These Turkey Ricotta Meatballs Will Win You a Small Victory

updated Aug 28, 2023
Turkey Ricotta Meatballs
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turkey ricotta meatballs in Dutch oven
Credit: Gentl & Hyers

The first thing I ever cooked for my wife, Grace, were these meatballs. I made the mixture at my apartment, then packed it up with a box of pasta, ingredients for sauce, and a pot (she told me she had only a skillet) and took it all to her apartment … which soon became my apartment, too.

A small victory here is not only about getting someone to marry you (!), but also about making meatballs that are incredibly light and tender by incorporating a generous amount of ricotta cheese in the mixture. In fact, I’ve found that by adding ricotta, you can skip the usual breadcrumbs and eggs (which also makes this recipe gluten-free, if that’s important to you) — I love any addition that allows you to let go of a few things.

Another small victory is baking the meatballs instead of frying them. It’s much less messy and so easy — win-win.

Credit: Gentl & Hyers

Please note that while most of the recipes in this book serve four, I’ve made this one a bit larger because whenever I make meatballs, I like to make a ton so that I can freeze some. That way, I can have meatballs on the spur of the moment. I thought you might like that too, but feel free to cut the recipe in half if you prefer.

Serve the meatballs with pasta, polenta, rice, garlic bread, or just on their own! Whichever way you choose, be sure to sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Julia Turshen’s Small Victories was Kitchn’s June 2020 pick for our Cookbook Club.

Turkey Ricotta Meatballs

Makes about 30 meatballs

Serves 4 to 8

Nutritional Info


  • 2 (28-ounce) cans

    whole peeled tomatoes

  • 7 tablespoons

    extra-virgin olive oil

  • 7

    garlic cloves; 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced

  • Kosher salt

  • 1 cup

    fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 cup

    fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 1/2 cups

    fresh whole milk ricotta cheese

  • 1/2 cup

    finely grated Parmesan cheese

  • 2 pounds

    ground turkey (preferably dark meat), at room temperature


  1. Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children). Rinse one of the cans with about 1/4 cup water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans, and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.

  2. In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.

  3. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 tablespoons olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.

  4. In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey, and 1 tablespoon salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

  5. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve.

Recipe Notes

Reprinted from Small Victories by Julia Turshen with permission by Chronicle Books, 2016.

For sausage and ricotta meatballs, instead of ground turkey, use 2 pounds of your favorite sausage meat. Just take it out of its casings and proceed as directed. I like using half sweet and half spicy Italian sausage.

For a slightly Moroccan riff, use ground lamb instead of turkey and finely crumbled feta instead of Parmesan. Leave out the ricotta. Add a handful each of toasted pine nuts and raisins to the mixture, and use mint instead of basil. Add a cinnamon stick to the tomato sauce (remove it before serving the meatballs).