Ricotta Is The Star Ingredient For Cooking Ultra-Juicy Meatballs In Your Air Fryer

Achieving that perfectly tender texture for classic Italian meatballs can be a challenge, especially when you're using an intense heat source, like an air fryer. These gadgets are great for giving foods a nice, crispy exterior, but their method of high heat circulation can result in a dry product. For a dish like meatballs, which can easily dry out, starting the recipe with a lot of moisture is key. This can be accomplished by adding fat to the mix, and a great way to infuse meatballs with both fat and lots of flavor is to add cheese — ricotta, to be exact.

But why ricotta? Full-fat ricotta is a high-moisture, high-fat cheese, and its consistency blends well into a meatball mix. Its flavor isn't overpowering like many other cheeses; rather, it provides texture, milkiness, saltiness, and richness while allowing the flavors from the meat and seasonings to take center stage. Even under the harsh heat of the air fryer, a meatball infused with ricotta will stay moist and tender, producing a finished dish with a crisp exterior and a soft inside.

What is ricotta, and how does it help moisten meatballs?

Ricotta is known as a "whey cheese," which is cheese made using the leftover whey after a different type of cheese has already been made. Ricotta is also a fresh cheese, and it's very wet at that. Whole-milk ricotta is up to 80% moisture; compare that to fresh mozzarella, which is only up to 60% moisture. The combination of moisture and fat in ricotta makes it an ideal addition to a juicy meatball; the cheese ensures that as the air fryer's heat cooks the meatballs, they won't fully dry out.

Most meatball recipes will contain some form of fat or other moisture, whether it's a splash of milk or another type of flavorful liquid. With ricotta meatballs, the addition of extra liquids like milk isn't necessary; the ricotta plays that role wonderfully, resulting in a meatball that will hold its shape while still being as tender as possible on the inside.

Avoid these meatball mistakes

Even with a healthy serving of ricotta in your meatballs, the danger of a dried-out product still persists, especially when you're cooking meatballs in an air fryer. Small errors in preparation can add up and cause your tender treats to seize in the air fryer, leaving you with a spongey, unappetizing result.

While you're mixing in your ricotta, resist the temptation to over-mix your meatballs. While it's important to fully incorporate all the ingredients into your meatball mix, over-mixing can adversely affect the final texture. Mixing the meat, along with adding salt, causes myosin — a type of protein that can cause toughness and chewiness — to activate. Activate too much of it by over-mixing, and your meatballs will lose their tenderness.

Another important note: Shape your meatballs loosely. Don't pack them so they're super dense; this can cause them to become even more compact and chewy as they cook in the air fryer. Shape gently and don't squeeze the meat. Between this and the fluffy, creamy ricotta mixed in, you're on your way to perfect air-fryer meatballs.