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Monday, April 27, 2009

Spaghetti and Mozzarella Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

I originally found this Rachael Ray recipe on Annie's Eats and tried it right away. I of course substituted ground turkey for the beef, and used my favorite jarred spaghetti sauce instead of Rachael's because I have yet to find a homemade sauce that is better than Prego, in my humble opinion. Below I've included the recipe for how to turn jarred spaghetti sauce into Arrabiatta (thanks to Giada) in case you feel like jazzing it up.

These meatballs are so good! It's not just the mozzarella surprise inside, of course that helps, but the actual flavor of the meatballs is incredible. It reminds me of something you would get in a really good Italian restaurant. I think I am turning in my old turkey meatball recipe (which was adapted from the Betty Crocker Cookbook) for this one. The other BIG plus of this recipe is that it's FAST because the meatballs cook in the sauce - which also means less clean-up. Plus, cooking the meatballs in the sauce gives the sauce a really delicious flavor. The last time I made these was for my family, and they loved them! My sister who hates spaghetti even liked the dinner!

Although this is a Rachael Ray recipe, I saw Giada De Laurentiis make a very similar one - again a mozzarella-stuffed meatball. The best tip Giada gave - which might be obvious to most but wasn't to me - is to make the meatball and then create a small hole to put the mozzarella cube inside. I wasn't even thinking when I made the recipe the first time that forming the meat around the cheese is not exactly the most efficient way. I tried pre-forming the meatballs the last time I made these and it was a little dificult to do using the turkey mixture because it's much softer and stickier than ground beef - maybe it would still be difficult with beef using this meatball recipe, I'm not sure. Anyway, I've made the change to the recipe below.

Spaghetti and Mozzarella Stuffed Turkey Meatballs

For the sauce:
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, grated*
crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
2 26-ounce jars spaghetti sauce (my favorite is Prego Traditional)

For the meatballs:
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 package (~1 lb) lean ground turkey (I like Purdue or Jennie-O)**
1 garlic clove, grated
2 teaspoons dried parsley
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into 16 equal-sized cubes***
cooking spray

spaghetti, regular or whole-wheat

*I grate my garlic with a Microplane grater. I find that it's super fast and releases much more flavor than chopping, and it's easier to clean than my garlic press.

**I've seen Giada make meatballs using a mixture of ground turkey and turkey sausage before - I think around 2/3 ground to 1/3 sausage. I plan to try this sometime. Jennie-O makes spicy or sweet Italian sausage - both of which we really like depending on the recipe.

***I thought it might be easier to cut uniform pieces using low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella string cheese. I compared the melting properties of equal-sized pieces of regular mozzarella to the string cheese. Both melted and solidfied similarly, so I think the string cheese is a good option if you want to make cutting the cheese easier.

1. In a large bowl, soak the bread crumbs in the milk.

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet. Add 2 cloves of grated garlic and cook for 1-2 minutes. If you like your sauce a little spicy (a la Arrabbiata sauce), toss in some crushed red pepper flakes - probably an 1/8 teaspoon is plenty. Add jarred spaghetti sauce. Meanwhile, boil a large pot of water for the spaghetti.

3. Add the ground turkey, 1 clove of grated garlic, parsley, Parmesan, egg, and salt to the bread crumbs. Stir with a fork until mixed.

4. Divide the meatball mixture into fourths, then form 4 meatballs out of each portion (for a total of 16). Make a hole in the center of each meatball and place a cube of mozzarella inside. Reform the meatball so the mozzarella is completely covered with the meat mixture. Place each meatball on a sheet of waxed paper sprayed with cooking spray after cheese has been placed inside, so that all of the meatballs can go in the sauce at the same time.

5. Place meatballs in sauce so they are submerged. Cook for 20 minutes over medium-low, or until meat is cooked completely. I find that I must cover the pot at this point to prevent spaghetti sauce from splattering all over. You may want to vent the lid to allow some moisture to escape so the sauce is a little thicker in the end. When only 8-9 minutes remain, add spaghetti to boiling water and cook according to package directions.

Enjoy! :)

Source: Sauce adapted from Everyday Pasta; meatballs adapted from Annie's Eats and Rachael Ray, with technical support from Giada De Laurentiis


  1. Yum! I saw RR make a similar recipe on her tv show last year and had to try it. She stuffed some of the meatballs with cherry tomatoes and some with cheese. She also made the best sauce by adding pesto and lemon zest. It was really good. The meatballs look great!

  2. Oh my, I was just thinking of spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Looks delish! Love your blog.

  3. What a fantastic picture of that cheese-stuffed meatball - yum! I'm with you on the Prego sauce - I get huge jars of it from Costco and I'm hesitant to try other brands because I like it so much!

  4. Oh boy, those are some meatballs! I would have a hard time not burning my mouth with these :)

  5. These look just sooo meltingly delicious! A little meatball tip I've picked up over years of messy, sticky, meatbally fingers - if you form them with wet hands, they are much easier to roll together.

  6. I haven't ever stuffed my meatballs ... yet. Love the tips and will remember. We adore meatballs in my house and I am a big fan of ground turkey and turkey sausage! These look oustanding.

  7. OMG..all the gooey cheese in the meatballs is killing me! YUM

  8. When I make my Mom's Stuffed Green Peppers, I make a meatloaf/meatball type mixture from ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, chopped onion, spaghetti seasonings (including grated parmesan and romano cheese, oregano, a splash of crushed red pepper spice, parsley, garlic (grated or powder) and onion powder, salt and pepper, etc.) to taste. Stuff the green peppers with this mixture (press and fill - meat will shrink as it cooks). In the meantime, I have made a meatless spaghetti sauce (or use jarred sauce - doctoring until tastes like mine with many of same spices added to meat mixture). Place stuffed peppers upright in baking dish next to each other. Spoon sauce over and around green peppers so they are covered with the sauce (or as close to covered as you can get). Start with baking dish covered. Uncover for last 30 minutes. Bake in 350 degree oven until green pepper very soft and meat mixture cooked through (1-1/2 to 2 hours)(may take longer but house with smell incredible). Place green pepper and sauce (and I always make extra meatless spaghetti sauce) over spaghetti. Cover with romano and parmesan. Serve. I have never heard complaints. This was a special dish requested for birthday dinners when we got to ask for anything we wanted.


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