These Tender Ricotta Meatballs are light as air and packed with Italian sausage, parmesan cheese, garlic, and creamy ricotta cheese. They also happen to be baked Italian meatballs, so there’s no mess! Perfect as an appetizer, or when paired with a salad, dinner. Easy and SO delicious.
Tender Ricotta Meatballs
If you want the most airy, soft, tender meatballs, just add ricotta. It may sound a little odd, but trust me. These Tender Ricotta Meatballs are some of the best meatballs I’ve ever made. And you guys, I know meatballs.
It makes sense. When you add something light and fluffy, like ricotta, to ground meat, you have no other place to go but in that direction. When you also add in an egg and fluffy, milk-soaked panko breadcrumbs, well, you’ve just gone from light and airy, to melt-in-your-mouth, which is always a good thing when it comes to meatballs.
The most wonderful attribute of these tender ricotta meatballs? They take mere minutes to throw together and minutes to cook. There’s no spit and spatter of grease while the meatballs fry, because we bake them in the oven, where they get just as crusty and brown as they would on the stove. Oh, and you’re going to use parchment paper to cook the meatballs on, so there’s also no mess to clean up.
Also a time saver? Using your favorite store-bough marinara to nestle the tender meatballs on top of. I’m partial to this one, but any will do.
Ingredients in Tender Ricotta Meatballs
Italian sausage. Aside from the ricotta, Italian sausage is the most important ingredient in these tender ricotta meatballs. Similar to our favorite spaghetti and meatballs, Italian sausage lends ample flavor, because as is, they have a plethora of ingredients – pork, fennel, onion, garlic, and Italian seasoning – so you don’t have to add on a bunch of other ingredients.
Egg. We always need an egg to bind the ingredients together in a meatball. Just one large egg will do.
Grated onion and garlic. This is something I add to all of my meatballs, grated the onion and garlic allows the flavor to evenly disperse throughout the ricotta meatball, plus it keeps them nice and moist.
Ricotta. If you want light as air meatballs, just add ricotta. We also used the same method in these pillow-y spinach and ricotta gnudi, and we’ve been sold ever since. Not only does it keep the meat moist, but there’s something about the airy quality of creamy ricotta that adds the softest texture to meatballs, and well just about anything.
Fennel. Ok, so there’s already fennel in mild Italian sausage, but I’m kind of obsessed with it, so I add more. If fennel seed isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.
Breadcrumbs. Panko is what I like to use here. You can also use torn up white bread or plain breadcrumbs, just don’t use seasoned breadcrumbs!
Milk. Any kind will do! Skim, 2%, whole cream, half and half. It all works great.
How to make tender ricotta meatballs
Soak the breadcrumbs. This is a little trick I learned from Bobby Flay back in the day. If you take bread or breadcrumbs and soak them in milk in helps to create a super light and fluffy meatball. Usually I use day-old white bread, but in this version of ricotta meatballs, I used airy panko breadcrumbs. They don’t need to soak long, just throw the two ingredients while you gather the rest of your ingredients.
Combine the ingredients. While the breadcrumbs soak, add the Italian sausage, fennel, onion, garlic, ricotta, and egg to a medium bowl. Add the milk and breadcrumb mixture. Use your hands to quickly and gently toss the ingredients together.
Form the meatballs. Use a small ice cream or cookie scoop to form into about 18 meatballs, I used about two scoop fulls which equates to about two heaping tablespoons. Wet hands with cool water and roll the meatballs into balls.
Bake. Line the meatballs up on a sil pat or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for about 15 minutes until crust, brown and cooked through.
Assemble. Spoon a little bit of marinara into a serving dish. Dollop with ricotta. Place meatballs on top and cover with more marinara.
Can they be made in advance?
Yes! You have a variety of options when it comes to preparing the ricotta meatballs in advance.
- Form them into meatballs, don’t bake them and cover with plastic wrap. Store in the fridge for up to one day. When you’re ready to bake, set them at room temperature for 15 minutes and bake as instructed.
- Bake them, cool completely and store in an airtight container for up to three days. When you’re ready to serve, add the marinara to a large pot or skillet. Add the meatballs and simmer until the meatballs are warmed through. Serve as instructed.
- Bake the ricotta meatballs, cool completely and place on the baking sheet in the freezer until frozen. Remove from the baking sheet and store in a freezer ziplock bag or container for up to one month. When you’re ready to serve, add the marinara (you may need two jars if you’re heating up all the meatballs.) and frozen meatballs to the sauce and simmer until defrosted and warmed through. Serve as instructed.
Can I make these in the crockpot?
Sort of. So I would recommend baking them in the oven, but if you want to make this a crockpot meatball recipe, you can bake the meatballs, and then throw them in the crockpot with the jarred sauce and heat on low until you’re ready to eat.
How to make meatballs without breadcrumbs
If you want to leave out the breadcrumbs or don’t have them, you can absolutely do that. You can also soak any type of bread in milk instead. Or, you can leave out the breadcrumbs and bread altogether. Continue to add the milk.
How to cook meatballs on the stove.
If you really want to cook the meatballs on the stove, you absolutely can. Heat a large skillet to a medium-high heat and add about 1/4 cup of olive oil. Sear the meatballs on all sides, until crusty and brown. Pour the marinara sauce over and let them simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Substitutions and Tips and Tricks for Recipe Success
- Be sure to mix the meatballs only until the ingredients are combined, if you overwork the mixture, they won’t be super light and tender as they should be.
- For a an extra cheesy kick in the the meatballs, throw in a handful of grated parmesan cheese.
- If you want a spicier meatball, use hot Italian sausage instead of mild. If you love sweet Italian sausage use that!
- Want to lighten the ricotta meatballs up a little bit? Swap out the pork Italian sausage for turkey.
If you love these Tender Ricotta Meatballs, you’ll love these!
- These Coconut Curry Meatballs definitely aren’t your traditional meatballs, but they’re SO good. They’re made of ground pork, ginger, and garlic, and served in a super creamy coconut curry sauce.
- One Pot Healthier Spaghetti and Meatballs is a great way to get your meatball fix without the calories. Made with ground chicken and whole-wheat noodles, these will fill you up without weighing you down.
- If you really want something different, try these Blue Cheese Stuffed Turkey Meatballs. They’re one of my favorite appetizers, but they’d also be great as an entree.
- 1/2 cup panko
- 3 tbsp milk
- 1 lb sweet italian sausage
- 1 egg egg
- 2 tbsp parmesan
- 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
- 1 large garlic clove, grated
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- Mixing bowl
- baking sheet
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add panko and milk to a small bowl. Stir to combine.
- Add Italian sausage, egg, parmesan, ricotta, garlic, fennel, and salt to a medium bowl. Once the breadcrumbs have soaked, add the breadcrumbs and milk to the sausage mixture. Use your hands to gently mix the ingredients together. Don't overmix!
- Use a cookie scoop to portion the meatballs out, I do two scoops, which equates to about two heaping tablespoons. Wet your hands with cold water to roll them into round meatballs. Line up on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 15 minutes.
- While the meatballs cook, add marinara to small saucepan. Heat over a medium flame.
- When the meatballs are done, spoon some of the marinara on the bottom of your serving dish or plate. Dot with ricotta. Place meatballs on top and drizzle with more marinara. Garnish with parmesan cheese if desired.