Saturday, October 2, 2021

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs


Fall is upon us. It's time to move on from summer fare to some heartier dishes. And one of my favorite fall dishes is spaghetti and meatballs. I've always made my meatballs with a traditional recipe, but last week I stumbled on this Cook's Country recipe for stuffed meatballs....and I was hooked.

There's only one important thing to keep in mind when making these meatballs. Moisture is the enemy. If your meatball is too moist, the cheese will ooze out of the meatball during cooking. In our perfect world, the cheese does not ooze out until you cut into the meatball.

So we will be using no white bread, milk or cream in our meat mixture. Panko bread crumbs are a necessity to minimize the moisture. Choose 93% lean ground beef to keep from getting too much fat into the meatball. Mozzarella string cheese is the easiest way to create 15 equal portions for stuffing. And after forming the meatballs, we will brown them in oil and then gently poach them in a simple marinara sauce. 

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 large eggs
1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
1 pound bulk hot Italian sausage
1 pound 93% lean ground beef
3, 4-1/2 inch long sticks mozzarella string cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon dried Turkish oregano
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

  1. Combine panko, 1/2 cup Parmesan, eggs, 2 tablespoons basil, half of garlic, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in large bowl. Add sausage and knead with your hands until incorporated into panko mixture. Add beef and knead until just incorporated. (Do not overmix or meatballs will be tough.) Using greased 1/4-cup dry measuring cup, divide meat mixture into 15 portions and place on plate. 
  2. Cut mozzarella sticks crosswise into fifteen, 3/4-inch cubes (each stick should yield 5 cubes). Place 1 mozzarella cube in center of each meat portion and pinch meat around cheese to enclose. Roll meat between wet hands to form completely sealed meatball. Place stuffed meatballs on plate and refrigerate for 30 minutes or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours. 
  3. Heat oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add meatballs and cook until browned on 1 side, about 3 minutes. Flip meatballs and cook until browned on opposite side, about 3 minutes. Transfer meatballs to plate. (Sides of meatballs will still appear raw.)
  4. Discard all but 1 tablespoon fat from skillet and return to medium heat. Add onion and cook until just softened and beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add oregano and remaining garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomatoes, remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
  5. Nestle meatballs in sauce with 1 browned side up and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 4 minutes. Flip meatballs so second browned side is up. Cover and continue to cook for 4 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and let rest, covered, for 5 minutes. Remove cover and sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons basil. Serve meatballs and sauce over hot spaghetti.

Wine pairing: Chianti

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