Polpette di ricotta al sugo

It's the first post of the month of December! In anticipation of the 25th it seemed only fitting I post something with Christmas colors, or rather, polpette di ricotta in a (red) tomato sauce with a sprinkling of (green) basil over the top, something vaguely wholesome before I launch in to a whirlwind of Christmas cookies and hot chocolate (buckle your seat belts).

Though the Italian word polpette can be translated as "meatballs" in English, today's recipe are polpette that are not made with meat, but, as the name suggests, ricotta, and are more akin to dumplings. Now, before I dive in to this post, let me be upfront: ricotta and I haven't always gotten along so well, and in fact, it was one of my very least favorite foods when I was little. I didn't like the texture, or its non-committal wishy-washy flavor (why couldn't it just stand up and be STRONG, like Parmesan?!) It was a cheese that couldn't be grated, or melted, and I didn't trust it, not one bit. I refused to eat the ricotta-stuffed baked shells my grandmother made -- I picked the ricotta out and ate the pasta -- and the same went for lasagna. Ravioli, with its inevitable ricotta filling, was something I ate listlessly, disinterested, and I sidestepped the ricotta pie my mom would make for Easter, every Easter. As far as I was concerned, all cheeses were actually not created equal. 

As time passed and I grew up though, I became a little wiser, or at least my taste buds did, and ricotta -- much like citrus desserts, poached eggs, and pesto -- was suddenly reevaluated, reassessed, and deemed actually quite delicious. It wasn't bland, it was just mild, the perfect complement or counterpart to many an ingredient, and incredibly versatile, great on its own with a drizzle of honey, awesome in savory frittate, gnocchi, or pizza, and stellar in desserts, and well, if I was being completely honest, I'd been a bit unfair to it all these years. Proof of the 360 degree turn around: these polpette di ricotta al sugo are what I made for myself a few weeks ago when I was home with a cold. They were cozy, comforting, and filling -- packed with Parmesan and basil, fluffy and dumpling-like, simmered in a deeply flavorful tomato sauce! -- just what one wants when they're in their pajamas at home feeling a bit under the weather. Bonus: these are a suitable main for all your non-meat eating friends, and not lacking in the slightest. Ricotta: I was so, so wrong. 

A couple of notes: I bought a dryer variety of ricotta from the cheese shop around the corner, but if you have a variety with more moisture (like the one you might get from the cheese section of the supermarket) you should drain the ricotta for at least 30 minutes (place it over a strainer in the sink and let all the excess moisture drip away). Feel free to replace parsley for the basil in the polpette, or Pecorino for the Parmesan. If your bread isn't stale, you can just toast it in the oven for a few minutes. 

Looking for other polpette recipes? I've also got these polpette di melanzane, (made with eggplant) and these polpette al sugo (made with beef). Looking for other ricotta recipes? I've got this ricotta pound cake, this lemon ricotta cake, and these castagnole di ricotta.


1 cup (8 ounces or 250 grams) ricotta cheese
2-3 tablespoons milk
About 3 slices, crusts removed (70 grams or 2.5 ounces) stale bread, torn in to pieces
A couple of leaves of basil, torn up, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup (30 grams) Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste

Ingredients for the sauce:
400ml crushed tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1/2 a small yellow onion
More basil, torn up

Extra Parmesan and a sprinkle of basil for serving

First things first, start your sauce: In a medium sauce pan, heat a bit of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan) over medium low heat. Add the garlic clove and saute until fragrant and golden brown, then add the tomatoes and onion half. Bring the sauce to a bubble, then lower the heat and let the sauce simmer for about 30-35 minutes, stirring.

While your sauce is cooking: In a small bowl, soak the bread in the milk. Set aside. In a larger bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Squeeze the milk out of the bread and add to the ricotta mixture. Stir everything together well, then add a bit of basil to taste. Taste the mixture and add a little more salt if needed. 

Roll this mixture into 14-15 balls, and place on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake in your preheated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until lightly browned on the top. 
Back to the sauce! Remove the onion and the garlic and discard. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed. Stir in a bit of basil, to taste. Next, add the polpette di ricotta to the sauce (a few at a time if the pot isn't pick enough) and let simmer for about 5-8 minutes, or until warmed throughout and nice and saucy. 
Serve the polpette di ricotta hot in shallow bowls with more sauce, topped with extra Parmesan and a little basil. Serves 4. 

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