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+ servings
ricotta meatballs
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5 from 2 votes

Ricotta meatballs with spicy tomato sauce

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



  • 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)


  • 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


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.


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


    • 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!


    Calories: 799kcal