These meatballs made with ricotta are so flavorful and tender! Serve them with pasta, on a sub roll, or with a straightforward side salad.
Bonus: They cook quickly on the stovetop, in a crock pot, and in two different ways in the oven. Additionally, they are freezer and make-ahead friendly.
A juicy, flavorful meatball is something I can never resist, but when that meatball is paired with a rich, creamy herb ricotta mixture, it elevates the dish to a whole new level.
The ideal panade is made by combining half and half with breadcrumbs, and it is then improved by adding 1 whisked egg, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, fresh parsley, basic seasonings, and, of course, creamy herb ricotta.
What is a Panade
A panade is a paste made from a combination of liquid and starch. To keep the meat's tender texture in meatballs, meatloaf, or burgers, it is combined with the meat.
Proteins in the meat expand and contract as it cooks, allowing moisture to escape. As the meat cooks, the starch in the panade transforms into a gel and lubricates the meat's fibers.
How to Make It
The ricotta herb mixture should be combined and set aside. The garlic should be added after the onions have softened and cooked for 1 minute. Cool off and set aside.
In a sizable bowl, combine 34 cups of the herb ricotta mixture, the egg, half-and-half, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley, Italian seasoning, and mustard powder. Add the cooled onions and/or garlic.
Add the ground chuck to the large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and then combine it gently with your hands.
Meatballs should be formed into 1 12-inch ball before being chilled for 15 minutes.
As you brown the meatballs in the oil in batches, make sure to give yourself plenty of room around each one so you can easily rotate them. Remove and set aside.
A large skillet with a thick wall should be used to cook the meatballs and marinara sauce. Spoon in the sauce in small amounts. Simmer on medium heat for 30 minutes with a partial cover. In the final 15 minutes, top with 9 dollops of the remaining herb ricotta. Serve!
- Brown and chill: Assemble and cook the meatballs according to the instructions. Allow them to completely cool. Refrigerate for up to 3 days after transferring to an airtight container. They should simmer in the sauce for an additional 10 minutes after being added.
- Brown and Freeze: Prepare the meatballs as directed and then brown them. Allow them to completely cool. Place on a plate or baking sheet, then freeze for a few hours. Transfer to a gallon freezer bag after removal. For up to three months, freeze. They can be added to sauce from frozen and heated through, or they can thaw overnight in the refrigerator.
For up to 3 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer, store in an airtight container.
- 32 oz. marinara sauce
- ½ cup olive oil, divided
Herb Ricotta Mixture
- 15 oz. Ricotta cheese
- 1 teaspoon EACH: dried basil, oregano, parsley, minced garlic
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Egg, whisked
- ½ cup half and half, can sub cream
- ½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese
- ⅓ cup roughly chopped parsley, plus more to garnish
- 1 teaspoon EACH: Italian seasoning, mustard powder, salt
- ½ teaspoon Pepper
- 1 lb. ground chuck, 80% lean
- ½ lb. ground pork, or ground sausage or veal
Stove Top Method (See notes for baking/crock pot methods)
- Combine the Herb Ricotta mixture and set aside.
- Heat 1 tbsp. olive oil in a skillet and add the finely diced onion. Soften for 5 minutes, then add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Set aside and let cool.
- In a large bowl, combine the egg, half and half, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley, Italian seasoning, mustard powder, and ¾ cup of the herb Ricotta mixture. Add the cooled onions/garlic.
- Season the meat with salt and pepper, add it to the large bowl and gently mix it with your hands until well-combined. (Don’t overwork the meat or it will become tough.)
- Roll into 1 ½-inch meatballs and transfer them to the fridge for 15 minutes.
- Heat remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Use enough oil to cover the meatballs almost halfway.
- Brown the meatballs in batches, leave plenty of room around each so that you can easily rotate them without having to pick them up to flip them. Brown for about 1 ½ minutes per side. Use kitchen tongs to remove and set aside.
- Remove excess oil from the skillet and add 32 oz. of marinara sauce. The sauce will thicken and reduce during cooking so I recommend that you add about ¼+ cup water as well so that the sauce doesn’t get too thick. You can do this now or later as you judge the consistency. (The ricotta topping thickens it more as well.)
- Add the meatballs to the skillet and spoon the sauce on top. Cook for 30 minutes over medium heat, partially covered. Use a small cookie scoop to dollop the remaining herb ricotta mixture on top and allow it to heat through during the last 15 minutes.
- Garnish with parsley and serve.
- I use Rao's marinara sauce with this recipe, it's the best marinara sauce you'll ever try! Feel free to make this with my easy homemade marinara sauce as well.
- Any combination of ground chuck, ground pork, ground sausage, and ground veal can be used in these meatballs.
- Grate the Parmesan cheese from a wedge for best flavor and consistency, try to avoid using packaged grated cheese. I use Belgioioso Parmesan cheese.
- Coating your hands in a little oil makes it easier to handle and roll out the meatballs.
- Method 1: Bake with sauce- Once the meatballs are browned, add ¾ of the marinara sauce to a 9x13-inch casserole dish. Add the meatballs and top with remaining sauce. Cover and bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove the cover and add dabs of the remaining herb ricotta on top. Bake uncovered for 15 more minutes.
- Method 2: Bake without sauce- Assemble and brown the meatballs on the stove top as outlined in the recipe. Line a light 18 x 13 baking sheet with parchment paper or with a silicone baking sheet. If you don’t have either, you can lightly spray it with nonstick spray. Note that dark baking sheets attract more heat which could burn the bottom of the meatballs. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, the internal temperature needs to reach 160°.
Slow Cooker Method:
- Assemble and brown the meatballs on the stove top as outlined in the recipe. Transfer to the Crock Pot and add the marinara sauce. Heat on high for 3-4 hours or on low for 6-7.
- Add the remaining ricotta mixture during the last 20 minutes or so, to allow it time to heat up.
- Brown and Refrigerate: Assemble and brown the meatballs as outlined. Let them cool completely. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Add them to the sauce and give 10 additional minutes of simmering time.
- Brown and Freeze: Assemble and brown the meatballs as outlined. Let them cool completely. Place on a baking sheet or plate and freeze for 1-2 hours. Remove and transfer to a gallon freezer bag. Freeze for up to 3 months. They can be thawed in the fridge overnight or added to sauce from a frozen state until warm and cooked through.
- Store in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.