Bocconcini Stuffed Meatballs with Tomato-Pesto Sauce

IMG_1437

You can’t go wrong with a meatball. And stuffed with cheese? Duh. These delectable spheres of meaty goodness are served alongside a San Marzano tomato sauce and pesto mixture, and hidden inside the beef/pork combo is a melty hunk of mozzarella. Oh yes. Serve alongside a green salad with a crusty loaf of bread. Recipe courtesy of Rachael Ray.

TW’s Tips

  • I didn’t love the parsley pesto — which is sans cheese and pinenuts. I might even substitute a pre-made pesto next time. Costco makes an amazing one.
  • If you can’t find bocconcini (usually in the cheese section in a plastic tub with water or olive oil), just buy fresh mozzarella and cut it into small chunks.

IMG_1439

Bocconcini Stuffed Meatballs with Tomato-Pesto Sauce

Ingredients

  • 4 slices stale white or farmhouse type bread, broken into pieces
  • Milk, to moisten the bread
  • 2 ½ lb. ground meat mix – pork, veal, and beef mix
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Generous handful, flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped plus ½ c. leaves intact
  • ¾ c. grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 16 little bocconcini cheese balls or 16 cubes of mozzarella cheese (about 1 lb.)
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil plus ¼ c. for the pesto
  • 1- 28 oz. can plum tomatoes (your favorites)
  • 1 c. fresh basil leaves (pack the cup firmly)
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest
  • ¼ c. chicken or vegetable stock

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 425ºF.

Place the torn bread in a small bowl with the milk (make sure all the bread is submerged) and reserve.

In a large bowl, combine the ground meats, garlic, parsley, grated Parmigiano Reggiano, egg, salt and freshly ground black pepper. Squeeze out the excess milk from the soaking bread (it should be loose and in small pieces) and add it to the meat mixture. Mix everything with your hands to combine.

Divide the meatball mixture in half and score each half into eight sections with the back of your hand. Take one of the portions of the meatball mix and slightly flatten it out in your hand. Place a cheese ball in the center and evenly wrap the meat around the cheese, completely encasing it in the meat. Transfer the stuffed meatballs to a baking sheet. Repeat the process until you’ve used all the meat. 

Drizzle the stuffed meatballs with some EVOO, transfer them to the oven and roast for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown and firm to the touch.

While the meatballs are cooking, place a saucepot over medium-high heat with two turns of the pan of EVOO, about 2 tablespoons. Add the canned tomatoes and break them up with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon. Add a little salt and pepper, bring up to a bubble and simmer while the meatballs are cooking.

In a food processor, pile in the basil and parsley leaves, lemon zest, stock, one clove of the garlic, salt and pepper, and zip together to break up the leaves a bit. Leaving the processor running, drizzle in the ¼ c. olive oil until a thick pesto paste forms.

Once the meatballs are ready, remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the pesto. Transfer all of the sauce into a serving dish and nestle all of the meatballs into the sauce.

Fieri Spaghetti and Meatballs

Classic spaghetti and meatballs? Check!

This version is from Guy Fieri — I got his “Food” cookbook for Christmas — and these are some goooood meatballs. Brace yourself for a lot of ingredients, but it’ll be worth it — it results in some pretty amazing flavor. They were juicy, moist and pretty darn spicy. By sauteing the red pepper, onion and garlic first and adding it to the mix, it adds great flavor without having to worry if the veggies will cook through when you’re cooking the meatballs. Nobody likes crunch in a meatball, right?

This is the perfect Italian comfort food meal, and it makes a BIG bowl of pasta. I cut the amount of pasta in half (to one pound) and it was still plenty.

TW’s Tips

  • If you don’t like a spicy meatball (say it in an Italian accent), cut back on the red chili  flakes (crushed red pepper flake)
  • Cooking these things (meatballs) isn’t easy — some of mine started falling apart. Be patient and turn them gently. And don’t be obsessed with them being perfect spheres. This was my problem. Perfectionist? Maybe…
  • I had some leftover homemade marinara in the freezer that I defrosted for the sauce.  If you need a recipe, here’s a good one by Giada De Laurentiis. Otherwise, go for a good jarred sauce and doctor it up with some herbs and spices.
Serve this up with a nice green salad, big glass of red wine and garlic bread, and you’ll feel like you’re eating like Tony Soprano. Or the cast from Jersey Shore. Or Giovanni. Whatever floats your boat. Buon appetito!

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 tsp red chili flakes
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup 1/2 inch diced sourdough bread cubes
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb pork sausage
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh basil
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp minced fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tbsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/3 grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 to 6 cups Marinara sauce
  • 2 lbs spaghetti noodles
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Directions

In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the extra virgin olive oil. Cook the onion, bell pepper and chili flakes for 2 min. Add the garlic and salt and cook until tender, about 4 min. Transfer the veggies to a large bowl and let cool.

Meanwhile, pour the milk over the bread and let soak for 5 minutes. Drain off the milk and lightly squeeze the bread, so that it is moist but not wet.

To the bowl with the cooled veggies, add everything (meat, herbs, bread, eggs) and mix thoroughly but gently and shape into 2 inch balls. The more gentle you are, the more tender the meatballs will be.

In the same pan used for the veggies, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, browning completely. Continue to cook until the internal temperature reaches 165F or an instant read thermometer.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and bring the cook the spaghetti noodles al dente, according to the package directions. Bring the marinara sauce to a simmer over low heat. Drain the noodles and toss with about 2 cups of the marinara sauce.

Portion individual plates and add more sauce and 3 meatballs per person, and garnish with shredded Parmesan.