Ricotta Polpette in Tomato Sauce Recipe (2024)

By Anna Francese Gass

Ricotta Polpette in Tomato Sauce Recipe (1)

Total Time
1 hour
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This recipe is quintessential cucina povera, which roughly translates as ‘frugal cuisine of the poor’ in Italian, and it originated in Calabria. Its simple deliciousness comes from a handful of ingredients. In mountainous Calabria, where cows cannot roam free, goat’s-milk ricotta would typically be used, but recipes evolve over time and space, and cow’s-milk ricotta is commonly used in North America. Most translate the Italian word ‘polpetta’ as meatball, but in Italy, it is any mixture of ingredients rolled into a ball and cooked. This meatless variation’s base of ricotta is mixed with egg and bread crumbs, then rolled, poached in tomato sauce until fork-tender, and finally sprinkled with cheese. They make a perfect side to a first course of pasta or can be served on their own, with crusty bread, for sopping up the sauce.

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Yield:8 servings (about 35 ricotta balls and about 7 cups of sauce)

    For the Sauce

    • 10fresh basil leaves
    • ½cup extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
    • 1teaspoon red-pepper flakes (optional)
    • 2(28-ounce) cans/about 8 cups crushed tomatoes
    • 2tablespoons tomato paste
    • 1tablespoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Crystal)
    • 1teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

    For the Ricotta Polpette

    • 1(32-ounce) container/about 4 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese (see Tip)
    • 2½ cups seasoned Italian bread crumbs
    • 3large eggs
    • ¼cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
    • 1tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, plus more for serving
    • 1tablespoon kosher salt (such as Diamond Kosher)
    • 1teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Ingredient Substitution Guide

Nutritional analysis per serving (8 servings)

536 calories; 30 grams fat; 11 grams saturated fat; 0 grams trans fat; 14 grams monounsaturated fat; 3 grams polyunsaturated fat; 49 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 12 grams sugars; 20 grams protein; 904 milligrams sodium

Note: The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

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Ricotta Polpette in Tomato Sauce Recipe (2)


  1. Step


    Prepare the sauce: Tear 5 basil leaves in half; reserve the rest. Combine the torn basil, olive oil, garlic and red-pepper flakes (if using) in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes, allowing the basil and garlic to steep in the oil. (Do not let the garlic get beyond medium brown in color.) Remove from the heat, strain the oil, discard the solids and set the infused oil aside.

  2. Step


    In a large pot or Dutch oven, combine the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, salt and pepper with 2 cups water and the infused oil. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then immediately reduce to a simmer.

  3. Partially cover the pot and simmer the sauce over medium-low heat, undisturbed, while you prepare the ricotta polpette.

  4. Step


    In a large bowl, use a spatula to mix all the polpette ingredients until combined. (The mixture will be quite soft.) Wet your hands and pinch off approximately 2-tablespoon portions and roll them into balls between your palms. (They should each be about 2 inches wide and weigh about 40 grams.) Place each polpette on a baking sheet and repeat with the remaining mixture, making about 35 small balls.

  5. Step


    Once all the polpette have been rolled, bring the sauce to a boil and carefully drop them into the sauce. Shimmy the pot back and forth gently, after each addition, to make room and to prevent the polpette from sticking to the bottom of the pot or to each other. Do not stir, as the balls will break apart.

  6. Step


    Cover the pot with a lid and leave the polpette in the sauce, undisturbed, for 4 minutes. Remove the lid and shimmy the pot again. They will have begun to firm up. Cover the pot again and cook for another 10 minutes, until they are firm, plump and cooked through.

  7. Step


    Carefully remove the polpette to a plate, topping them with spoonfuls of sauce, or transfer the polpette and sauce to a shallow serving bowl. Chop the remaining basil and sprinkle on top, and garnish with more grated cheese.


  • This recipe uses the packaged ricotta cheese widely available in most supermarkets, but if you would like to use fresh ricotta from an Italian market, reduce the bread crumbs needed by a half cup, since fresh ricotta is strained and is packaged with less moisture.



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Cooking Notes

Anna Gass

these are not freezer friendly.

Joe from Lansing

Delicious meat-free dish. We made yesterday, totally enjoyed, and highly recommend. An excellent budget stretcher!! A+!!


Nope, they predictably melted into little pucks and the salt concentrated. Don't do it, folks!


I’ve been making these for years, my Sicilian mother in law taught me. However, we FRY the the little dumplings just like our meatballs. Once fried I also freeze the extra on a sheet pan then toss in a freezer bag for the future.

Jim B.

A word to the wise: Do NOT just toss these ricotta balls into the sauce. They will disintegrate. I doubled up on the bread crumbs and cheese which firmed them up, but they still don't hold up well in the sauce. Fry the balls well as you would regular meatballs. But still do NOT put them into the sauce. Rather, pour the sauce over the fried balls. I added oregano and basil as well to the ricotta mix. Done this way, they are delicious!


I have no doubt the original recipe is awesome and would one day like to try it. With a toddler in the “no vegetable” phase, everything in this gets hidden vegetables. In case anyone is looking, this worked well for the polpette (half recipe): 15 oz ricotta, squeezed with cheesecloth 1 small head of cauliflower, steamed and squeezed (about 2/3 cup after squeezing) 1 tbsp flax seed meal 1 egg1 1/4 tsp salt 1/4 cup grated parm / pecorino 1/4 cup panko1 tbsp herbs

Emily Paster

I followed the recipe almost to the letter but substituted panko bread crumbs for the seasoned Italian ones and I used hand-dipped ricotta, so I followed the note and reduced the bread crumbs. Great recipe. My family enjoyed the dumplings which were light and fluffy like little clouds. Infusing the oil with the garlic and basil and red pepper flakes was a bit of a faff, as the Brits say. I think next time I will just sauté them in the sauce.


Ricotta is crazy expensive in most markets but easy to make your own: Ingredients:1/2 gallon whole milk, not UHT pasteurized 1/3 cup lemon juice (from 1 1/2 to 2 lemons), or 1/3 cup distilled white vinegar, or 1/2 teaspoon citric acid 1 teaspoon salt, optionalLots of recipes online


It sounds delicious and I am going to try it, but where I live a pint of whole milk ricotta costs about the same as a pound of ground beef.


To the reader who asked about baking them, I did some of them that way because I had too much dough for my sauce to support. I flattened about 3 T of dough in my hand forming them into disks and baked for 15 minutes on parchment paper line sheet pan. I turned half way so they browned a little on both sides. Tastes fine even cold and dipped into a sauce, either tomato or pesto.


Really good recipe … I would recommend baking the balls; it is more more crunchy. Other note is that this recipe has way way way too much salt. I halved what the recipe called for and it was plenty enough. Unless you’re interested in dying of high blood pressure.


I wonder if these can be baked instead of poached in the sauce? Would like to use them with a pesto sauce.


Very good vegetarian dinner. I chilled thé prepared balls in the fridge for a few hours before cooking them in the sauce.


Has anyone switched out the Ricotta for Tofu (with nutritional yeast)?

Nancy Harmon Jenkins

This is not ricotta. While delicious, it is curdled milk. Ricotta is made by cooking (ri-cotta) the whey left over from cheese-making and concentrating the residual proteins. But don't apologize--it's a common mistake in the United States.


Good recipe! I was too concerned that the polpetti would dissolve in the sauce as others noted, so I rolled in panko and fried briefly in grapeseed oil. It all came together easily and quickly. Delicious!


These were delicious. My polpette were very firm and held up beautifully in the sauce without any pre-cooking. One change I made: I reduced the salt in the polpette to a heaping 1/4 teaspoon (of table salt, not kosher) and thought they came out perfectly seasoned. I believe the full tablespoon would have been far too much. Also, I just left the basil/garlic/pepper flakes in the sauce and it was fine.

Victoria in Toronto

Highly recommend these, but with the 20 mins baking at 400 (and turning a couple times) before pouring over/tossing in the sauce (as others have recommended). I also accidentally added more pecorino than the recipe (almost double) and they were delicious. Half a recipe served a family of 4 with a side of fettuccini and salad. Kept well the next day.

Victoria in Toronto

My whole family loved this (the non-vegetarians preferred these over the meat-based ones). Definitely recommend the 20 mins baking on parchment at 400 (as others have suggested), turning a couple times to get a golden finish. I poured over the sauce rather than simmering. Added accidentally more pecorino than called for (almost double) and it was delicious. Also I halved the recipe and it would easily serve the 4 in my house, served with a simple fettuccine. Fantastic next day too.


I made this recipe to the letter. It’s an easy, slow Sunday project. It makes a lot, and I live alone, so this’ll get me through the week. The salt is a lil heavy; I’d probably cut it to 2tsps in the sauce and 2tsps in the polpette next time. Otherwise, I didn’t have problems pulling this together. The polpette are a little denser than expected, but it’s a filling, simple dish for a snowy day.


Added equal amounts of crumbs and ricotta, chilled them for an hour, they stayed together perfectly. I also did not strain out the basil/garlic/chile from the oil, just added it all in to the tomatoes. It was very good.


Followed the recipe has written with the exception of a similar idea from another writer and used Panko breadcrumbs instead. No issue at all with them staying together when I placed them very gently into the sauce. A definite keeper, but I should’ve paid attention to the fact that this is a massive recipe and now I’m not sure what I’m gonna do with all these extra cheeseballs… Lol.

Julia Y

I looooove theseeeee. I half the recipe for 2 and serve on top of pasta (still with lots of leftovers). And I fry them before simmering. They're amazing.

Julia Y

I looooveeee theseeeee. I half the recipe for 2 and serve on pasta (still with plenty of leftovers!). I also fry them before simmering and they keep their shape perfectly. They're amazing.


These are delicious. Added fresh thyme and oregano on top of parsley. Recommend to stick standard bread crumbs for more hom*ogenous texture. Baked at 410 for 20mn, turning them halfway. Puffed and crisped up. Poached in sauce afterwards, no issue on breakage. Will repeat.


Getting good ricotta is key here. I have the impression that a lot of the users are getting mixed results from getting the discount version commonly used in American lasagne. We used Bella Casara brand and everything went perfect, not too salty and plenty firm.


Great recipe, will make again. But quantities are wrong. I made the whole amount of sauce and half the ricotta (500g) with 1/4 cp peoruno, 1cup of crumbs (added salt pepper and herbs for seasoning - basil marjoram oregano sage rosemary thyme) and 2 eggs.The poleptte came together easily and cooked perfectly without coming apart (I used a big wooden spoon to move things in the pot, not really stirring, it was fine).I rolled 20 polpette, only half fit in the pot. I baked the rest 20 min 200°C.


Did anyone else find the salt excessive?! I used Kite Hill ricotta because I had a guest who couldn’t eat dairy, so that could be a factor, but really? A tablespoon in the sauce AND a tablespoon in the polpette?


I tried both frying and poaching, and increasing the breadcrumbs, but these polpettes really don't have much structural integrity. (Also skipped the sauce steps and used jarred sauce). I served them with medium shells and they taste like deconstructed stuffed shells, which is pretty good, but not an amazing dish.


These were great! Fed five with lots of leftovers. I did let the balls firm up in the fridge, and then rolled them in a breadcrumb/cheese/oil mix before baking them for 20min at 400F to get them extra crispy. No issues w/ breakage in the sauceDidn’t bother infusing the oil separately and straining. Added some healthy splashes of red wine and let the sauce reduce over 1.5 hrs to get to my preferred consistency. Next time I’ll probably add another can of tomatoes (or halve the ricotta mixture).

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Ricotta Polpette in Tomato Sauce Recipe (2024)


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