Awhile back I came across this recipe in Food and Wine. The story mentioned that it was a beloved special run frequently at the restaurant A16 in San Francisco. As a foodie obsessed with the San Francisco food scene, I had to try this. When I was looking over the recipe, I was asking the boyfriend what he thought of some minor changes I thought of making to the recipe, his response was “just follow the damn recipe for once.” He makes a good point. So I did (mostly). Honestly, it was wonderful just as is; the one major thing I did was divide the recipe in half which is the recipe I have posted here. I generally am cooking for two and 24 meatballs seemed like a bit much. The 12 I ended up with seemed like too much…until all the leftovers disappeared the next day.
These pork meatballs were wonderful, they were amazingly moist, flavorful, and the sauce was thick with an earthy sweetness from the tomatoes. The only thing I would change (and is reflected in the recipe below) is extra tomatoes. Once everything cooked down I found myself craving more tomatoes. Granted, I served this as a spaghetti instead of just pork with tomatoes, I still think it would benefit from the extra tomatoes. This recipe is originally modified from Food and Wine.
Pork and Ricotta Meatballs (1/2 recipe)
¼ lb (2 cups) white bread, crust removed cut into ½ inch dice
¾ lb lean ground pork
1 ½ oz thinly slice pancetta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2.5 oz ricotta (about ¼ cup)
2 Tbs chopped flat leaf parsley
½ tsp dried oregano
¼ tsp fennel seeds, crushed
¼ tsp crushed red pepper
Two 28-oz cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes (San Marzano if available)
Freshly ground pepper
1 Tbs shredded basil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
¼ cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Preheat oven to 400.
In a food processor pulse the bread to coarse crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a large bowl. Grind the pancetta to a coarse paste in the food processor (you can also chop it finely, but I find this easier). Add the pork, pancetta, eggs, ricotta, parsley, oregano, fennel seeds, crushed red pepper and ¾ tsp kosher salt.
Mix well. Shape into 12 meatballs. The best tool for this is an ice cream scoop, but your hands will of course work as well. Transfer the meatballs to a medium roasting pan, oiled if it’s not non-stick.
Roast the meatballs in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning once at 15 minutes.
While the meatballs roast dump all the tomatoes into a large bowl and crush lightly with your hands. Mix in the minced garlic, 1 tsp of kosher salt, and a heavy couple grinds of pepper.
The meatballs should be browned. Using a spatula, loosen the meatballs from the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato mixture. Lower the oven temperature to 325 and cook uncovered for about 2 hours until the sauce is thick and the meatballs are very tender. Turn the meatballs once or twice during cooking.
Serve the meatballs over spaghetti (or on their own). Garnish with fresh basil and pecorino romano cheese.
A few notes:
I added garlic to the tomatoes because I love garlic and I felt like it. Feel free to omit it.
The meatball mixture is very wet, do not be surprised by this, just do your best to form them into balls.
In the past I haven’t ground my own bread crumbs. I usually use panko bread crumbs. I think the fresh bread crumbs really added to the moisture of the meatballs, so don’t skip this step.