Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs

Meatballs - who loves them?! There's something about meatballs that is comforting to me. Maybe it's because I grew up excited about 'spaghetti & meatball' night, whether it was made at home or was a special dinner out at the local Olive Garden. Regardless, I always remember enjoying pasta with meatballs. It wasn't a true pasta dish without meatballs in my book! There's so many ways to prepare them and recently, I decided to stuff them... with cheese. (Anything stuffed with cheese is delicious, by the way.)  These meatballs are tender and flavorful with a soft, creamy center of mozzarella cheese. Enjoy them as an appetizer on it's own or with your favorite pasta...

I meant to share this back on National Meatball Day (March 9th) but life's hectic schedule got the best of me. Better late than never I say! I took a sauce and meatball recipe from Cooking Light and made very little to no changes with the exception of adding fresh mozzarella into the center of each meatball. They were perfect and addictive! I'll need to double this recipe for next time and they make for a great freezer meal too...

Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/3 cup dry red wine
(15-ounce) cans unsalted crushed tomatoes
(14.5-ounce) cans unsalted diced tomatoes, undrained
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Cooking spray
1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 pounds 90% lean ground sirloin
6 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
garlic cloves, minced
eggs, lightly beaten
1 large fresh mozzarella ball (8oz), diced small

To prepare sauce, heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil; swirl to coat. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 5 garlic cloves, and basil to pan; cook 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Add tomato paste; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Stir in wine; cook 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and sugar; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes or until thickened, stirring occasionally. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Preheat oven to 450°.

To prepare meatballs, place all meatball ingredients in a large bowl; stir until combined. Shape into meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each), tucking in a piece of mozzarella inside while ensuring it is completely enclosed. Arrange meatballs on prepared pans and bake at 450° for 15 minutes. Remove oven from pan and add meatballs to tomato sauce; simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Garnish with fresh basil before serving if desired.

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