Calabrian Ricotta Balls in Tomato Sauce.

Calabrian Ricotta Balls in Tomato Sauce with Pasta.

This fabulous vegetarian version of pasta with ‘meatballs’ is based on a traditional recipe from Calabria in Southern Italy. These Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce are delicious with pasta or without! You can also make extra and fry or bake them!

Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce with pasta

Polpette di ricotta al sugo.

Ricotta balls in tomato sauce is originally a Calabrian recipe that originated among the region’s poorer farming and peasant population, in particular in the mountainous Sila area.  Like so many of Italy’s traditional recipes, this is a combination of simple staple ingredients. However, in the past this was also a dish made on special occasions, such as carnival, by people for whom meat was a luxury.

Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce

What are polpette?

In Italian, the word polpette is used to mean balls of minced ingredients whether they are made of meat, vegetables or cheese. So ‘polpette di ricotta’ basically means ricotta balls.  Meatballs are usually just referred to as ‘polpette’. Apparently, meat based meatballs as we know them were introduced to Europe by the Arabs. Think koftas! However, unlike in US, spaghetti with meatballs isn’t a typical Italian dish.

ingredients for ricotta balls in tomato sauce on white plate

Many Italians eat meatballs without the pasta. Although they use the sauce as a pasta condiment. For example, my hubby’s family have the tomato sauce with pasta first and then follow with the meatballs, which they take out of the sauce! Even where they are eaten with pasta, Italian meatballs are much smaller than those found elsewhere. Check out this recipe for orecchiette with meatballs a traditional dish from Puglia.

ricotta, breadcrumbs, eggs, parsley, garlic mixed in large bowl

These Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce are also eaten without pasta, often as a main course.  In addition, you can bake or fry them and serve them as an appetizer or snack.

prepared ricotta balls on white plate

So what is ricotta?

Ricotta is an Italian whey cheese, meaning it’s made from the whey produced after making other types of cheese. Simply put, when you make cheese, you separate milk into two substances, curds and whey! Most cheeses are made using the curds. Ricotta is made using the whey. In Italy, it can be the whey from cow, goat, sheep or water buffalo milk. It’s practically a staple here, especially in the South.  The word ricotta means recooked. In fact, this fresh cheese is made by heating the whey after letting it ferment for up to 24 hours.

cherry tomatoes cut into halves and quarters

Italians use ricotta in many ways; in desserts and cakes and on pizza. There are also lots of pasta recipes that include it. My favourite way to eat this fresh cheese is actually on its own or with honey on bread for breakfast, especially if it’s very fresh and homemade. However, these Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce is my second favourite way to use ricotta.

cherry tomatoes cooking in skillet

Making Calabrian ricotta balls with pasta.

As I mentioned before this is a simple recipe made with staple ingredients, well Italian staples! The ricotta for these polpette is usually cow’s milk ricotta or sheep ricotta. Other ingredients are eggs, parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs and grated parmigiano and pecorino. You can just use one of those grated cheeses if you don’t have both. (vegetarians will need to use a hard cheese that doesn’t contain animal rennet). The tomato sauce is a simple one with fresh tomatoes and/or passata and garlic.  

tomato sauce made with cherry tomatoes and passata in skillet

The pasta.

I served a short flat pasta called mafaldine with these Calabrian ricotta balls. Do you know this pasta? Mafaldine, also known as mafalde or reginette (meaning little queens) is a wide flat pasta ribbon, similar to pappardelle but with scalloped or ruffled edges. You can find it in both a long and short version. Mafaldine pasta is actually named after Princess Mafalda of Savoy, the second daughter of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy.  Her story is sadly a tragic one! You can read about her in my mafaldine post.

short mafaldine mafalde pasta from Lidl

Italian recipes for these ricotta balls with pasta mostly call for spaghetti or short pasta like fusilli. I think the mafaldine were fantastic and other short flat pasta would go well too, for example orecchiette. Also, I came across a number of baked pasta versions which I really want to try. In that case, short pasta like fusilli or rigatoni would be best. Plus a layer of sliced mozzarella on top!

Calabrian ricotta balls cooking in tomato sauce

Whichever way you decide to serve these Calabrian ricotta balls, I’m sure you’ll love them as much as I do! This dish is a great option for meatless Mondays and vegetarians!

If you do try this Calabrian ricotta balls with pasta recipe, I’d love to hear what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon Appetito!

Other pasta with ricotta recipes

  1. Sicilian pasta with ricotta 2 ways
  2. Italian ricotta and mushroom lasagne al forno
  3. Ricotta and basil filled paccheri
  4. Tuscan ricotta gnudi with truffles

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Calabrian Ricotta balls in tomato sauce
5 from 41 votes
Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce with pasta
Calabrian Ricotta Balls in Tomato Sauce with Pasta
Prep Time
20 mins
Cook Time
40 mins
 

This fabulous vegetarian version of pasta with 'meatballs' is made with Calabrian ricotta balls in tomato sauce. It is a delicious recipe that's pretty easy to make and perfect for family meals

Course: Main Course
Cuisine: Calabria, Italian, Southern Italian
Keyword: authentic Italian pasta recipe, Italian recipe, mafalde, mafaldine, ricotta, ricotta balls, tomato sauce, vegetarian
Servings: 4
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
Ingredients
For the ricotta balls
  • 500 g ricotta (1lb) cow or sheep milk ricotta
  • 150 g breadcrumbs (5-6oz) or 4 thick slices of stale bread
  • 30 g Parmigiano Reggiano (1oz) for vegetarians use hard cheese without animal rennet
  • 30 g Pecorino cheese (1oz) or use 60g (2oz) of only one cheese if you don't have both
  • 2 eggs beaten
  • 1-2 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 handful fresh parsley finely chopped
For tomato sauce
  • 600 g tomato passata (1.3lbs) or half cherry tomatoes and half passata. Cut the cherry tomatoes into halves or quarters
  • 2 garlic cloves peeled
  • salt for pasta and to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper. to taste
Pasta
  • 400 g short mafaldine/mafalde pasta (14oz) or fusilli, penne, paccheri
Instructions
Make the ricotta balls
  1. If using stale bread slices remove the crusts and blend in a food processor to make breadcrumbs. Put the ricotta in a bowl and mash with a fork. Add the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs. Mix well. Add the eggs, garlic and chopped parsley mix again until you have a soft homogeneous dough. If it seems dry add a little milk. Form the dough into balls. The size depends on preference. Ours were about the size of a golf ball.

Make the tomato sauce
  1. Cook the garlic cloves in olive oil until they start to soften. Add the halved cherry tomatoes. Turn down the heat and simmer until they are soft too. Add the passata and continue simmering for 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cook the pasta
  1. While the sauce is simmering put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add salt once it starts to boil and bring to the boil again. Cook the pasta al dente according to the instructions on the packet. When the pasta is ready drain it and put it back into the pot. Add some tomato sauce to the pasta and mix well.

Finish the dish
  1. While the pasta is cooking add the ricotta balls to the tomato sauce. After 5 minutes turn them gently and continue for another 5-10 minutes. Plate the cooked pasta that you have mixed with some tomato sauce. Put 2-3 ricotta balls onto the pasta with some more tomato sauce.

  2. Serve immediately with more grated cheese if required.

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88 Comments

  • Avatar
    Rachel O’Reilly
    May 15, 2020 4:19 am

    We had this for dinner tonight and it was so good! I used just Parmigiano Reggiano as I didn’t have any pecorino in. It was quick and easy to make too. Kids and adults really liked it, which isn’t always easy with hard to please 5-year-olds!

  • Avatar
    Jacque Hastert
    April 21, 2020 5:54 pm

    I can’t wait to make these! We love easy and authentic dinners made right in our own kitchen.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:25 am

      This is certainly both of those things! I hope it’s a hit!

  • Avatar
    Lathiya
    April 20, 2020 11:37 pm

    Never seen such a pasta recipe. The ricotta balls in tomato sauce look so delicious.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:25 am

      Thank you, Lathiya!

  • Avatar
    Alexis
    April 20, 2020 8:43 pm

    Oh goodness, these sound delicious. I never knew you could make balls with ricotta, these look absolutely amazing. I’m going to give this recipe a try this week.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:26 am

      It is really easy to make and so delicious!

  • Avatar
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt
    April 20, 2020 7:50 pm

    This is amazing! I adore ricotta and tomato sauce together. What a great recipe.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:26 am

      They are a great combination!

  • Avatar
    Sophie
    April 20, 2020 3:19 pm

    This looks extremely indulgent. Ricotta balls, pasta and marinara – all are my favorite!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:27 am

      You will surely love this dish! I hope you get to try it out.

  • Avatar
    Aline
    April 20, 2020 4:16 am

    These ricotta balls were life changing!!! Soooooo good!! Thank you!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:27 am

      High praise indeed! I am so happy that you enjoyed them.

  • Avatar
    Amanda
    April 20, 2020 2:08 am

    I have a serious love for ricotta, but I’ve never had ricotta balls, so this recipe was perfect for me! They were so tender and delicious.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 27, 2020 4:27 am

      This is a must-try if you love ricotta!

  • Avatar
    Sondra Barker
    April 19, 2020 7:45 am

    Wow this looks amazing! I can not wait to try out this pasta recipe soon!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:29 am

      Thank you, Sondra. I would love to know how it turns out if you do make it.

  • Avatar
    Amy Liu Dong
    April 19, 2020 5:14 am

    Such an easy and delicious recipe to make and a kind of dish that I would love to eat today. YUM!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:30 am

      Thank you, Amy.

  • Avatar
    Alena Kharlamenko
    April 18, 2020 11:04 pm

    As a non-meater, I’m so appreciative of this vegetarian alternative to meatballs! I can’t wait to try this recipe – it looks absolutely delicious!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:32 am

      This is a wonderful meat-free meal. I hope you get to try it.

  • Avatar
    Gail Montero
    April 18, 2020 10:23 pm

    Anything with ricotta is a winner in my book and these cheesy, yummy ricotta balls are just want I want for a tasty dinner!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:35 am

      This is the perfect recipe for a delicious weeknight meal if you love ricotta!

  • Avatar
    nancy g visconti
    April 18, 2020 6:36 pm

    I’m going to try this tomorrow but first, I’m going to drain the cheese. I hope this will work. My question is, can or should these be baked for a short time BEFORE ;putting in sauce? I don’t want them to fall apart. Thanks for a great site. Nancy Visconti

    • Jacqui
      Jacqui
      April 18, 2020 7:16 pm

      Hi Nancy, I didn’t bake the ricotta balls before and they didn’t fall apart. You just need to be gentle when you turn them! I’m not sure how they will turn out if you bake before but I have another follower who baked them and said they were delicious! So happy you like my site! Do let me know how they turn out!

      • Avatar
        nancy g visconti
        April 20, 2020 4:08 am

        Well, I made your recipe today. I thought I’d try a few in the oven & a few in the sauce……the oven won out. I’m sure your way is delicious but I was happy with the oven. The taste is yummy & I’d definitely make them again. Thanks for answering me so quickly. Take care, Nancy

  • Avatar
    Kay
    April 18, 2020 12:23 pm

    This is great, I love the ricotta balls! Delicious, as are all your dishes!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:36 am

      Thank you, Kay. There are so many wonderful recipes to share!

  • Avatar
    Analida Braeger
    April 18, 2020 2:33 am

    This is a wonderful way to use up stale bread and nothing goes to waste like leftover rice for arancini. Thanks for all the great tips!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:39 am

      Thank you, Analida. Making food go further is so important!

  • Avatar
    Alisa Infanti
    April 17, 2020 4:13 pm

    This recipe looks like such a great date night in recipe and I bet goes perfect with a nice bottle of Chianti!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:44 am

      A Chianti or for something sparkling, I think a Prosecco would be divine with this dish!

  • Avatar
    Patrice
    April 17, 2020 1:09 am

    I’ve never tried this before but it looks like something my family would really enjoy. I love pasta and anything Italian! Can’t wait until I can return to beautiful Italy.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:45 am

      Thank you, Patrice. It sounds like you would really enjoy this dish!

  • Avatar
    Fatima Torres
    April 16, 2020 9:40 pm

    This would be perfect for a meatless dish. I’ve been trying to add more of those each month.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:47 am

      Thank you, Fatima. The recipe is perfect for meatless meals.

  • Avatar
    GUNJAN C Dudani
    April 16, 2020 4:40 pm

    This is such a great idea. Your images are absolutely drool worthy. I can’t wait to try it.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:47 am

      Thank you, Gunjan!

  • Avatar
    Sherelle
    April 16, 2020 12:37 am

    Love a good pasta recipe. Thanks for sharing.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:48 am

      Thank you, Sherelle. I hope you get to try this recipe!

  • Avatar
    Beth
    April 15, 2020 11:08 pm

    I’ve been a fan of ricotta ever since my mother used to make me lasagna for almost every birthday. I love the idea of ricotta balls! I’ve made my own ricotta, too — looks like time to dust that recipe off.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:53 am

      Lasagna is a wonderful birthday treat, what a beautiful memory!

  • Avatar
    Andrea Howe
    April 15, 2020 10:02 pm

    I’ve never heard of ricotta balls, but what a great recipe to know why right now when it’s tough to get good quality meat. Definitely going to make this comforting dish this week!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:03 am

      That is very true, Andrea. It’s so useful to have delicious meat-free options on hand.

  • Avatar
    Veena Azmanov
    April 15, 2020 7:51 pm

    This looks delicious and one of my family favorite too. Best Dinner ever.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:03 am

      Thank you, Veena.

  • Avatar
    Christy Boston’s Kitchen
    April 15, 2020 6:36 pm

    I learned something new today; that spaghetti with meatballs is pretty much an American thing and not really and Italian thing at all! I love cooking with ricotta, but I never imagined it being used like this. I bet those ricotta balls soak up all that yummy sauce flavor, too… making me hungry, you are! (Pinned for later.)

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:04 am

      Thank you, Christy. I hope you try it and love it.

  • Avatar
    Kay
    April 15, 2020 6:03 pm

    This dish looks mouthwatering and it’s making me hungry lol
    I will be trying this out very soon
    Thanks for sharing!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:07 am

      Thank you, Kay. I hope if you make it, you love it!

  • Avatar
    Saif
    April 15, 2020 4:11 pm

    Now that is the pasta that I willing to try. By the look of it, I am sure it taste delicious. Anything with Ricotta always make the pasta perfect.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:04 am

      The ricotta is so good in this dish!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    April 15, 2020 11:31 am

    These are perfect for when you crave meatballs but should eat less meat. They look absolutely delicious!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:00 am

      Thank you! You won’t miss meat with this dish!

  • Avatar
    Genevieve
    April 15, 2020 7:42 am

    Your blog posts are always so drool-worthy! This recipe looks delicious!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:00 am

      Thank you!

  • Avatar
    Lori | The Kitchen Whisperer
    April 15, 2020 3:54 am

    I. LOVE. THIS!!! I cannot wait to try this! It’s funny you mention about Italians not eating meatballs with their pasta but rather on the side. I married into an Italian family and that’s how it’s served as well. I never knew I was doing it “wrong” if you will.

    But this dish.. my lord it looks amazing!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 6:00 am

      That story made me smile, Lori! Never fear, there really is no wrong way to enjoy good food 🙂

  • Avatar
    Nart | Cooking with Nart
    April 15, 2020 2:30 am

    Another scrumptious looking ricotta recipe I need to try!!!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:57 am

      There are so many, Nart! I hope you get to try it.

  • Avatar
    Alpa
    April 15, 2020 2:00 am

    This looks delicious with my favorite ricotta cheese. Thanks for sharing a vegetarian pasta dish.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:54 am

      I hope you try it and love it, Alpa!

  • Avatar
    Elizabeth Newman
    April 15, 2020 1:18 am

    These sound delish. I would so overeat on these.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:54 am

      It’s very easy to eat lots of this dish!

  • Avatar
    Jere Cassidy
    April 15, 2020 12:36 am

    I just love meatball and I prefer them not being with my pasta too. This is a must-try recipe, looks simple and tasty.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:53 am

      Thank you, Jere.

  • Avatar
    Bernice Hill
    April 14, 2020 11:35 pm

    What?!! This is amazing. I have never heard of these ricotta balls. I have a huge container of ricotta in my fridge that needs using up and now I know what I’m making for dinner!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 5:26 am

      Perfect! You need never have leftover ricotta again!

  • Avatar
    Jenny S Graves
    April 14, 2020 10:11 pm

    Genius recipe, what a great idea! The ricotta balls look scrumptious and amazing. I am always looking for new ways to do a pasta dinner, will try these this week. Thank you!!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 4:56 am

      I am sure you will love them!

  • Avatar
    Joyce
    April 14, 2020 8:52 pm

    This looks like such a comforting meal! I need to add it to the list of my must-try recipes!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 4:56 am

      It is a great comfort food dish and with only 20 minutes prep time, perfect for a weeknight meal!

  • Avatar
    Aleta
    April 14, 2020 8:22 pm

    I love these ricotta balls! They are easy to make and are so much tastier than ground beef meatballs. My kids prefer them as well!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 4:54 am

      Thank you, Aleta. They are very tasty!

  • Avatar
    Rochelle
    April 14, 2020 7:56 pm

    My 2 favorite things in the world are pasta and cheese. This looks sooooo good. Really excited to make this!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 4:50 am

      I agree with both of those, Rochelle!

  • Avatar
    Marta
    April 14, 2020 7:14 pm

    I can taste how fresh the tomato sauce is. I love making the effort to make sauce from scratch.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 20, 2020 4:49 am

      Once you have made your own sauce, it’s so much fresher, it’s hard to go back!

  • Avatar
    Andrea Metlika
    April 11, 2020 10:18 pm

    I love all the cheese in these Ricotta Balls. Super delicious!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 12, 2020 9:40 pm

      The cheeses are such a good combination!

  • Avatar
    Chris Collins
    April 11, 2020 9:05 pm

    Okay I think you’ve just changed my life, I never knew these balls of deliciousness existed!! Totally trying the recipe this weekend.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 12, 2020 9:41 pm

      Life changing is always good! Hope you try it and love it!

  • Avatar
    Erika
    April 11, 2020 8:46 pm

    These ricotta balls look incredible. I’m definitely pinning this so I can make when I buy the ingredients.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 12, 2020 9:44 pm

      Thank you, Erika! I hope you can easily find the ingredients!

  • Avatar
    Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry
    April 11, 2020 8:33 pm

    What a delicious looking dish! It has my mouth watering just looking at it.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 12, 2020 9:46 pm

      Thank you, Bintu!

  • Avatar
    Anita
    April 11, 2020 8:12 pm

    These ricotta balls are better than having meatballs with pasta. It’s so easy and so delicious. You are getting me hooked on so many different cheeses, in a good way of course. 🙂

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      April 12, 2020 9:47 pm

      Thank you, Anita. It’s a great choice for a meatless meal.

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