Ricotta cheese and fresh bread crumbs are the secret ingredients that make these meatballs moist and tender. You can make the bread crumbs in advance and store them in a zippered plastic bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Serve the meatballs and sauce tucked into hoagie rolls or spooned on top of pasta or sautéed spinach.
Slow-Cooker Pork and Ricotta Meatballs with Garlicky Tomato Sauce
- 3 lb. (1.5 kg) ground pork
- 1/2 lb. (250 g) good-quality sliced white bread, processed into crumbs in a food processor
- 1 large yellow onion, minced
- 1 cup (8 oz./250 g) ricotta cheese
- 4 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp. ground fennel
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 cans (each 28 oz./875 g) crushed tomatoes with their juice
- 1 can (15 oz./470 g) tomato sauce
- 1 tsp. fresh oregano leaves
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 large sprig fresh basil, plus chopped basil for garnish (optional)
- Grated Parmesan cheese for garnish
1. To make the meatballs, in a large bowl, combine the pork, bread crumbs, half of the onion, the ricotta, the eggs, the fennel, 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper. Using a wooden spoon, mix well. Oil 2 large rimmed baking sheets. To shape each meatball, scoop up about 3 1/2 Tbs. of the meat mixture and roll between your palms. As the balls are ready, arrange them on the prepared baking sheets, dividing them evenly between the pans and spacing them at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart. You should have 30 to 34 meatballs. Cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.
2. To make the sauce, in the slow cooker, combine the tomatoes, tomato sauce, the remaining onion, the oregano, garlic, basil sprig, 1 tsp. salt and a few grinds of pepper and stir well. Cover and cook on the low-heat setting for 1 hour.
3. About 30 minutes before the sauce is ready, position 2 oven racks in the middle of an oven and preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Roast the meatballs, rotating the pans between the racks and from front to back about halfway through the cooking, until browned, about 20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to the sauce in the slow cooker. Discard any fat on the pans.
4. Cover and cook on low for 4 hours. The meatballs should be cooked through and the sauce should be flavorful. Remove and discard the basil.
5. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a platter and spoon the sauce over the top. Garnish with chopped basil and the cheese and serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10.
Learn to make the most of your slow cooker with this and other inspiring recipes in our Quick Slow Cooking, by Kim Laidlaw.