In The Italian Kitchen, acclaimed chef and cookbook author Marco Canora teaches viewers to cook classic Italian dishes. Marco learned to make this dish from a chef in Florence, Italy, named Fabio Picchi (though Picchi used chicken instead of veal).
To start off, Marco recommends triple-ground veal from your butcher -- the fine grind makes for light and fluffy meatballs. Then, to prepare the ricotta cheese, he squeezes out three to four tablespoons of liquid by folding it in a cheese cloth over a strainer and a bowl, and then placing a can on top of it. This will make the cheese denser and better suited to forming the meatballs (which contain equal parts ricotta and veal). Add about a pound each of the ricotta and veal to a bowl, followed by Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, eggs, whole nutmeg, salt and cracked pepper. Now the messy part: He combines the ingredients well using his hands, until the mass appears homogeneous. Marco uses an ice cream scoop or a large spoon to form even-sized meatballs, shapes them into round balls that are slightly smaller than a tennis ball using floured hands and drops them onto a flour-dusted baking sheet. He pats them well to eliminate any air pockets, and after the tray is filled, places them in the freezer for a few minutes so they'll set and won't fall apart during cooking.
Next, Marco makes a simple tomato sauce using canned tomatoes, garlic, extra virgin olive oil, butter, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. He first crushes a few cloves of garlic, and then cooks them with the oil in a pan for about five minutes until the garlic is fragrant. He then adds the tomatoes, salt and pepper and brings them to a boil. After simmering the sauce for about 30 minutes, he blends in the butter and then the basil using a hand-held blender -- but if you don't have one, a regular blender will work just as well. When all the ingredients are incorporated, the color of the sauce will have gotten a little paler.
Finally, Marco cooks the meatballs. He heats oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and places the meatballs into the pan. (The oil should come halfway up each meatball when the pan is filled.) Once they've browned on one side, he flips them. He fries them about one minute on each side until they're brown all over, and then lifts them out of the pan with a slotted spoon to drain excess oil; then he lowers them into the sauce. They cook through in the sauce for about 30 minutes. Marco serves these meatballs as a main course, as they are served in Italy, instead of with pasta. His serving recommendation? Two meatballs for each person -- with lots of sauce and extra Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Get the Recipe for Veal and Ricotta Meatballs in Tomato Sauce.