Here they are—the top sellers at The Meatball Shop and sure to be a big hit at home. Most traditional meatball recipes call for Parmesan or pecorino cheese. While we’re big fans of these stronger cheeses, we prefer ricotta. It’s our secret weapon. The mild and creamy consistency of this fresh cheese gives the meatballs a unique, light texture. Beef has a subtle flavor, and the ricotta is a great way to add fat and moisture to the recipe without the overpowering flavor of a sharper cheese. These are quick to prep, and baking rather than frying makes this a fast comfort food even during the busiest of weeks.–Daniel Holzman and Michael Chernow

How to serve meatballs

Remember that little ditty about somebody’s meatballs that some poor hungry soul lost when somebody sneezed? Well, there’s more ways to serve your meatballs than over pasta. Like in a sandwich. Or on pizza. Or, well, you tell us. Let us know in a comment below.

Three classic beef meatballs piled on pasta in a white and green bowl an finished with Parmesan.

Classic Beef Meatballs

5 / 5 votes
Craving classic beef meatballs but don’t want to wait? These juicy, flavorsome beauties are quick to make and never disappoint and can be served any way that you like.
David Leite
Servings24 meatballs
Calories150 kcal
Prep Time25 minutes
Cook Time35 minutes
Total Time1 hour


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 pounds 80% lean ground beef
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped oregano leaves, or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 4 cups classic tomato sauce, (store-bought or homemade)


  • Preheat the oven to 450°F (232°C). Drizzle the olive oil in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and use your hand to slick the entire surface.
  • In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ricotta, eggs, bread crumbs, parsley, oregano, salt, fennel, and red pepper flakes. Gently mix by hand until everything is thoroughly incorporated.
  • Roll the mixture into round, golf ball-size meatballs (about 1 1/2 inches in diameter), making sure to pack the meat firmly. Place the balls in the prepared baking dish, being careful to line them up snugly in even rows vertically and horizontally to form a grid. The meatballs should be touching one another.
  • Roast until the meatballs are firm and cooked through and a meat thermometer inserted into the center of a meatball reads 165°F (74°C), 20 to 30 minutes.
  • While the meatballs are roasting, warm the tomato sauce in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring often.
  • When the meatballs are firm and fully cooked, remove them from the oven and tip the pan to remove the excess grease into the garbage. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs and turn to coat. Return the meatballs to the oven and continue roasting for another 15 minutes. 
  • Serve as desired. Originally published October 28, 2013.



Substitute ground turkey for the beef. That’s it. Everything else remains the same.
The Meatball Shop Cookbook

Adapted From

The Meatball Shop Cookbook

Buy On Amazon


Serving: 1 meatballCalories: 150 kcalCarbohydrates: 4 gProtein: 9 gFat: 11 gSaturated Fat: 4 gMonounsaturated Fat: 5 gTrans Fat: 0.5 gCholesterol: 48 mgSodium: 348 mgFiber: 1 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2011 Daniel Holzman | Michael Chernow. Photo © 2011 John Kernick. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

Wowza. I can’t believe I had never made meatballs before now! After making this recipe, they will be a regular part of the rotation. I had some friends over for a casual supper, and this made for a superb spaghetti and meatball entree with garlic bread. We kept going back for more, so nobody made it to the salad course.

The meatballs were tender and moist with a nice tang from the ricotta. Next time I might add a bit more fennel, that was a lovely flavor. I increased the recipe by one-half to feed the crowd, so three pounds of ground beef made 34 meatballs. I used 1 1/2 pounds of linguini fini and two 25-ounce jars of Lidia’s Marinara. Quick to make, just slide the pan into the oven and enjoy time with your friends. I had a nice Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano to go with the pasta. Truly a classic and simple supper to share with those you love!

This recipe creates a meatball that is firm and dense. The mixture comes together quickly and looked so pretty going into the oven. I’m not an accomplished meatballer and my meatballs usually fall apart while cooking, especially when the recipe calls for pan-frying or simmering.

When I tried these right out of the oven, I wanted to miss the cheese and garlic, and I did a bit. But once paired with a nice tomato sauce (Rao’s Tomato Basil), good pasta, and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano, they were delicious and held their shape beautifully.

My son was so inspired that he sang a rousing rendition of On Top of Spaghetti halfway through his meal (and he actually cleaned his plate!). If you’re looking for a quick, simple meatball recipe that may inspire spontaneous singing at the dinner table, you’ve come to the right place.

We enjoy meatballs in this household, so we had to give this one a tryout. This recipe resulted in a wonderfully tender and tasty meatball. We enjoyed it over some gemelli pasta, lightly tossed with a caramelized fennel tomato cream sauce. A keeper for sure!

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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Recipe Rating


  1. 5 stars
    I have to admit that I have the book this recipe came from, but I haven’t tried that many recipes from it. This one is good—fast, flavorful, and flexible. I tried this one because none of my current meatball recipes use ricotta, so I was curious as to how they would compare. One thing this recipe is missing is GARLIC. I wanted to see if the flavors could stand up without the garlic (which I love). Good news is that the flavors are both mellow and traditional, so this is a great Italian recipe to serve for a date night…..sans garlic bread on the side.
    I used organic ground beef in 20oz packages from the big-box ‘C’ store. I had to use 2 packages, so I weighed it out to get an accurate result. The extra beef didn’t go to waste—I browned it and added to the jarred sauce. Yum. I don’t normally keep ricotta in the house, so that was an extra expense. I used my favorite ricotta, only available in the deli. I had the remaining ingredients, so once I had the ricotta, I was ready to start. Easy-peasy measuring made mixing the beef a breeze. I ground the fennel seed fresh (next time I might toast it first). I rolled into balls, but they didn’t fill the 9×13, so I improvised. I rolled up foil and set it in the extra space to keep the balls compacted. Worked like a charm. Cook time was accurate—mine went about 25 minutes. They got ‘brown’, but no crispy edges. Another great feature is that they did NOT crumble apart, which can ruin a great recipe. Thankfully, the flavors in the pan stayed there since the pan gets used again, so no flavor lost.
    I cooked the extra meat and added it to my favorite jarred sauce, which also took more than 1 bottle. I don’t think it’s a big deal because it’s never bad to have extra sauce—either for this recipe or something else. I added the meat, some extra ground fennel, and some extra dried oregano to mirror the flavors in the meatballs. They great part is that you can use any sauce that makes you happy—any purchased brand, or even your favorite homemade.
    When the balls were done, I removed the extra foil and drained the pan as instructed, but removed ONLY the excess oil, not the extra bits and brown juices from the pan. When I poured the sauce into the 9×13, I separated the balls to be sure all were touching sauce and popped them back in the oven. Timing was accurate. I ate one ball right after cooking, and it was really good.
    I think these could have a lot of uses:
    –Traditionally served over pasta (maybe add some cream to the sauce?)
    –in a meatball sandwich, made with garlic bread and melted cheese on top (Sliders, anyone?)
    –Sliced or quartered on a pizza
    –In a pot of soup. If you made them smaller, you could add them to a tomato-based soup or minestrone.
    –Cut up in a casserole with spaghetti or mostaccioli… How about adding cooked pasta during the second bake and topping with cheese (mozzarella or scamorza?)
    –In a small bowl just by themselves. You could also stir in cream after baking for a creamy tomato sauce
    However you like to use them, the flavor and flexibility will win you over! Best of all, they will freeze well with the sauce…. Just don’t add cream until you reheat and serve. This is destined to become a regular recipe in my kitchen…

    1. Woa, thank you so much for your detailed notes on the recipe, PamK! So fantastic to know that the meatballs were a success, and all the suggested uses in your message sound FABULOUS!

  2. 5 stars
    The meatballs turned out great, even though I had to make a few substitutions because I didn’t have all the ingredients on hand. I used cottage cheese in place of ricotta, Italian seasoning and garlic salt in place of the seasonings & fresh oregano, and fresh (toasted) bread crumbs. The balls were tender and juicy with nice browned tops and not greasy at all. Really good flavor!

    1. We’re all learning to work with what we’ve got on hand, Bos. Sounds like you did a terrific job of it!

  3. 5 stars
    I’ve been on a meatball fervor lately and these were the perfect classic version to try. I halved the recipe with no known issues. I did increase the fennel and red pepper flakes as I really wanted to have a nice spice flavor profile: 1/2 teaspoon fennel and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes for my halved batch. I also used the full amount of salt: 1 teaspoon for my half batch. Using my #16 scoop, I was able to make 10 beautiful meatballs. Unfortunately I couldn’t cook these the same day I made them so into the fridge they went. Pulled them out the next day, let then set out while the oven came to temp, and popped those babies in. They cooked to temp beautifully in 25 minutes–they were still on the cool side when I put them in–then I plopped them in some marinara to finish for about 10 minutes more. Served over creamy ricotta polenta. Keeper!

    1. Love to hear that, Bianca! Many, many thanks for taking the time to let us know how well these worked for you. So glad to learn you love them as much as we do. Let us know which recipe from the site you try next…!

    2. So glad you enjoyed them, Bianca. And good to know that the recipe can be cut in half successfully.