Sausage Meatballs with Ricotta in Tomato Sauce

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Italian meatballs with ground pork shoulder, Italian sausage, bread, ricotta cheese, eggs, and herbs, in a simple tomato sauce with basil and Parmesan.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Do you like Italian meatballs? I’ve been experimenting with meatball recipes and have found an excellent one here.

The basic idea is to take a base of ground sausage or pork, mix in other meat such as ground beef, pancetta or prosciutto, add herbs, bread cubes, ricotta cheese and eggs, then brown them on high heat in the oven, add some crushed tomatoes and cook on lower heat until they are done.

The following is an adaptation from a couple recipes from San Francisco’s A16 restaurant (the book A16: Food + Wine and an A16 recipe in Food and Wine). We used half ground pork and half Italian sweet sausage, with some minced prosciutto for these meatballs.

We use sausage because of the seasoning and the higher fat content which keeps the meatballs from drying out. The ricotta helps as a binder and also helps smooth out the texture and enrich the flavor.

We’re meatball lovers here, so if you have a favorite meatball recipe to share, please let us know about it in the comments.

Sausage Meatballs with Ricotta in Tomato Sauce Recipe

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  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
  • Yield: Makes about 24 meatballs, serves 5-6

If fresh basil is not available, add a tablespoon of dried basil to the tomatoes before adding to the meatballs. Alternatively, Muir Glen makes a canned tomato with basil in it which would also work.

Ingredients

  • 10 ounces ground pork shoulder
  • 10 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
  • 2 ounces prosciutto or pancetta, minced (helps to put in freezer for 15 min first, before mincing, will make it easier to cut)
  • 4 cups cubed white bread, crusts removed first.
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup ricotta cheese
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Olive oil
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (high quality, either San Marzano or Muir Glen)
  • 1/4 cup chiffonaded* fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

* to chiffonade basil leaves, stack leaves on top of each other, then roll up leaves lengthwise like a cigar, slice thinly starting at the end.

Method

1 In a large bowl, add the pork, Italian sausage, prosciutto or pancetta, bread cubes, parsley, oregano, fennel, red pepper flakes, and salt. Use your hands to mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Do not over-work.

2 Incorporate eggs and ricotta: Whisk the beaten eggs and ricotta together in a separate bowl until there are no more large clumps of ricotta. Pour into the bowl of the meat mixture. Mix with your hands until just incorporated. Again, do not over-mix.

If you want, to test seasoning, you can take a small bit of the mix, form into a patty, and heat in a small skillet on the stovetop until cooked through. Depending on how this test patty tastes to you, add more herbs, chili, or salt to taste to the meat mixture. Keep meat mixture in refrigerator while doing this.

3 Form meatballs and place in roasting pan: Preheat oven to 425°F. Coat the bottom of a large roasting pan with olive oil. Form meatballs in your hand, about 1 1/2-inches in diameter, using about 3 Tbsp of the mixture to form each meatball. Arrange in pan so there is some space between them. If too crowded they will steam and not brown.

4 Brown meatballs in the oven at 425°F for about 30 minutes, turning the meatballs after about 20 minutes, until the meatballs are beginning to brown.

5 Add crushed tomatoes, lower oven temp: Remove pan from oven. Use a metal spatula to dislodge meatballs from being stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the crushed tomatoes to the pan. Carefully cover the pan with aluminum foil (carefully because the pan is still hot!)

Return the pan to the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F. Cook for an additional hour to 1 1/2 hours.

Sprinkle basil into sauce before serving.

Top with grated Parmesan.

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Showing 4 of 32 Comments

  • Sandy

    re: not browning the meatballs

    I was never happy with the meatballs I made until a colleague shared her grandmother’s recipe–drop the meatballs right into the gently boiling sauce. Pure heaven! Wouldn’t make them any other way. I can’t wait to try this recipe with ricotta.

  • Michael

    You have all the bases covered, and I’m certain they will be great. I have two suggestions: Drain the ricotta, and use a lower heat to cook the meatballs, else they dry out.

    Also, I’d use a French or Italian bread instead of the (ugh) American loaf. What’s wrong with crust? it’s good for you. Bon Appetit!
    Michael

    Hi Michael, we do use French or Italian loaf, the crust on those tends to be a little hard, so it makes it easier to combine with the meat if the crust is removed (saved for making bread crumbs). The meatballs are cooked after browning at 300°F, covered, in the sauce, and they do not dry out. ~Elise

  • Giff

    re: your question: I am a fan of Jamie Oliver’s approach of stewing meatballs with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil. I love flavoring the meatballs with cumin and some red pepper flakes, and I’ll often add in things to the stew like mature arugula leaves or brussel sprouts. I have switched over to using much more pork than beef in my meatballs, especially if it is good pork shoulder meat.

  • Amy

    I have to say, I am rather partial to BBQ meatballs on garlic bread with melty brie, but these sound so tempting! Maybe my husband can forgo the BBQ sauce just once…

    BBQ meatballs on garlic bread with melted brie? Wow. I could so go there. ~Elise

  • Dominique (de vous à moi...)

    I’ll try yours: at home eveyone love meatballs. Mine are flavoured with cumin (Jamie Oliver’s recipe too)and sometimes I use fresh mint, when I don’t find good fresh basil!

    Mmm. We use fresh mint in our meatballs for albondigas soup. So good! ~Elise

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