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Ricotta meatballs with spicy tomato sauce

20 October 2018 | Last Updated: 15 August 2019

Moist, tender and fluffy ricotta meatballs, that literally melt in your mouth. This is no exaggeration, the creamy consistency of ricotta cheese gives the meatballs a unique light texture. They are really flavorful thanks to the addition of fennel seeds and parmesan cheese.

These meatballs may look like regular meatballs, but they are so amazing, light and packed with flavor that aside of Sunday dinner you can easily serve them on a special occasion, like a Holiday dinner or even Valentine’s Day!

ricotta meatballs with spicy tomato sauce and tagliatelle pasta on a white plate

TOP TIPS FOR MAKING THE BEST RICOTTA MEATBALLS:

1. Browning the meatballs: To ensure that the meatballs are really flavorful, they need to be browned – this can be done two ways. You can sear them in a pan or roast in the oven (both ways are described below). Next, just simmer them briefly in a simple but very aromatic tomato sauce. They are best served with pasta, sprinkled with extra parmesan and parsley. I’m sure you’ll love them!

2. Read the recipe carefully before you start. The roasted version is simpler and faster, but the meatballs are slightly less flavorful (they are not so nicely browned), but they are also delicious and just as delicate. If you decide to cook them in a pan, do this carefully. Due to the amount of ricotta they are prone to fall apart. But this little effort will definitely pay off – these meatballs just melt in your mouth, they are soooo good! They have become a staple in my household.

3. Don’t overwork the meat mixture. First, we are grinding the dry ingredients in the food processor, then we need to add all the other ingredients except meat and pulse until combined. I add the meat at the end and combine it with the ricotta mixture by hand until just combined. This ensures that the meatballs are very delicate and tender!

close up shot on ricotta meatballs cut in half on a white plate

WHAT GOES IN RICOTTA MEATBALLS:

  • meat: ground beef is more traditional, but I’m using ground beef and pork mixture, which makes the meatballs more moist
  • herbs and seasonings: I seasoned the meatballs with parsley, garlic, sauteed onion, dried oregano, and fennel seeds. Fennel seeds can’t be skipped – they give the meatballs their distinctive flavor. I’m adding a mix of raw and sauteed onion – raw onion adds a sharp taste and crunchy texture, sauteed onion adds sweetness.
  • 1 kaiser roll or another bread roll – for more substance
  • an egg: glues the meat mixture
  • cheese: ricotta cheese for the wonderful consistency and parmesan cheese for the umami flavor

Other uses for ricotta cheese:

OTHER ITALIAN DISHES THAT YOU MAY LIKE:

Do you like Italian cuisine? You should also try my other Italian pasta dishes like:

RICOTTA MEATBALLS WITH SPICY TOMATO SAUCE – step by step:

The description of the preparation method is a bit long – I just wanted to very precisely describe each step and two possible methods of preparation, but they are really very easy to make.

STEP 1: Prepare all the ingredients.

STEP 2: Grind the parsley, parmesan, kaiser roll and 1/4 of raw onion in the food processor.

STEP 3: Saute the 3/4 of the onion with garlic, cool slightly. Add to the food processor bowl, along with the ricotta, egg, and spices: fennel seeds and oregano, season with salt and pepper to taste.

STEP 4: Pulse the ingredients until combined.

STEP 5: Add the ground meat and using your hands mix thoroughly with the ricotta mixture. Don’t pulse the mixture in the food processor, we want the meatballs to be very delicate.

STEP 6: Shape the meatballs with oil-coated hands (each ball should weigh about 50g/1.8 oz).

STEP 7: Now we need to brown the meatballs. You can do it on the pan..

STEP 8: ..or in the oven.

STEP 9: Transfer on a plate.

STEP 10: Make the tomato sauce: reduce the heat, add the chili flakes, chopped garlic and dried basil to the pan, cook for a minute, add the wine, cook until almost evaporated.

STEP 11: Add the tomato passata or canned tomatoes, simmer for 5-10 minutes, puree until smooth.

STEP 12: Simmer the meatballs in the sauce: Place the meatballs in the sauce, simmer covered about 10 minutes (stovetop method) or uncovered, just briefly, until cooked through (oven method). Serve with pasta and enjoy!

STOVETOP METHOD vs OVEN METHOD:

Baking the meatballs in the oven is much simpler and quicker. On the other hand, they won’t be so beautifully browned, as it can be done in the pan. Additionally, when pan-frying the meatballs, you get brown bits at the bottom of the pan, which then get mixed with tomato sauce, making it wonderfully packed with flavor. I most often pan-fry them for a special occasion and bake them for a family dinner. The choice is yours!

STORING AND FREEZING:

You can reheat the meatballs the next day, but do this carefully, they are fragile. They taste as good but are just not easy to reheat. Due to their delicate consistency, they unfortunately, do not freeze well!

Ricotta meatballs with spicy tomato sauce

Moist, tender and fluffy meatballs, that literally melt in your mouth
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 799kcal
Author Aleksandra

Ingredients

meatballs:

  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1 stale kaiser roll or other bread roll torn into smaller pieces
  • ½ cup grated parmesan 35g
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 15 oz container ricotta cheese 500g
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds (whole seeds) need to be crushed in a mortar
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • salt and black pepper to taste, I added 1.5 teaspoons salt and 0.5 teaspoons pepper
  • 18 oz ground meat I used a mix of beef and pork, 500g
  • 1 tablespoon breadcrumbs optional (read below)

additionally:

  • 1-2 tablespoons frying oil for shaping the meatballs
  • 3 tablespoons frying oil for frying the meatballs

tomato sauce:

  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/3 teaspoon chili flakes or to taste
  • ½ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ cup dry white wine 4 tablespoons
  • 2 14 fl oz. cans tomatoes or 1 bottle tomato passata (24 fl oz/680 ml)
  • a pinch of sugar optional
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

making and shaping of meatballs:

  • preparing the meat mixture: Add the kaiser roll, parmesan, parsley and ¼ raw onion to the food processor bowl. Pulse until finely grind (if you don‘t have a food processor – you can chop it very finely).
  • Dice the remaining ¾ onion, finely chop the garlic. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil on a very large frying pan, add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until translucent, add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds. Remove from the pan and set aside to cool.
  • Add the drained ricotta, egg, lightly cooled onion with garlic, ground fennel seeds (you can do it using pestle and mortar or a coffee grinder), oregano, salt and pepper to the food processor bowl. Pulse until combined (or mix with your hands).
  • Add the meat, use your hands to thoroughly mix the ricotta mixture into the ground meat just until combined (but don‘t overwork the meat so that the meatballs stay tender).
  • Add the additional breadcrumbs if necessary (it will depend on how big and dry your bread roll was). Add it when the meatballs don‘t hold their shape.
  • If you plan to roast the meatballs – preheat the oven to 240°C / 475°F / Gas Mark 9, no fan, OR 220°C / 450°F with fan (or if you have a convection oven).
  • shaping the meatballs: Pour a small amount of oil into a small bowl. Coat your hands well and shape the meatballs, a little bigger than walnuts. I scooped the meat mixture with an ice cream scoop, measured the balls (each ball weight 50g) and shaped the meatballs with oil-coated hands (you should have 23 meatballs). Place the balls on two plates. They should keep their shape. Alternatively, you can pop the meat mixture in the fridge for an hour or two to make it easier to shape.
  • Now you need to brown the meatballs (either on a pan or in the oven) and simmer them in tomato sauce

On the stovetop:

  • Browning: heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a big frying pan, fry the meatballs over medium heat until browned on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side, transfer on a plate. The meatballs won't be cooked through.
  • Notes: be careful when turning the meatballs to the other side, they are very delicate! It's best to turn them over with a spoon. Little effort will be totally worth it. Pan-fry the meatballs in 2-3 batches, depending on the size of the pan, placing them at least 1 inch apart! They can’t be crowded, or it will be hard to turn them over and to brown them. The frying pan should be well-heated (medium heat). If you have a non-stick pan it should be a lot easier, but you still have to be careful. You can also pan-fry the meatballs on two pans at the same time.
  • Make the tomato sauce: reduce the heat, add the garlic, chilli and basil to the pan, cook for about 1 minute. Add the wine and cook until almost evaporated, then add the tomato passata or canned tomatoes, simmer about 10 minutes, season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of sugar when necessary (scrape with a spatula brown bits from the bottom of the pan). If you've used canned tomatoes, puree the sauce before adding the meatballs.
  • Simmer the meatballs in the sauce: Place the meatballs in the tomato sauce, they can be arranged very close to each other.
  • Cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes over low heat until the meatballs are no longer pink inside (be careful not to overcook them or they will be dry!). You can also check if they‘re ready by measuring internal temperature, it should be 71°C / 160°F. If you don‘t have a lid, you can also cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, but it can not touch the sauce and meatballs.

OR

    In the oven:

    • Browning: Grease the baking tray lightly with oil, place the meatballs at least 1 inch apart on the tray. Bake in a pre-heated oven for about 10-13 minutes. Meatballs should be lightly browned (especially at the bottom), but be careful not to overbake them, they shouldn‘t be completely cooked through. Baking time may vary depending on the oven!
    • Make the tomato sauce: heat a teaspoon of olive oil and a teaspoon of butter in a frying pan over medium heat. Add finely chopped garlic, chili flakes, and basil. Cook for a minute, add wine, cook until almost completely evaporated. Add the tomato passata or canned tomatoes. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste, add a pinch of sugar, if necessary. You can also scrape brown bits from the baking tray and add it to the sauce (more flavor!)
    • Simmer in the sauce: Arrange the meatballs in the sauce (now they can be overcrowded). Warm them up lightly or simmer for a few minutes over low heat, until cooked through (this will depend on how long they have been in the oven). The meatballs shouldn‘t be pink inside. You can also check if they‘re ready by measuring internal temperature, it should be 71°C / 160°F.

    serve:

    • Serve the meatballs with the tomato sauce and pasta (preferably egg pasta, fettucine or tagliatelle), sprinkled with parmesan cheese and parsley.
    • Enjoy!

    Notes

    • Storing and freezing: You can reheat the meatballs the next day, but do this carefully, they are fragile. They taste as good but are just not easy to reheat. Due to their delicate consistency, they, unfortunately, do not freeze well!
    • Fennel seed should not be omitted, they add an unique flavor to the meatballs!
    • Meat mixture: use beef or beef and pork mixture for tastier riscotta meatballs.
    • Stovetop vs oven method: Baking the meatballs in the oven is much simpler and quicker. On the other hand, they won’t be so beautifully browned, like you can do it on the pan. Additionally, when pan-frying the meatballs, you can brown bits at the bottom of the pan, which get them mixed with tomato sauce, making it wonderfully packed with flavor. Roasting the meatballs also produces some brown bits at the bottom of the roasting pan, but less. I most often pan-fry the meatballs for a special occasion and bake them for a family dinner. The choice is yours!

    Nutrition

    Calories: 799kcal
    Course dinner, Main Course
    Cuisine Italian
    Keyword ricotta meatballs, spicy tomato sauce

    Did you make this recipe? Let me know how you liked it and give it a star rating in the comments below! You can also add a photo of your creation!

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