This is another family recipe that has been passed down from D.J.’s grandma, to his Mom, and then to D.J., and finally, D.J. taught me this recipe. I love these family recipes! I like to channel D.J.’s Mom when I make anything that uses her Spaghetti Sauce, or really anything Italian.
Surprise Meatballs are simply our traditional meatballs, with a piece of string cheese stuck right in the middle, and simmered all day in spaghetti sauce. D.J.’s family – my family, calls them surprise meatballs because as a kid, D.J. said he never knew if all the meatballs would have cheese in the middle, or just some, or even none at all, so it was always a surprise!
Before you begin, you have two options to make the meatballs; baked, as I’ve shown in this recipe, or pan-fried. If you fry your meatballs, be sure to cook them in the same pot that you are making your spaghetti sauce in. It will add a TON of flavor to your sauce.
Cheese Stuffed Meatballs Recipe a.k.a. Surprise Meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 tbsp fresh basil, minced
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup bread crumbs
1/8 cup panko bread crumbs
3-4 mozzarella string cheese
Sneak in some vegetables to these meatballs by pureeing; 1/2 zucchini, 1/4 yellow onion, 1 clove garlic, and 1 rib celery. If you add in the vegetables, add an additional 1/8 cup each of panko and regular bread crumbs.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Start by cutting string cheese into 1/2″ or so pieces, and set aside.
In a large bowl mix eggs, basil and spices, until thoroughly combined.
Add ground beef, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese (and pureed veggies, if using). Mix with your hands until everything is well combined.
Scoop out about 1 tbsp of meatball mixture, and start to form a ball in your hand, using your finger, poke an indent in the middle, and add a piece of string cheese.
Add a little more ground beef to the top – about 1/2 tbsp and roll into a ball in your hand. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Repeat with remaining meat and string cheese, placing meatballs about 1″ apart. If you are frying your meatballs, cook them in a pan over medium-high heat in about 1″ of olive oil, cooking on each side in batches, and placing on a metal rack to cool while preparing spaghetti sauce.
Bake for 20 minutes, turning the pan halfway through to ensure even cooking.
Remove from oven and add to sauce. Go ahead and eat one now – you know you want to!
Simmer in spaghetti sauce for at least 1 hour, but if you can, simmer all day on low heat.
When you’re ready to eat, cook 1 lb of spaghetti in salted water according to package directions – usually about 11-13 minutes for al dente and drain. We like to use Barilla Spaghetti Rigati when we have spaghetti, it has these little ridges in the pasta, and the sauce really sticks to it.
To make PERFECT spaghetti: Add 2 tbsp butter to the same pan you cooked the spaghetti in, and return it to the stove, over low heat until melted. Add cooked spaghetti to pan, and carefully toss in melted butter with tongs. Add 2 ladle fulls of sauce to spaghetti, and toss again with tongs to coat the spaghetti in sauce. Remove from heat, and transfer to a large bowl to serve.
Cut your meatballs open, and dig right into all that melty cheese!
Got leftover pasta? Make these easy 20 Minute Mini-Spaghetti Pies!