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Ricotta and oregano meatballs

Wed, 30 November, 2022

Can beef meatballs be tender, delicate and almost subtle in taste? Yes they can, made with ricotta and Parmesan and cooked in a divine sauce to an Ottolenghi recipe.

ricotta and oregano meatballs

Meaty meatballs a no-no

If you’re making meatballs, you want them meaty. The best quality mince or even meat ground at home, not too fatty, with no cereal added – they are not sausages after all. Right?

Wrong. The above description will deliver product that is dry as a Lutheran sermon, tough like old boots and crumbly like sawdust. For perfect meatballs, less meat is actually much, much more. Completely counterintuitively.

I have always been a staunch opponent of the fake meat products. But considering the above, it makes me wonder whether the manufacturers of the ‘beyond’ and the ‘impossible’ are not onto something.

If, of course, those products were not in fact ultra-processed junk food choc-full of salt and sugar.

But a little meat goes a long way and it delivers taste, without recourse to mountains of salt and weird additives.

beef ricotta and oregano meatballs

Meatballs or breadballs?

I remember my mother’s meatballs always tasted great, even though she was on the whole a lousy cook.

She was an unfulfilled vegetarian which was not a feat you’d try to achieve in the totalitarian regime-ruled Poland, with shortages of everything. Adding said shortages to the equation, she’d usually bung a whole load of breadcrumbs, sometimes half a loaf, into the meatball mix, to an unexpectedly awesome outcome.

I don’t know how it is that meatballs are the tastier, the less meat they actually contain but the fact remains.

ricotta meatballs from ottolenghi


Dairy addition works wonders in the meatball mix and I have made tasty meatballs and meatloaves adding lots and lots of Parmesan, Pecorino or a little crème fraiche.

I have not tried adding soft cheese before encountering Ottolenghi’s ricotta meatball recipe. As usual, you can rely on Yotam’s expertise.

Ricotta is a by-product kind of cheese, made from the whey left over from other cheese production process. It’s cooked again – ‘ricotta’ means ‘re-cooked’ – and curdled with an acidic agent. The result is lean cheese that doesn’t melt.

That’s because it’s rennet that creates melty cheeses by wreaking havoc with their protein structure, which also explains why vegan cheese turns into sewage when melting is attempted.

But that characteristics makes ricotta ideal for cooking dishes that rely on it keeping the texture. Like cheesecakes, gnudi or meatballs.

beef meatballs with ricota in tomato sauce

How to make the ricotta meatball mix

I have veered only slightly from the original recipe by replacing fresh breadcrumbs with dried Panko and reducing the amount accordingly. It makes shaping a bit easier as the mix won’t be quite as wet and soft.

meatball mix

The aromatics are wonderful here, and don’t be tempted to reduce the oregano amount. Mix everything with your hands and shape golf ball-sized meatballs with wet hands.

They can be made ahead and sit in the fridge to firm up, which will make frying them easier without the risk of cracking.

shaped meatballs

The sauce for meatballs

It isn’t strictly a tomato sauce – the amount of carrot and onion makes it more of an all-rounder.

I fully recommend blitzing the onions with carrots and all in a food processor. Firstly, it tames the overpowering onion smell somewhat and secondly, it makes the sauce lovely and smooth in texture.

Starting with the veggie puree, cook it in a large sauté pan, adding the tomatoes, stock and seasoning after a few minutes.

cooking sauce

It will thicken within about fifteen minutes and be ready to receive the meatballs browned in a frying pan.

You can skip the browning – the meatballs will cook through in the sauce – but you’ll miss out on the scorched meat flavour, a.k.a. Maillard reaction.

frying meatballs

What to serve them with? That’s a silly question: spaghetti, of course!

More meatball recipes

Pork and smoky bacon meatballs with tomato flavoured bulgur wheat, a riff on Swedish, Italian and Moroccan meatball classics.

Pheasant meatloaf wrapped in prosciutto is not only a crowd pleaser: it’s also a good choice for both health and sustainability reasons.

Korean barbecue-style beef meatballs with spring onions, ginger and garlic plus a secret old-school meatball ingredient: crushed Ritz crackers.

More ricotta recipes

Vegetarian version of lasagne with spinach and ricotta is easier to make than beef lasagne, with cooked cream sauce used here instead of bechamel.

Jumbo pasta shells stuffed with ricotta and walnuts, baked in tomato sauce: conchiglioni ripieni al forno.

Keep your New York confections – I’ll go for lemon ricotta cheesecake every time. It’s a very good baked cheesecake, light and not too sweet.

ricotta meatballs

Ricotta and oregano meatballs

Servings: 4Time: 2 hours


  • 2 large onions
  • 2 medium carrots
  • 1 stalk celery or broccoli
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 bunch oregano sprigs
  • 400g (15 oz.) tinned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 500ml (2 cups) chicken stock
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • salt and black pepper
  • 500g (1 pound) minced beef
  • 45g (3 tbsp) Panko breadcrumbs
  • 250g (1 cup) ricotta
  • 60g (4 tbsp) grated Parmesan
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp chopped parsley


1. Peel and finely dice or grate the onions, carrots and celery or broccoli; you can also blitz them in a food processor but reserve half the onions for the meatballs before you mix them with carrots and all. Peel and crush the garlic.

2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large sauté or casserole pan with a lid over medium heat. Add half the amount of onions and garlic, all the minced carrots and broccoli and 8 whole oregano sprigs. Cook covered for 5-7 minutes until softened but not coloured.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes, sugar, half the stock, tomato puree, 1 tsp salt and a few grindings of a pepper mill. Stir and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until thickened.

4. In the meantime make the meatballs. Place the beef in a large bowl, add the reserved onion and garlic, breadcrumbs, ricotta, Parmesan, egg and parsley. Strip the leaves from all the remaining oregano sprigs, chop them finely and add to the bowl. Mix with your hands until smooth.

5. With wet hands shape the meatballs the size of a golf ball (about 70g each).

6. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a frying pan. Fry the meatballs, in batches if necessary, for 2 minutes on each side. Transfer them to the pan with the sauce and cook the next batch.

7. Add the remaining stock so the sauce comes up almost to the tops of the meatballs. Cover with the lid and simmer for 30 minutes. If by then the sauce is still watery, take off the lid and turn up the heat for the last few minutes.

8. Take the pan off the heat and rest for a couple of minutes. Serve with rice, pasta or bread.

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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