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Ricotta meatballs are easy to love, because creamy, full-fat ricotta makes incredibly light and airy meatballs. Mix them up in minutes using ground chicken, turkey or beef, whole milk ricotta cheese, and Italian-style seasonings. Serve these tender beauties with homestyle marinara sauce or your favorite sauce. And make a double batch for the freezer!
You’ve told me you want more meatball recipes for dinner — and so here we are! These ricotta meatballs are a lightened-up version of my grandma’s classic Italian meatballs recipe, which is made with beef and pork.
Main ingredients in ricotta meatballs
- Ground chicken: For maximum texture and flavor, I highly recommend using ground chicken thigh instead of chicken breast to make these meatballs, just like my recipe for chicken meatballs with pesto. The dark meat has slightly more fat, which translates into juicy meatballs! Ground turkey thigh or even ground beef can be substituted.
- Ricotta cheese: Full-fat, whole milk ricotta is what you’re looking for, you know the type to use in a classic lasagna recipe.
- Eggs: Use whole large eggs, and whisk before adding to the mixture so it will easily incorporate.
- Breadcrumbs: With ricotta and egg adding moisture, coarse homemade breadcrumbs or panko crumbs help to bind the meatball mixture.
- Fresh basil: A handful of aromatic basil leaves infuses the mild chicken meat with its distinctive fragrance and color — basil chicken is a lovely match-up. If you don’t have fresh basil, you can use 2 teaspoons dried basil plus fresh chopped parsley for color.
How to make the meatballs
Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs (Baked or Pan-Fried)
Yield: about 30 meatballs
- 2 pounds (907 g) ground chicken thigh, turkey or lean beef
- 8 ounces (225 g) whole milk ricotta cheese, excess liquid drained
- ½ cup panko, or coarse breadcrumbs
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup fresh basil leaves, chopped, or substitute 2 teaspoons dried basil or chopped fresh parsley
- 2 teaspoons grated or finely chopped garlic
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or crushed red pepper
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Put the ground chicken, ricotta, panko, eggs, Parmesan, basil, garlic, cayenne, 2 teaspoons salt and black pepper in a large bowl and mix well. Form the mixture into approximately 2-ounce meatballs, using damp hands to make them less sticky, or portion with an oiled cookie scoop.
- Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a piece of parchment. Arrange the meatballs on the sheet and drizzle them with some olive oil. Bake 20 minutes, turning them over halfway through, or until the meatballs are golden brown all over and cooked through (160-165F on a meat thermometer).
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs to the pan — they should sizzle on contact or the pan isn't hot enough. Cook the meatballs 3-5 minutes, or until golden brown on one side. Turn them over and continue cooking until they feel firm to the touch and are cooked through. Tip: For juicier meatballs, cover the pan after flipping them the first time, lowering the heat to medium so the residual steam heat will finish cooking them.
- If you'd like to serve the meatballs with marinara or your favorite pasta sauce, cook or bake them until they're halfway done. Drop them into your simmering sauce and cook about 10 minutes.
- The meatballs are fun to serve with sturdy toothpicks, along with a bowl of zesty tomato sauce on the side for dipping.
Karen’s Notes and Tips
- For the best texture and flavor, I highly recommend using ground chicken thigh instead of chicken breast to make these meatballs. The dark meat has slightly more fat, which translates into juicy meatballs! Ground turkey thigh or even ground beef can be substituted.
- Chicken meatballs are freezer friendly. To freeze, arrange them in one layer on a tray and freeze until solid. Transfer to a ziplock bag or other airtight container and freeze 1-2 months.
- Store fresh meatballs in the refrigerator up to 3 days. Reheat in a low oven or in the microwave so they don’t dry out, or warm them up in chicken soup or meat broth.