Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Tomato sauce with mozzarella-filled meat balls - perfect for Valentine's Day!

I make ragù on an almost weekly basis and always keep some in my freezer for a last-minute, balanced meal for the kids. Vegetables, protein, carbs, dairy/calcium all in one. Lately, however, I have been on a ground meat roll, making anything from sturdy meatloaf, to shepherd's pie to more genteel meat balls. And  then, the other day I suddenly realized I had never made spaghetti and meatballs for the kids! Such an important part of their American (yes, American! not Italian) heritage.

Italian children of my generation (and later ones) only discovered spaghetti and meatballs when the Tramp nudged that last meatball over to Lady with his damp nose in that charming Italian trattoria, definitely not because their mamma lovingly prepared it for them. Although this dish was originally inspired by similar recipes from the South, in the Old World, it was the Italian immigrants that made it popular in the New World around the turn of last century. 

Disney's Lady and the Tramp - Happy Valentine's day

I have been seeing cheese-stuffed meat balls around for a while and couldn't resist. I mean what could make a classic even better, if not warm mozzarella oozing out of a soft, tender meat ball into tomato sauce?
So with a quick decision to substitute fusilli for spaghetti because it was a weeknight meal and learning to twirl spaghetti around a fork is still quite time-demanding (American heritage is a must, but when it comes to pasta etiquette, the children's Italian half reigns supreme), I set off to work using the most basic meat ball recipe. Feel free to substitute bread crumbs with milk-soaked bread. Add in some chopped parsley for color and freshness, use a mix of ground beef and pork or veal for added flavor. Give your sauce a kick with some dried chili. Brown the meat balls in a pan before cooking them in the tomato sauce for added flavor. Serve them as a main course with rice or potatoes and greens for all I care! Use buffalo milk or cow milk mozzarella, just remember to add the milky nuggets of cheese, 'kay? 
What can I say? Both the American and Italian in my kids loved them!
P.S. I am leaving for a few days, but if you want to see what I am up to, you can follow me on Instagram (nutsaboutfood).
Ingredients (serves four)
1 mozzarella, diced
about 1lb/500gr ground beef
1 egg
about 3/4 cup bread crumbs
50gr/ 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated + extra for garnish
1 large tin/bottle crushed tomatoes/sauce
1 large yellow onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped or halved
olive oil
Heat olive oil in a casserole and sauté the chopped onion and garlic until soft. Pour in  the crushed tomatoes and simmer over low heat while you make the meat balls.
Dice the mozzarella and set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the ground meat, breadcrumbs, egg, Parmesan cheese, pepper and salt to taste. Use more or less breadcrumbsm, according to texture. You want it to be soft but not too sticky.
When the meat mixture is ready, start making the meat balls. Make them big enough to enclose the cheese cubes. Form a ball, flatten it into a disk on your palm, add the cube of mozzarella and close the meat around it. Make sure the meatball has no seems and is quite compact because the mozzarella tends to ooze out while they cook.
At this point I would normally brown the meat balls in a pan for extra flavor, but time was of essence and I wanted the meat to remain meltingly tender and yielding to the fork so I directly placed them in the sauce. Cover the casserole with a lid and cook slowly over low heat, turning now and again, until ready.
Serve with pasta, which you will have previously cooked and drained, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and pepper.


  1. I am a certified meatball lover! Put them anywhere and I'll be sold :D I love stuffed ones even more-what's not to love about a little surprise inside?

  2. Happy Valentine's Day! (almost) The only thing better than a meatball is one filled with mozzarella :-)

  3. yum! I cant think of a better food for any occasion!!

  4. Cheese IN the meatball! You're on to something here.

  5. Oh yum! I would totally be at your house on a weekly basis. I love ragu...and anything with tomatoes and meat balls. Thank you for sharing another delectable recipe and post. This whetted my appetite for dinner! I hope you have a love-filled week, my friend!

  6. This really sounds delicious! My grandmother made meatloaf with mozzarella inside, but this sounds even better—more cheese vs. meat!

  7. Oh man, my family is going to love you for this one!

  8. Yum! Friday night used to spaghetti and meatball night, totally need to reinstate that! I like to use mashed potatoes instead of bready mixtures, also don't you think buffalo mozzarella would be too watery? Have you tried it? Cause I prefer it, but not sure how it would turn out in a meatball... Last question, is there a reason you didn't brown them first? Thanks! Must try this lovely mozzarella filled version!


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