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Author Notes: I love baked pasta dishes, but the ricotta cheese always seems to melt into the sauce. This is my attempt to preserve the texture of ricotta cheese in an Italian dish. I love meatballs, and what could be more fun than finding a surprise bite of cheese in the middle of each one? —cookinginvictoria
Makes about 21 meatballs (serves 4 people with leftovers)
Making the Meatballs
- 1/2 cup yellow onions (about 1/2 of a medium size onion), finely chopped
- 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 slices rustic bread (stale is fine)
- 1 cup milk
- 12 ounces bulk Italian sausage (spicy if you like extra heat; otherwise mild is fine)
- 12 ounces good-quality ground beef
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
- 3/4 cup fresh homemade ricotta (preferably not from the supermarket)
- 1/8 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste), divided
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup dry bread crumbs (if needed)
- In small skillet over medium low heat, saute onions in olive oil until just starting to turn golden. Add garlic and stir for about a minute or until garlic fragrance is released. Remove from heat and let pan cool.
- Tear bread into 6-8 large pieces. Soak in milk for about 10-15 minutes. When pieces feel soft, but are not disintegrating, take them out and squeeze milk out of bread with your fingers. Crumble bread into small pieces and set aside.
- In a medium size bowl, add ricotta cheese, 1/8 cup parsley, basil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Mix until combined. With your hands form ricotta mixture into small balls (about 3/4 of an inch each). Make about 22 balls and set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large bowl, add ground beef, sausage, eggs, 3 tablespoons parsley, cheese, pine nuts and 3/4 teaspoon salt (or more) to taste and a few grinds of black pepper. With your hands, gently but thoroughly mix mixture until combined. Mixture should feel moist, but if it feels too wet, add dry bread crumbs, a tablespoon at a time until texture feels right. Form meatballs into 2-inch balls. With the handle of a wooden spoon or your finger, make a tiny hole in each meatball, being careful not to poke all of the way through, and push small ricotta ball into the hole. Pat beef mixture so that it completely encloses ricotta cheese ball and set on foil-lined baking sheet. Make other meatballs in the same fashion. Note: Be careful not to stuff too much cheese into each meatball; otherwise, they will split during baking.
- After you have made the meatballs, you will probably have two baking sheets of meatballs. Slide in oven and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until browned on top. (If making ahead, dish can be refrigerated at this point.)
- Slide meatballs into your favorite marinara sauce (see below) and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Ladle meatballs and sauce into bowl. Three meatballs makes a nice serving. Garnish with additional grated cheese and serve with crusty bread. Or serve meatballs and sauce as a topping for pasta. Enjoy!
Making the Marinara Sauce
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 28 ounce can of good quality tomatoes, preferably San Marzano (if it's tomato season, use vine ripened tomatoes -- peel and seed them first)
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- In large Dutch oven or skillet with sides, saute onion in olive oil until just starting to turn golden. Add garlic, and stir for a minute or two, just until its fragrance is released.
- Add tomatoes (and their juice) to pan. Break up tomatoes slightly with wooden spoon. Bring heat up to medium until mixture reaches a steady simmer. Turn heat down a notch and simmer for about 30 minutes until tomatoes have started to thicken. Add salt (start with about 1/2 teaspoon) and taste until sauce is to your liking. Add pepper and parsley and basil. Continue to simmer for about 10 more minutes. If sauce is thickening too much, add pasta-cooking water or regular water to thin. Enjoy with meatballs (above) or with pasta.
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Recipe with Fresh Ricotta