A hearty recipe for meatballs stuffed with little orbs of mozzarella and served in a rich tomato sauce with bucatini pasta noodles. Bucatini are essentially thick spaghetti with a unique twist that comes from having a hole down the middle like a tube. They’re plump and hefty and hold up well to these colossal meatballs.
The meatballs are seasoned with onion, garlic, oregano, parsley and Parmesan cheese, then each one is formed and stuffed with a fresh basil leaf and a baby ball of fresh mozzarella called bocconcini. They get briefly baked and then simmered in a gorgeous tomato sauce. The sauce infuses into the meatballs and the meatballs lend some of their flavor to the sauce. A win-win. Nothing spells home to me more than the smell of simmering sauce bubbling away on the stove. It’s the best kind of comfort I know.
The meatballs have incredible flavor, moist and tender, they just about melt in your mouth with the molten, stringy middles that slowly ooze when you cut into them. They are perfectly matched with the soft, fat chewy noodles dripping with the fresh tasting, rosy red sauce. And just might be what makes my world go around.
Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs and Bucatini
(by Reeni) (Makes about 25 meatballs depending on size)
1 + 1/2 pound ground beef or ground pork/beef/veal mix 80-85% lean
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for serving
1/3 cup Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 teaspoons oregano
1/3 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon sea or kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1 pound bocconcini* or fresh mozzarella cut into 1/2-inch cubes
fresh basil leaves
1 large onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
Olive oil, for sauteing
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 heaping tablespoon Italian seasoning
2 bay leaves
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
2 (28 ounce) cans/boxes crushed or strained tomatoes (like Tuttorosso or Pomi)
a pinch or two of sugar
1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
1 pound of bucatini/perciatelli or spaghetti
1. In a large mixing bowl use a fork to combine all the meatball ingredients except mozzarella and basil.
2. Lightly grease a large baking sheet and preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Pat a small hunk of meat flat in the palm of your hand, place a basil leaf in the middle and a mozzarella ball. Form the meat evenly around it, pat it together well and roll it in the palm of your hand. Place on baking sheet and repeat until all the meat is used. Bake for 10 minutes.
3. In an extra large sauce pan over medium-low heat saute the onion and bell pepper in plenty of olive oil until soft and tender. Add garlic, Italian seasoning and bay leaves. Saute until garlic is fragrant. Add tomato paste, stir into onion mixture and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, sugar and a 1/2 tomato paste can full of water. Carefully add meatballs. Bring to a simmer and simmer slowly for 35-45 minutes. Taste during and at the end seasoning the sauce as needed with additional herbs, salt and pepper. Add basil at the end and remove from heat. Serve with bucatini or spaghetti, Parmesan cheese and crusty Italian or garlic bread.
*Can be found on the olive bar in your market or with the specialty cheeses in the Italian section.
**Bucatini are also called perciatelli. I found them under the Ronzoni brand.