Make a Place for Tom Colicchio’s Meatballs at Your Sunday Dinner Table
How to make the celebrity chef's famous veal ricotta meatballs at home
In March of 2020 when the pandemic was just starting to peak in New York City, Brooklyn-based celebrity chef Tom Colicchio reached out to former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo via Twitter and offered to cook him some “Sunday gravy” for being truthful with the residents of his state. Colicchio, who operates a number of eateries in NYC including his first-ever Italian restaurant Vallata, then clarified what is required for something to achieve “gravy” status. “It’s marinara sauce until you add meatballs and sausage, then it[‘s] gravy,” he wrote.
Should Cuomo ever decide to take Colicchio up on his offer, he can head to Vallata for the restaurant’s new Sunday Gravy menu, which was inspired by a Colicchio family tradition of gathering together on the first day of the week and eating very, very well. Featuring two family-style courses stocked with dishes including potato focaccia, Tuscan kale salad and sweet fennel sausage, the Sunday Gravy is highlighted by Colicchio’s veal and ricotta meatballs.
Per Colicchio, the recipe for the meatballs (which you’ll find below) is an adaptation of a recipe that a friend brought back when he was overseas in Italy working in Florence. “It’s not your average meatball,” he tells InsideHook. “Veal is just lighter than pork or beef with a much lighter flavor. It’s ground three times and then mixed together with an equal amount of ricotta cheese. They’re really, really light and delicate because there’s so much cheese in them. They’re very tender and not tough at all. They’re not really meaty. It’s a very different meatball than any other meatball.”
Formed, floured and frozen before being fried and served in tomato basil sauce with bread, not pasta, on the side for mop-up duty, the meatballs are almost entirely made of meat and cheese and do not contain any fillers such as breadcrumbs. “Every culture has a meatball and they’re all very different. But if it’s an Italian meatball, I’m looking for something that doesn’t have too much filler,” Colicchio says. “I’ve seen everything from regular breadcrumbs to cubed-up bread soaked in milk and mixed with the meat. That’s just all filler. As long as it’s well-seasoned, well-cooked and flavorful, that’s all I’m looking for.”
Make some room in your freezer and mangia.
Tom Colicchio’s Veal Ricotta Meatballs
- 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
- 1 pound ground veal (have the butcher triple grind the veal), chilled
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus additional for serving
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt plus additional for seasoning the sauce
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
- About 1 cup of all-purpose flour
- 1 jar Tomato Basil Jersey Tomato Sauce
- Vegetable oil for frying
- Spoon the ricotta onto a large piece of cheesecloth; gather the sides together around the cheese and tie closed. Place the wrapped cheese in a sieve set over a bowl. Weight the cheese and refrigerate overnight to drain.
- Combine the ricotta, veal, eggs and Parmigiano in a large bowl. Season the mixture with 1 tablespoon salt, a generous amount of pepper and nutmeg. Mix vigorously until completely smooth, pale and homogenized, about 4 minutes. Chill the mixture thoroughly before shaping it into meatballs.
- Dust a baking sheet and your hands with flour. Keep the remaining flour nearby in a bowl. Gently form the meat into balls about 2 1⁄2” in diameter, flouring your hands again between meatballs. (Alternatively, use a floured ice cream scoop to form the meatballs.) Arrange the meatballs on the floured baking sheet. Cover the meatballs with plastic wrap and chill or freeze.
- Warm the tomato sauce in a large Dutch oven or high-sided skillet over medium-low heat.
- Heat about 1⁄2” oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, begin carefully frying the meatballs in batches moving them as little as possible. Cook the meatballs until the bottoms are nicely browned, about 2 minutes, then gently turn them.
- Continue frying until the meatballs are browned all over, about 10 minutes more. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the meatballs to the pot of tomato sauce.
- Finish cooking the meatballs in the tomato sauce, simmering gently over medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes. (They can remain in the sauce for hours without ill effects.)
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