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Sausage Meatballs with Ricotta in Tomato Sauce

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

Meatballs with Ricotta in Tomato Sauce
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

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 90 mins
Total Time 105 mins
Servings 5 to 6 servings

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.

* 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.

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
  • Extra virgin 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

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.

    meatballs-ricotta-tomato-method-1
    Elise Bauer

    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.

    Line up the ricotta meatballs on a baking sheet
    Elise Bauer
  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!)

    meatballs-ricotta-tomato-method-3
    Elise Bauer

    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.