Yesterday my sweet, loveable, boisterous co-worker Debbie sat uncharacteristically pouty in her swivel chair starring over her enormous desk at me with dark and slightly sadden eyes, and relayed to me the source of her despair. Their family dinner out had been somewhat disappointing. She had ordered Applebee’s Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs for dinner and had expected to bite into delicious moist morsels of meatball perfection and find lingering behind said bite a luscious line of naughty, gooey mozzarella cheese. However the meatballs contained no cheese at all or what cheese had been inside had completely disintegrated into the meat. Oh poor un-stuffed, empty little meatballs. It’s just sad. Depressingly sad as any cheese lover can appreciate.
Shame on you Applebee’s. Shame on you.
My heart was bleeding for my co-worker as I know all to well how utterly disappointing restaurant dining can be at times. So being the dear, beautiful, humble, altruistic friend that I am, I promised to bring her Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs for lunch the following day that would not disappoint. So I went home and prepared Fresh Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs & Chiocciole in a Burst Tomato Sauce. And true to my word, I came through for Debbie. Yes my stuffed meatballs were amazing and of course the mozzarella was fresh, gooey cheesy perfection.
With a happy mouth full of meatball perfection and while playfully untangling the perfectly gooey string of mozzarella Debbie announced, “Now that’s a good meatball!”
What can I say? I aim to please. And apparently I please far better than Applebee’s.
Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
1/2 lb 85% ground beef (preferably local, sustainable beef and don’t skip the fat in this recipe as it will make for a more flavorful and tender meatball)
2 slices day old bread
splash of milk
1/2 sweet onion, chopped
1-3 cloves garlic, minced (add to preference)
fresh mozzarella cheese, torn into small chunks
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil, chopped
2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano
2 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
Note – breadcrumbs intentionally left out of this recipe because they will dry out the meatball
Finely chop bread slices and add to a mixing bowl with a splash of milk. Toss bread and milk until well combined and set aside. In a sauté pan over medium high heat, add about two tablespoons of olive oil. Once oil is simmering hot, add in the chopped sweet onion and cook until onion is translucent about four minutes. Turn off heat and add in chopped garlic. Once the onion garlic mixture has cooled, add it to the mixing bowl with the sliced bread. Add remaining ingredients except the mozzarella to the mixing bowl and combine the meat mixture well but do not over mix the ground beef (it will toughen the meat). Form the meat mixture into medium sized meatballs and try to keep the balls as uniform as possible (this will help insure even cooking time). Set meatballs on a baking sheet lined with wax papper until all the meat mixture has been formed. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Add one chunk of mozzarella to each meatball by pressing the cheese in the center of the meatball and then forming the meat around the cheese. No cheese should be visible. Once each meatball has been stuffed, heat a large oven safe sauté pan over medium high heat (I use cast iron) with about two tablespoons of olive oil (you want just enough oil to evenly coat the bottom of your pan). Sear each meatball on top and bottom in batches if needed (if you crowd the pan the meatballs will not caramelize properly). Once the meatballs are seared on both sides, transfer the pan to the oven until meatballs are cooked through, about 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. If your pan is smaller, transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet lined with lightly oiled aluminum and bake until cooked through. Serve hot with pasta, on sandwiches, or on their own.
Alternatives: you can also bake the meatballs in your favorite homemade or purchased marina sauce and top with additional cheese if desired. I drown mine in homemade marina sauce just before placing the meatballs in the oven and top them with fresh chopped basil as soon as I take them out. Also, if you are unable to find fresh herbs then use good quality dry herbs but sauté them with the onion and garlic.