Instant Pot Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Instant Pot meatballs in spicy tomato sauce. Imagine having a pile of them flavored with fennel, red pepper, and oregano. Now imagine how happy you’ll be when they’re ready in half the usual time.

Instant Pot meatballs in spicy tomato sauce stuffed inside an Italian roll.

Ground fennel seeds lend these meatballs with a subtle licorice-like sweetness, making them reminiscent of Italian sausage. Use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle to grind the whole seeds to a powder, or if you’re able to find preground fennel seed at the store use an equal amount. You can, of course, serve the meatballs and spicy tomato sauce over pasta, or you can tuck the meatballs into toasted sub rolls lined with slices of provolone cheese, spoon some spicy tomato sauce over the top and finish with a sprinkle of grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese.

Don’t use ground beef that’s leaner than 85 percent or the meatballs will be dry and bland. When shaping the meat mixture, form it into firm, compact meatballs, not loosely packed orbs; this helps them hold together when pressure cooked. And don’t forget to refrigerate the meatballs for at least 15 minutes before cooking, as this helps them retain their shape.–Christopher Kimball

How do I keep my meatballs from drying out?

An Instant Pot virtually guarantees that your meatballs will come out juicy. But what if you don’t have one? Or if you just want to reheat the leftovers? The addition of milk, eggs, or bread crumbs all add more moisture as does a small amount of grated cheese. And always make sure that you’re using ground beef that’s no more than 85% lean, otherwise your meatballs will be dry and crumbly.

Instant Pot Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 25 M
  • 1 H, 15 M
  • Serves 4
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Special Equipment: Instant Pot or pressure cooker



In a large bowl, mix together the bread crumbs, 1/2 cup tomato juices, the oregano, fennel seeds, and garlic. Add the beef, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Mix with your hands until no streaks of breadcrumbs remain.

Tester tip: To check that the seasoning is to your taste, fry up a tiny bit of the meatball mixture until cooked through and then taste.

Divvy the meatball mixture into 10 portions and form each into a compact ball about 2 inches (5 cm) in diameter, placing the meatballs on a large plate. Refrigerate for 15 minutes.

On a 6- or 8-quart Instant Pot or pressure cooker, select the Sauté function. Add the tomatoes and their remaining juices, the butter, and pepper flakes, then bring to a boil, stirring. Set the meatballs on top of the tomatoes in an even layer, gently pressing to submerge them.

Lock the lid in place and seal the pressure valve. Cook over high pressure for 3 minutes. When pressure cooking is complete, allow the pressure to reduce naturally for 10 minutes, then release the remaining steam by moving the pressure valve to Venting. Press Cancel, then carefully open the pot.

Using a slotted spoon, move the meatballs to a clean plate.

Select the Sauté function and bring the tomato mixture to a boil, using a potato masher to break up the tomatoes. Whisk in the tomato paste and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 8 to 12 minutes.

Taste and season with salt and black pepper. Add the basil and return the meatballs to the pot, then gently stir. Press Cancel to turn off the pot. Let stand until the meatballs are heated through, 5 to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.

Print RecipeBuy the Milk Street Fast and Slow cookbook

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Recipe Testers' Reviews

Instant Pot Winner! Homemade meatballs in spicy tomato sauce in a little more than an hour. It's a short time to wait for something that will taste like you worked on it for hours. I'll definitely make this again and again and again. The meatballs were cooked to perfection and the sauce was delightful with a little bit of a kick.

There's little prep to this recipe which contributes to the short time from start to finish. I was somewhat skeptical on the 1/2 stick of butter and thought that the butter along with the meatballs may create too much grease but that wasn't the case. The spices and seasonings for the most part are in the meatballs. I think I would spread the love a little the next time I make this and put half of the oregano and fennel in the sauce.

I used my immersion blender to break up the tomatoes instead of using a potato masher. It was just easier for me to do it that way and probably quicker. I served these two ways, as a meatball sandwich and also with pasta. They were both delicious.

Making Instant Pot meatballs in spicy tomato sauce is certainly an interesting concept, and this is sort of a one-pot-meal deal. The tomato sauce has a nice, subtle bite from the crushed red peppers and some richness from the butter. The meatballs are tender and luscious, but could be a bit more savory.

I toasted the fennel seeds before grinding them to enhance the flavor, however I think a little more garlic and adding some onion in the recipe would improve the meatballs. One will end up with a lot of sauce, so the next time I make this I will likely reduce the amount of canned tomatoes by 25%. I served the meatballs atop some roasted spaghetti squash, with a nice sprinkling of Parmesan Romano cheese.

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