Ground pork, pancetta, and ricotta cheese are the secrets to these oh-so-tender and flavorful meatballs. These meatballs never fail to please; they're so moist and tasty that you may never use ground beef again. Instead of browning the meatballs in oil on the stovetop, you simply place them in a roasting pan and bake, covering them with your favorite marinara sauce for the final 90 minutes of cooking. The meatballs and sauce freeze well, so don't be put off by the quantity this recipe makes. Serve with your favorite pasta and a bowl of freshly grated parmesan cheese.
|2 tablespoons||olive oil|
|2 1/2 pounds||ground pork (preferably 95% lean)|
|6 ounces||finely minced pancetta or bacon (uncooked)|
|5 cups||fresh whole wheat bread crumbs ((about 12 ounces sliced bread, crusts removed, processed to coarse crumbs in a food processor)|
|1 1/2 teaspoons||dried oregano|
|2 teaspoons||fennel seed (ground fine)|
|1/2 teaspoon||dried thyme|
|pinch||red pepper flakes (or to taste)|
|1 1/2 cups||ricotta cheese (preferably whole milk)|
|1/2 cup||minced fresh parsley|
|1/2 cup||minced fresh basil|
|8 cups||marinara sauce|
|1 can||(28 ounce) crushed or diced peeled Italian tomatoe (preferably San Marzano)|
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil a roasting pan or large, deep oven-proof skillet (sauteuse) with the olive oil, to coat the bottom. Set aside.
Place the pork, pancetta, and bread crumbs in a large bowl and combine. Add the oregano, fennel, thyme, red pepper flakes, and salt, and combine.
In another medium-size bowl, whisk the eggs. Add the ricotta and whisk until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the parsley and basil. Add the ricotta mixture to the bowl with the pork and combine, using your hands to thoroughly mix the ingredients.
Form the mixture into 2-inch round meatballs and place in a single layer in the oiled roasting pan. Don't crowd the meatballs; it's better to use 2 pans. Roast the meatballs in the oven, uncovered, until they just begin to brown on the underside, 30 to 40 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the marinara sauce, 1/2 cup of water, and the crushed tomatoes in a bowl. Stir to blend. Remove the roasting pan from the oven and reduce the temperature to 325 degrees F. Using a spatula or tongs, turn the meatballs. Cover with about 6 cups of the marinara sauce. The meatballs should be mostly covered with sauce; use more if needed.
Return the pan to the oven and cook, uncovered, until the meatballs are cooked through and very tender, and the sauce has thickened, about 90 minutes. Stir the meatballs and sauce at least once, and reduce the heat by 10 or 15 degrees if the sauce is boiling vigorously — you want it at a simmer.
Serve the meatballs and marinara over pasta of your choice, adding more marinara sauce, if needed.
If you're not serving them immediately, allow the meatballs to cool to room temperature. Transfer to containers, cover tightly, and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze.