- 1/2 pound fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1 bulb fennel, finely diced
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 slices white bread, torn into small pieces
- 1 cup milk
- 1/2 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground veal
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1 large egg
- Zest of 1 lemon, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes, plus more for topping
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted and ground
- 1/2 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 bunch parsley, leaves finely chopped
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 cup canola oil
- 8 cups tomato sauce
- Cooked bucatini or spaghetti, for serving (optional)
- Fennel pollen, for topping (optional)
Put the ricotta in a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl; let drain in the refrigerator overnight.
Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the olive oil, diced fennel, onion and garlic. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes; let cool completely.
Meanwhile, put the bread in a bowl, add the milk and soak about 5 minutes. Mix the beef, veal and pork in a large bowl. Add the onion mixture, egg, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, pecorino, parmesan and parsley. Drain the bread, add it to the meat mixture and mix until combined. Season with salt and pepper.
Mix the ricotta and salt to taste in a bowl; transfer to a pastry bag with a round tip. Form the meat mixture into 24 meatballs (slightly larger than golf balls). Make a 1-inch indentation in each meatball with your thumb, then pipe in about 1 teaspoon ricotta and form the meat around it to cover the cheese.
Heat the canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the meatballs and cook until golden brown on all sides, about 7 minutes; set aside. Warm the tomato sauce in a large saucepan over medium heat. Put the meatballs in the tomato sauce and simmer until cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Divide the meatballs and sauce among bowls; serve over bucatini, if desired. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch each of red pepper flakes and fennel pollen, if desired.
Photograph by Joseph DeLeo