Doable dinners: Crowd-pleasing ricotta meatballs make spaghetti optional

  • The author’s son, Nick, with a plate of spaghetti and ricotta meatballs.  COURTESY OF JULIA VANDENOEVER

  • Fry the meatballs in hot oil over low leat until browned on all sides. Contributed photo/ROBIN TESORO

  • Ricotta meatballs are a crowd-pleaser, with or without the spaghetti. Contributed Photo/ROBIN TESORO

  • Finish cooking the meatballs by simmering in marinara sauce. Contributed photo/ROBIN TESORO

  • Finished ricotta meatballs after simmering in sauce. Contributed photo/ROBIN TESORO

For the Gazette
Published: 9/4/2019 7:00:17 AM

As school begins, like many other parents, I go into prep mode. It’s time to make things ahead. One of my favorite meals that can be used for dinner and then the lunch box is meatballs. When you are in prep mode, it is always great to have a “two-for” meal. You can make it for dinner and then use the leftovers for lunches for a few days. We make meatballs a lot! I learned from my Italian husband. He makes his grandmother’s meatball recipe with cut up bread soaked in milk and will brown the garlic in the oil and remove the garlic. He does not use ricotta and those meatballs are great too, but this is how I have evolved my own recipe. It’s quick and easy and I love it and think you will too. Warning: Be not afraid of a little grease splatter.

Our son Nick would eat meatballs in a thermos every day for lunch at school so this is a great thing to have on hand when prepping for school lunch. These also freeze well so you can double the recipe and store them away for later. I use 80% lean/20% fat ground beef and ground pork but you can do this with turkey or whatever ground meat you choose.

Ricotta meatballs

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 eggs
1½  cups whole milk ricotta cheese
2 cups panko bread crumbs
1 cup fresh chopped Italian leaf parsley
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon pepper
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Sprinkle of nutmeg
2 tablespoons of olive oil or vegetable oil for frying

Have all the ingredients ready and prepare a large plate or tray for the meatballs and then another big platter lined with a paper towel for after the pan. In a big bowl mix all the ingredients with your clean hands and then shape into 1-inch round meatballs. I prefer smaller meatballs even though it takes more time — they are a great size for kids.

Heat the oil on medium to high until bubbling a little in a large frying pan and then turn the heat way down. Add the meatballs, using tongs to roll them over and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan onto the paper towel-lined platter to degrease. It is OK if they are not fully cooked because they will simmer in the sauce for a while after. Brown all the meatballs, and then let them rest. You can discard the grease from the pan into a safe container when it cools. As for splattering oil, don’t let any water from hands or utensils near the oil and do not have the heat too high while cooking.

Heat a 26-ounce jar of marinara sauce in a large, deep frying pan. (We use an excellent jarred one that tastes like homemade. Hint: it has a green label and my last name on it.) When the marinara is simmering, add the meatballs into the pan and let simmer with the lid for at least 20 minutes, turning the meatballs to coat and cook throughout. You can serve the meatballs with spaghetti or alone. I suggest that you simmer the spaghetti in marinara after it is cooked and drained so that you coat every piece of pasta and make it taste like you are in Italy – or at least that you make it like an Italian grandmother would (I’ve learned that this is important). The meatballs are really good with a sprinkle of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and even better reheated as leftovers. They are tender inside and a little crispy outside. My son Nick gobbles them up and it makes me happy when I know he is eating something solid, especially at school. And he luckily he doesn’t mind having the same meal a few times in a row. You can also make a meatball grinder with leftovers, and for a thermos add some cooked pastina for a little extra nourishment. Having meatballs ready to go makes for easy meals when company comes over. It is a crowd-pleaser for our family and friends and I think you will enjoy them.


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