Aunt Julie's Meatballs

February 10, 2010
1 Ratings
  • Serves about 40 small meatballs
Author Notes

When I was growing up, we were one of 4 families who celebrated holidays and special occasions together. Each of the moms had their special food that they made (and that we all came to expect), and one of my favorites was Aunt Julie's meatballs--in a sweet and tart tomato sauce. This is classic 1960's party food--which I can't even claim to have updated all that much, although I do use better quality ingredients. As recently as this past Christmas, my (Jewish) mother had our annual Jingle Bells party, and everyone who came to the party made a beeline for Aunt Julie's meatballs. This is my version of her recipe. It's perfect for a Sunday night "Mad Men" party. - drbabs —drbabs

Test Kitchen Notes

It’s no surprise why this is always a favorite at the annual drbabs family holiday party. These little meatballs are tasty! I expected the brown sugar plus vinegar plus Worcestershire to result in a barbeque sauce glaze but, in fact, their flavors just blend in to create a beautifully caramelized tomato sauce that’s not overly sweet. We made two batches, one with ground light and dark meat turkey, in balls about twice the size as the recipe calls for. They too were amazing; leftovers made an outstanding grinder the next day. This one's a keeper!! - AntoniaJames —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Meatballs
  • 2 pounds Ground beef
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2/3 cup dry fresh bread crumbs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried)
  • Meatball Sauce
  • 1 medium onion, chopped very fine
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced or put through a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups pureed tomatoes (I use 1 box of Pomi )
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  1. Meatballs
  2. Mix all ingredients together and shape into small balls. (I use a melon baller.) Place in baking pan and cover with sauce, below.
  1. Meatball Sauce
  2. Saute onions in oil till softened and lightly browned. Stir in garlic--don't let it brown.
  3. Add pureed tomatoes, brown sugar, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes.
  4. Pour sauce over meatballs. Bake at 350, covered, for 30 minutes, and uncovered for another 45 minutes. Serve warm (I use a crock pot because I don't have a chafing dish.) with toothpicks.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Bevi
  • lapadia
  • juliunruly
  • Lizthechef
  • Waverly

23 Reviews

Cher November 24, 2018
I really liked the results from the technique of baking the meatballs and sauce together. I used half the sugar and vinegar that was called for and it was still a little to sweet for me. I also found that there wasn't quite enough sauce to use this for spaghetti. Next time i'll double the sauce recipe if I 'm using the meatballs for spaghetti.
drbabs November 24, 2018
Hi Cher. I’m so glad you commented. You’re right— there isn’t enough sauce for spaghetti. We usually use these on their own as a snack or appetizer for a large crowd at a party. I’m glad you enjoyed hem and we’re able to make it work for you.
Bevi December 16, 2014
Great, easy dish! These will be great to put together for my skiing crowd coming into town after the new year!
drbabs December 16, 2014
Great! Have fun!
lapadia December 16, 2014
Scrumptious, mouthwatering photo!
drbabs December 16, 2014
Thanks, Linda!. Happy holidays!
lapadia December 16, 2014
Same to you, and a wonderful 2015!
drbabs December 16, 2014
Thanks, and the same to you!
juliunruly February 18, 2013
I thought the sauce for these was way, way too sweet. Nearly cloying. Next time I'd skip the sugar entirely. I also felt it was lacking some depth and savory (maybe because it was so sweet). I was wishing I'd added red pepper flakes, and some kind of herb to the sauce as well.
drbabs February 18, 2013
Oh, I'm really sorry it didn't work for you; it's meant to be kind of sweet and sour.
juliunruly March 10, 2013
That's ok! My boyfriend and his daughter really liked it, so I'm probably just being a pill. I'm going to try again with some modifications.
mosteff December 13, 2010
Made these yesterday for a party. Big, big hit. I thought they were delicious. I went for the grass-fed beef and I felt the texture was very different, in a good way. The meatballs were incredibly moist and tasty. Recipe is a keeper for any party.
drbabs December 13, 2010
Thanks; I am so happy that you and your family enjoyed them.
Lizthechef August 8, 2010
Great minds think alike, like your Aunt Julie and my grandmother ;)
drbabs August 9, 2010
So true!
Waverly August 8, 2010
These sound delicious - I especially like the sound of your sauce.
drbabs August 9, 2010
healthierkitchen August 8, 2010
Yum! My Mom did one like this with just sugar and lemon juice.
drbabs August 9, 2010
That sounds interesting!
healthierkitchen August 21, 2010
She sometimes did it with just meatballs and called it sweet and sour meatballs. But she used the same sauce for a dish I havent' seen outside my extended family that they called "chicken fricasee" although it bears absolutely no resemblance to the French dish. This uses all the poor man's parts: gizzards, necks, wings and the sweet and sour sauce. My kids hate the gizzards and necks so id I ever do make it, I stick to the meatballs.
lapadia August 8, 2010
Yum, I can taste the sweet and tart flavor!
drbabs August 9, 2010
drbabs August 8, 2010
I can't edit this for some reason, but use a melon baller to shape the meatballs and serve with toothpicks. (I keep mine warm in a crockpot because I don't have a chafing dish.) Meatballs are comfort food and these really bring me back to my childhood.