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I’ve never met a homemade meatball I didn’t like. Ground beef, turkey, pork, or lamb. Fried, baked, grilled, or broiled. Sauce or no sauce. Jumbo or miniature. Served on toothpicks or nestled in noodles. They all have their place. I make meatballs for my kids’ birthday dinners, serve them for dinner parties, and turn to them during the week.
So with all due respect to all of the meatballs I’ve made over the years, I’ve found my ultimate version.
Meet porchetta meatballs. They’re made from ground pork and seasoned with fennel seed, orange zest, garlic, rosemary, and parsley—so basically all of the classic flavors of porchetta in a fraction of the time. Even as meatballs go, these are super speedy. They’re bound with ricotta versus traditional eggs and breadcrumbs and broiled on a sheet pan until browned and crispy—no hot oil to tend to, no grease splatters to clean up afterward. They’re spunky and full of flavor, meatballs that need no adornment but can be served any which way.
For a simple weeknight dinner, pair them with vegetables (add broccoli to the same sheet pan that you’ve used to cook the meatballs, and broil until brown and crispy, a spin on this recipe). Serve them with crusty bread and a leafy salad; tuck them in a toasted hoagie roll with garlicky rapini and mozzarella; or thinly slice them for a stellar pizza topping. Or, of course, cover them in your go-to sauce, pile on top of spaghetti, and shower with parmesan.
For the ultimate experience, go this baked pasta route. Toss the meatballs in marinara sauce, cradle them in tubes or shells (I like penne or conchiglie), fold in cubes of mozzarella, add big swooshes of ricotta, and bake until the cheese is bubbly and gooey and the pasta browned and a little crunchy on top. And not just any marinara sauce, but Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce (porchetta meatballs deserve the best). Marcella sauce is absolutely perfect as is (an alchemy of three simple ingredients: tomatoes, butter, and onion), but for this baked pasta, I like to swap the onion with fennel to reinforce the fennel flavor in the meatballs. The whole dish can be assembled in advance, popped in the oven when you’re ready, and brought straight to the table for an unforgettable meal.
I’m pretty positive that you won’t find a simpler, more delicious way to enjoy meatballs than this.
For the porchetta meatballs
- 2 pounds ground pork
- 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest (from 1 large or 2 small oranges)
- 2 teaspoons fennel seed, lightly crushed or chopped
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing pan
For rest of dish
- 2 28-ounce cans whole tomatoes
- 8 tablespoons butter
- 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and sliced lengthwise into six to eight pieces
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 1 pound pasta, such as penne or medium shells
- 1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta
- 1 1/2 cups cubed or shredded mozzarella
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving