veal ricotta meatballs

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

This is a very important post, dear readers. One that’s taken me many hours to put together, because I cannot implore you enough that whatever it is you’re doing right now – you need to stop and rush to your kitchens to make these. I know – you’re thinking, meatballs, big deal, what’s the rush. But because I’m what you’d call, a meatballs skeptic, this is doubly important. I wouldn’t just sigh over any meatballs, right? They would have to be really, truly magnificent. And they are.

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

These are the meatballs I’ve dreamed about for over a year. A year, people – do you know how long that is in food obsession terms? That’s twelve long months of fantasizing about these orbs made seemingly out of meat clouds and so delicious and light, they practically melt in your mouth. You barely even have to chew them. And until very recently, they weren’t a staple in my kitchen. But that’s all changed now.

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

About a year ago, a good friend of mine took me to a little wine bar in the East Village called Terroir, run by the same lovely folks behind a thoughtfully run restaurant “Hearth” where Marco Canora, the chef behind this recipe, makes his amazing dishes. She had mentioned, on our way there, that aside from an excellent wine list, there are some worthwhile nibbles we should order, namely, the veal ricotta meatballs, which we promptly ordered upon arrival and that order changed everything I knew about the dish. These weren’t regular meatballs of my past: heavy and dense and bland; instead they were light, delicate and perfectly seasoned. I tasted a bite of Parmiggiano, a gentle hint of ricotta, a tang of tomato sauce. Instantly smitten, I knew, at that exact moment, that these were the meatballs I’ve been searching for (if one does indeed go on a search for the perfect meatball, which you know I would, because that’s the kind of girl I am).

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

Since then, I’ve sent dozen of my friends to the bar, always instructing them to order the meatballs and have tried to recreate the magic at home. Until two nights ago, I’ve been using the Mario Batali recipe, but after Deb alerted me to Marco Canora’s recipe, I switched over. The ingredient list and proportions are very similar, if not identical. But a few additional steps, and helpful hints below, I think, make this recipe more useful. These meatballs are a process and take over a day to make, which, I know, is a bit belabored for something as rustic as a meatball. However, asking your butcher to triple-grind your meat (which is recommended below) ensures a delicate, light texture. Starting on your ricotta cheese the night before, is a necessary step because store bought ricotta just won’t cut it, and you see in the previous recipe just how easy it is to make ricotta at home. Moreover, I read somewhere, in relation to this recipe that you need to have your ricotta cheese need to be the texture/density of tofu (super helpful, right?), really helps you in determining how much draining of ricotta you have to do. And there’s also chilling the meatballs before frying them. I’m not sure what chilling your meatballs before frying does, but I dutifully followed directions and can tell you, it’s worth the trouble because the results are that good.

veal ricotta meatballs - take 2

And while normally meatballs are an accessory to spaghetti, I urge you to resist having them play second fiddle. These are in their own category of excellence and deserve to be first violin at your dinner with a solo performance. Serve them alongside a simple salad, as it’ll only highlight the rustic simplicity of the dish. Spaghetti and meatballs, just might become a thing of the past.

Veal and Ricotta Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
Recipe by Marco Canora via New York Times

1 pound ricotta cheese
1 pound ground veal (triple ground by butcher or at home), chilled
2 large eggs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon salt, or as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg, as needed
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup flour, or as needed
4 cups mild tomato sauce


1. Wrap ricotta in cheesecloth a day before serving and place in a sieve set over a bowl. Weight cheese, cover and refrigerate overnight. (Cheese should then have consistency of tofu.)

2. The next day, combine all ingredients except oil, flour and sauce in a bowl and mix with hands until completely smooth, pale and homogenized, about 4 minutes. Test seasoning by frying a bit in hot oil. It should taste assertively salty (braising in sauce tames seasoning); adjust salt if needed. Cover and chill before shaping into meatballs.

3. Dust a baking sheet and your hands with flour. Keep remaining flour nearby in bowl. Gently form meat into nine balls, flouring your hands again between meatballs (alternatively use a floured ice cream scoop to form the meatballs). Place the meatballs on the floured baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, about 1 hour. You can also freeze the meatballs until a later date; this is a great thing to do if you double or triple your batch of meatballs.

4.Place about 1 1/2 inches oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, fry meatballs, moving them as little as possible. When bottoms are golden brown, after about 2 minutes, gently turn them. Fry until uniformly brown on all sides. Meanwhile, heat sauce in pot over medium-low heat and when meatballs are done, remove from oil with slotted spoon and add to sauce.

5. Simmer over medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes; they can remain in the sauce for hours. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Can be refrigerated overnight, and gently reheated. Serve meatballs in sauce alone, or over pasta, with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano passed separately.

Yield: 4 servings.


  • Jennifer

    Growing up Italian, I know a thing or two about meatballs. While I’ve never had them from Terroir, tasting the ones at Frankies 457 in Brooklyn, did change my thinking. Every family’s recipe is steeped in tradition, and while I use some of my aunt’s techniques, passed down from my nana, I’ve changed the recipe around a bit to include a mix of beef and pork. I’ll have to play with ricotta next.

    As for the chilling, I imagine it helps for a better crust and it certainly helps the mixture develop a richer flavor, allowing the flavors to really seep into the meat. So, when should I come for dinner?

  • Kate F

    these look incredible! i adore craftbar’s veal ricotta meatballs so clearly i need to do two things:

    1. go to terroir (i’ve heard such great things from SO many people but have yet to go)
    2. make your recipe so i can have this deliciousness anytime

    thanks for posting!

  • Susan

    Just reading this is making me so hungry, though sadly, I live in London and nowhere near Terroir. ;o( I’ve read the recipe and am ready to make my own except… what does it mean to “weight the cheese”? And is it correct that I make only nine meatballs from this recipe? It looks like you made them into about 1-in balls…? I want to make sure I do this right. ;o) Thanks!

  • Radish

    Susan, i think you’re supposed to put something on top of the ricotta to help flatten/thicken it – i didn’t and mine was the right consistency. My meatballs were quite generous in size (I imitated Marco’s execution of them) so 3-4 are more than enough as a main course, or a couple as a snack. I got more than 9 though, which is hardly a problem. You can just freeze the meatballs you don’t need and eat them later!

  • Suzy

    Wow. I didn’t know that anyone admitted to eating veal these days… I suggest that anyone who is interested in eating this do some research on how the baby cows on veal farms are raised. It’s very cruel & sad, and I can’t imagine you’d be hungry after that.

  • Susan

    Thanks, Radish. I’m looking forward to the weekend when I can make, eat and store some of these yummy looking meatballs! ;oP

  • help!

    what do i do with the bowl of flour from step 3? you never speak of it again…

  • olga

    help! – thanks for your question, I have further clarified it. I hope it helps.

  • Kimberly Bahmanyar

    Made these tonight, absolutely wonderful and delicious! The recipe made 16 meatballs, not sure where the number 9 came from. Used a NYT Cooking Marinara Recipe, very simple, San Mariano tomatoes, lots of garlic, oregano and basil.

  • olga

    Kimberly – it depends on the size of the meatballs.. Ours are fairly large (the size of about 2 regular meatballs). I’ve not made this in awhile, so will make again and revisit. Thanks!

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