Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs can be a great meal for weeknight dinners (and leftovers for lunch), big family dinners, or even for entertaining. But don't fall into the trap of preparing boring noodles with jarred sauce and hunks of rolled up ground beef. Yuck.

The key to making good spaghetti and meatballs is, duh, the meatballs - but I'll get to that. First, a little word on the dish as a whole. Don't discount the other ingredients - you want your delicious meatballs to be served on a bed of tasty heaven.

If you really want to impress your guests / family / yourself, make your own sauce. Homemade sauce is super easy but best if cooked for a long time, so if you are in a rush, or just bad at time management, like me -  head to an Italian deli to pick up some homemade sauce. The noodles are very important. I grew up eating regular spaghetti noodles which I have nothing against, but then my mom switched to angel hair. I HATE angel hair noodles with tomato sauce. I feel like it turns into a pile of mush. Angel hair should be in a dish like shrimp scampi or tossed with olive oil and fresh garlic. Spaghetti and meatballs needs a noodle with some bite and substance. But that's just me. If you like angel hair, go for it! Finding the right noodle really is a personal preference thing. I'm obsessed with bucatini noodles, they are like spaghetti noodles but with a hole running through the center. I love the texture of them. I haven't been able to find them at a chain grocery store, but I can get them at my local Italian store and deli.

Now that you have your noodles and sauce planned out, it's time for the star of this dish - my tender, delicious, cheesy Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs.

These things are obviously going to be freaking fabulous because they are stuffed with a delicious piece of mozzarella that oozes out as you cut into your meatball, but they are made even more delicious by the addition of a few surprising ingredients.

You're probably thinking, what's that green thing in the meatball? That, my friend, is zucchini and don't even think about leaving it out. Not only are you getting something green into your meal of carbs and cheese, they also offer extra moisture and tenderness. No one likes a dried out meatball. My next secret ingredient is panko japanese bread crumbs instead of regular old bread crumbs. I get mine at Trader Joe's but they are readily available in the asian aisle of most large supermarkets. I think they add extra crunch and cohesiveness to the meatball without making them dense. 

After that everything is pretty basic. Lots of garlic, parmesan cheese, some red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, a little ketchup, and egg. Every time I make these I have to resist adding more spices, since I'm a freak for seasoning things. But really everything these meatballs need is in this recipe. I recommend grating your onion and squeezing the water out. If you choose to use bell pepper, only use half a bell pepper and be sure to chop it finely. Last time I made these I used a whole green bell pepper and got a little lazy with the chopping, the meatballs were still out of this world but every now and again you got too much of a crunch of bell pepper overwhelming the meat. Also, I would recommend red over green bell pepper since I find them a bit sweeter.

{see the yummy cheese oozing out?}

If I haven't convinced you already that these meatballs are quite possibly the best meatballs ever, then why don't you give them a try and see for yourself!

Michelle's Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
makes 20 - 24 meatballs

1 pound lean ground sirloin
1 small to medium onion - grated
1 small zucchini - shredded
1/2 red or green bell pepper - very finely chopped (optional)
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
heaping 1/3 cup grated or shredded parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons ketchup
4 - 5 garlic cloves - minced
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground  black pepper
1 large egg
2 oz mozzarella cheese cut into 1/2 inch cubes

- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place ground sirloin in a large bowl.
- Prep ingredients. Using a cheese grater, grate the onion. Put the grated onion in a fine mesh sieve and squeeze the excess water out. Add the onion to the bowl with the meat.
- Using a cheese grater, shred the zucchini. Place zucchini shreds in the bowl with the meat and onion.
- Dice half a red or green bell peper. Very finely. The finer the better or you can omit this step. Add diced bell pepper to the bowl with meat, onion, and zucchini.
- Add the next 8 ingredients to the bowl - panko, shredded parmesan cheese, ketchup, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and egg. 
- Mix using your hands, gently but throughly.
- Take a heaping spoonful of meat mixture and form a flat patty. Add a piece of mozzarella cheese to the center of the patty and roll patty around cheese to form a ball. Place on baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the meat mixture.
- Bake in oven for 15 - 18 minutes or until cooked through.
- Serve with your favorite sauce and noodles. Or simply enjoy alone. They are that good.

Peace, love, pasta and meatballs, and happiness!


  1. I just made spaghetti yesterday, I wish I knew about this, but I'm going to save it for next week. The zucchini is brilliant, though I might add some spicy italian sausage to the meat mixture, I did so when I made some stuffed mushroom caps, and I had lots of the stuffing left over, so I filled up to halves of a green bell pepper, as well as two halves of a tomato that I hollowed out, and baked them as well, and topped them both off with cheese. All was very tasty.

  2. I'm sure spicy italian sausage will be delicious in these! Thanks to you now I want to make stuffed mushrooms! Thanks for reading.

  3. Thanks for the great recipe! Salad we had with the dinner was amazing too! Who made that?

  4. is there a substitution for the bread crumbs - to be grain free? May coconut flour? Or simply leave out?

  5. These were so yummy. I never thought to use coconut flour. I used pankos to make it gluten free.


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