground turkey in spaghetti sauce. It has a light flavor and goes really well with the tomatoes.
Someday I’ll make another recipe that is my Nana’s exact recipe. Would you like that? I’d like to know if there would be enough demand for that. Until then, this is a good spaghetti sauce recipe that’s made in the crock pot that’s sort of like Nana’s but way easier.
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Homemade slow cooker spaghetti and meatballs recipe
I love how flavorful this is! And easy too! And you can make it either on the stovetop or the crock pot.
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 240 minutes
- Total Time: 260 minutes
- Yield: 8 1x
- Category: Main Course
- Cuisine: Italian
FOR THE SAUCE:
- 4 Tbl Olive Oil
- 1 Large Sweet Onion (diced)
- 3 Cloves Garlic (minced)
- 2 28 ounce cans Crushed Tomatoes
- 1 Cup Water
- 2 tsp Real Salt
- ½ tsp Ground Black Pepper
FOR THE MEATBALLS:
SLOW COOKER SAUCE:
- Place the olive oil, onion, garlic, tomatoes, water, salt, and pepper in the bowl of a slow cooker and whisk together until combined. Turn heat on to high. Make the meatballs.
- Place the olive oil in a large stockpot and turn the heat on to medium high. Add the onion and sauté for 5 minutes, or until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds. Add the crushed tomatoes and water, stirring to combine. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat to medium. Make the meatballs.
- Use a ¼ cup measure to press the meat mixture into. Tap the measure on your work surface to remove meat. Use your hands to roll the ¼ cup of meat into a large ball. Repeat with remaining mixture until all of it is formed into balls. Place the meatballs carefully in the crock pot, covering with sauce.
- Cook on high for 3-4 hours, or until meatballs are fully cooked through and sauce is bubbling. Sprinkle meatballs with parsley before serving.
SLOW COOKER MEATBALLS:
- Place the ground beef, ground pork, egg, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, salt, and Italian Seasoning in a large mixing bowl and mix together using your hands or a mixing spoon until the mixture is well combined.
STOVE TOP MEATBALLS:
- Place the ground beef, ground pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, parmesan, salt, and oregano in a large mixing bowl and mix together using your hands or a mixing spoon until the mixture is well combined.
- Use a ¼ cup measure to press the meat mixture into. Tap the measure on your work surface to remove meat. Use your hands to roll the ¼ cup of meat into a large ball. Repeat with remaining mixture until all of it is formed into balls. Place the meatballs carefully in the tomato sauce, making sure that the meatballs are fully submerged in sauce.
- Cover and let simmer for 30-40 minutes on medium heat, until meatballs are fully cooked through.
- Sprinkle sauce with fresh parsley before serving.
Keywords: flavorful, Italian, Authentic, Versatile