Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

DinnerMeatballs

Pork and beef meatballs stuffed with melty, gooey mozzarella, swimming in a rich tomato sauce makes for a filling weeknight meal! The best part? This recipe is on the table in 40 minutes.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

Everybody loves meatballs! Take a ho-hum dinner, add meatballs, and presto! It’s a meal fit for king, or at least a king’s family.

These pork and beef meatballs have a surprise morsel of mozzarella cheese in the center.

HOW TO MAKE STUFFED MEATBALLS

You can whip these meatballs up in as little as 20 minutes. Form the balls, poke a hole in each one with your finger, stuff with a piece of cheese, and re-form the meatball around it.

Then into a pan they go to bake in the oven. While the meatballs bake, make a quick tomato sauce on the stovetop. Combine the sauce and meatballs, sprinkle the entire dish with cheese, and bake together until everything is bubbly, cheesy, and slightly melted.

Spoon the meatballs into a bowl with sauce, serve over pasta, or layer them onto a sub for a delectable meatball sandwich. Yum!

Pork and beef meatball recipe - blue and white bowl with meatballs and sauce

WHAT KIND OF MOZZARELLA SHOULD I USE?

Either fresh mozzarella or low-moisture mozzarella (cut from a block of cheese or sticks) will work fine in this recipe, depending on what you can find in your market. The low-moisture cheese tends to be a bit oozier when it melts, but I’ve made these with both kinds of cheese.

10-MINUTE TOMATO SAUCE? YES, PLEASE!

This is my go-to sauce. With just tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, and basil, it is ridiculously easy to make.

Every time I see someone reach for bottled tomato sauce in the market, I want to tap her on the shoulder, “Honey, stop! Don’t do it! Buy that can of tomatoes, and make your sauce in 10 minutes! Here, I’ll give you the recipe.” Naturally, I refrain from that kind of behavior.

That can is filled with the San Marzano variety of tomatoes, packed in thick tomato sauce. That can of tomatoes is the secret to the freshest, easiest tomato sauce known to woman or man. It’s a few pennies more than the store’s own brand, but it’s lot of pennies less than a prepared sauce.

Canned tomatoes should be soft and pliant, swimming in thick sauce and easily squished with your hand. If you are buying tomatoes in watery juice that are hard where the stem was removed, make a note and try another brand next time. (Rant over.)

Cheese Stuffed Meatballs - meatballs covered with sauce and cheese in skillet

MAKE-AHEAD MEATBALLS

To freeze raw meatballs: Spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and once they are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag. Let them defrost in the refrigerator and bake as directed in the recipe. They will keep in the freezer for two to three months.

To freeze cooked meatballs: Spread them on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and once they are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag. Reheat them from frozen slowly on the stovetop or in the oven, in the sauce.

You can also defrost them in the fridge overnight, and then heat them on top of the stove. They will keep in the freezer for two to three months.

To freeze cooked meatballs in sauce: Place them in a freezer container and freeze. Reheat them slowly on top of the stove, or defrost them in the fridge, and then heat them on the stovetop or in the oven, in the sauce. They will keep in the freezer for two to three months.

WHO DOESN’T LOVE MEATBALLS?! THE MORE THE MERRIER!

Mozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs in Tomato Sauce Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 16 meatballs, serves 4

Ingredients

For the meatballs:

  • 1/3 cup whole, 2% or low-fat milk
  • 1 1/2 slices white bread, crusts removed and torn into pieces
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 3/4 pound ground pork
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
  • 1 large egg, beaten in a bowl
  • 2 to 3 ounces fresh or low-moisture mozzarella, cut into 16 (1-inch) pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

For the tomato sauce:

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of sugar (optional)
  • 6 to 7 basil leaves, torn into pieces, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan

Method

1 Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Heat the milk in the microwave for 30 seconds, or in a pot on top of the stove, until warm to the touch.

2 Make the meatball mixture: Place the bread pieces in a large bowl. Pour the warm milk over them and let soak for about 5 minutes, or until the milk is absorbed and the mixture cools. Add the salt and pepper to the bowl and mash with a fork to break up the bread.

Add the ground beef, pork, Parmesan, and egg to the bowl and mix with your hands until well combined.

Ground beef and pork sausage meatball recipe - sliver bowl with torn bread Ground beef and pork sausage meatball recipe - silver bowl with bread and milk mixtureGround beef and pork sausage meatball recipe - beef and pork sausage in silver bowl

3 Form the meatballs: Divide the mixture into 16 equal pieces and roll each into a round the size of a golf ball. With your finger, make an indentation in each ball and press a piece of mozzarella into it. Pinch the meat to close the hole. Roll the meatball again to enclose the cheese.

Pork and beef meatball recipe - meatballs with mozzarella inside

4 Bake the meatballs: Heat the oil in a large oven-safe skillet set over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the skillet in one layer, and place the hot skillet in the oven. Bake the meatballs for 10 minutes. If the meatballs have not browned, turn on the broiler and broil for 2 to 3 minutes or until browned.

Remove from the oven and tilt the skillet. Spoon out and discard any excess oil. If you have broiled the meatballs, reset the oven heat to 400ºF.

Cheese Stuffed Meatballs - meatballs in skillet

6 While the meatballs bake, make the sauce: Pour both cans of tomatoes and their juices into a bowl. Use your hand to break them into smaller chunks. They will break down even more in the cooking process.

Pork and beef meatball recipe - tomatoes Homemade Tomato Sauce - tomatoes cooked down in pan

7 Cook the sauce: In a large, wide saucepan, add the oil and garlic. (You do not heat the oil first.) Place the pan over medium heat and cook for 45 seconds to 1 minute, or until the garlic starts to sizzle.

Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper to the pan and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly. Taste and add more salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar (to taste.) Stir in the basil leaves.

Homemade Tomato Sauce - oil and garlic in silver panHomemade Tomato Sauce - basil with tomato sauce in pan

8 Finish the meatballs: Pour the sauce over the meatballs in the skillet. Sprinkle with the shredded mozzarella and Parmesan. Return the pan to the oven and continue to cook for 10 minutes, or until the sauce bubbles and the cheese melts. Sprinkle with the torn basil leaves and serve.

Cheese Stuffed Meatballs - meatballs covered with sauce and cheese in skillet

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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One Comment

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Nick

    This is a super delicious – and easy – recipe. My only head’s up (in case you’re like me and don’t always read the recipe super close) is if you don’t get the right kind of canned tomatoes, your sauce will take way longer than the 20 min. On a positive note, I now know what kind of tomatoes to buy – on a less positive note, even after cooking the sauce for almost 3x longer, it was still watery. But that’s on me. Otherwise – highly recommend – thanks for sharing Sally. Now I just have to find that tomato brand in Canada :-)

    xxxxxyyyyy

Pork and Beef Meatballs - skillet with meatballs and sauceMozzarella-Stuffed Meatballs in Tomato Sauce