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Beef & Ricotta Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

I never was a fan of meatballs, I found them to be mostly bland and dry when I tried them. I spent a lot of my earlier career working in Italian restaurants and found they were the same even then. So I came up with this recipe while working as head chef in a little restaurant on South Greater Georges street in Dublin. I celebrated my 21st at the time so that was a fair while ago. I perfected the recipe over the years and ended up with what many have said are the best meatballs they have ever eaten including the two friends who ate the ones you see in the picture with me.

The ricotta keeps them lovely and moist and adds a lovely flavour that goes so well with the little chilli and basil. You can change it to cheddar cheese if you don’t have ricotta but I really do recommend getting some. I have seen it in all the supermarkets for around the €2 mark.

Fresh basil is also really important to the balance of flavours so do your best to get some, every supermarket and veg store stocks it. DO NOT USE DRIED BASIL. Dried basil is terrible and tastes nothing like fresh. Dried oregano is better if you really have to use a dried herbs.

QUALITY MINCE IS VERY IMPORTANT… Never ever use cheap mince to make meatballs. Fatty mince will make the dish, and any dish with sauce you use it in, very greasy so use one with a maximum of 10% fat, less if you can. Keep mince with more that 10% fat for burgers as the fat keeps the burgers from drying out.

Watch my quick video tutorial on how to roll meatballs if you don’t know how. These are not the same meatballs I made in this recipe so they look a little different. The ones in this recipe will have more colour due to the chilli and basil.



450g mince less than 10% fat

100g ricotta cheese – any supermarket

1 red chilli

1 full basil plant

1/2 onion, finely chopped or 4 spring onions

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped


This uses some of the basil plant and chilli above.

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 onion

3 garlic cloves

6 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp coarse ground black pepper from a mill or 1/2 ground

1 red pepper

1 vegetable or chicken stock pot or cube

1/2 tsp black pepper from a mill



Pre-heat your oven to 180C or Gas Mark 4


Place the mince in a bowl and add the ricotta cheese, pepper, chopped 1/2 onion or spring onions, garlic and half the basil plant leaves, chopped.


Mix really well so the ingredients are evenly mixed into the mince. Set to one side.


Time to start the sauce..


Chop the garlic, other half chilli (optional), onion and pepper really finely.


Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil or similar in a pan then add the ingredients you just chopped and cook for about 3 minutes until they are nice and soft. This brings out the flavours of each which is needed to make the sauce really tasty.


Add the chopped tomatoes and stir well, cook on high for 2 minutes until just before it starts to boil then turn the heat down to a simmer, add 1/2 the chopped basil leaves and stock pot or cube, stir well, cover and leave for 15 minutes.


While the sauce is simmering it is time to roll the meatballs..


My video above will show you how to roll meatballs if you haven’t done it before. Roll them the same size as in the video. Look at the coin on the chopping board to give you an idea of the size.


When the meatballs are rolled. Heat 3 tbsp of olive oil or similar on a non stick pan.


Gently place each meatball on the pan and cook until they are brown all over. I give the pan a little shake to move them around a bit to help them cook evenly. Watch out for splashes if you do this.


Pour the sauce into a small ovenproof dish then gently place the meatballs on top, cover with foil and cook in the oven for around 35 minutes.


It is essential that the meatballs are cooked all the way through so cut into one to make sure if you have to. Serve on your favourite pasta. See below for a handy tip on cooking pasta.


Cook your favourite pasta as per the instructions on the packet. When cooked drain the water then rinse the pasta really well under a cold tap, drizzle 1 tsp of good quality oil over and give it a stir. This will keep it from sticking together.
Place a pot of water on to boil, ready to heat the pasta when needed.
Simply add the pasta to the boiling water for 1 minute to heat before draining and serving under the meatballs.
Doing it this way means you wash the starch off the pasta which reduces the amount of carbs and also make the pasta less sticky.

    • martina
    • 17th February 2017

    Love your recipe and love the meatballs but 30 years living in Italy and I’ve yet to see meatballs (any shape or size) served with pasta unless they’re among several other ingredients and being baked in the oven lasgane style. Even more outrageous is any type of chicken and pasta dish, pineapple on a pizza and the ubiquitous garlic bread. Maybe a little mention that not all recipes follow an authentic cuisine model….

    • Niallo
    • 19th February 2017

    Love this,my kids love me,I love to put fennel seeds in the meatballs to get that lively aniseed flavour,lovely…

    • Rowena forde
    • 9th March 2017

    Nicest meatballs I ever tasted such an easy recipe to follow absolutely devoured by the whole family ..definitely will be making them again thanks Liam

    • Susan
    • 27th May 2018

    Love all your recipes inc these meatballs . I love how you teach people to make everything from scratch using very easy to understand directions.I’m always a bit surprised to see that you use stock cubes in a lot of your recipes considering most of them have high levels of salt and artificial ingredients . This recipe certainly doesn’t need a stock cube as it’s delicious without . In fact most of your recipes are so good that they don’t need stock cubes apart from things like stews/casseroles.

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