Penne and Meatballs Stuffed with Mozzarella


Dear World,

I have only a week and a half left before my trip to Shanghai, yet here I am sitting with a muffin top and a pair of love handles.  Why are they called love handles when I feel anything but love about having them?  If anything they cause me stress and much strife when I wear my low rise skinny jeans or that nice body hugging dress that looked good that week when I bought it (before I bought 2 boxes of Girl Scout Cookies) but now looks horrible.  They should honestly rename them “hate handles” because I HATE THEM.

Also, why do pastries give you a muffin top?  My mother was right, you are what you eat.  I am slowly watching  the edge of my stomach hang over the band of my pants — the muffin top effect is full fledged and ready to attack.  Good thing over the years I’ve learned the tricks of the trade like conveniently tucking in the muffin top underneath the pants, or wearing a loose fitting shirt, or better yet one of those “Spanx” thingys that wraps your fat so tight you can barely breathe.

Either way, the stress that I’m causing myself about losing weight is ironically having the opposite effect and making me gain weight.  As Alanis Morisette would say “Isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?”  Yes a little Alanis, except the irony is far from funny.  Every time I go back, my relatives always comment on how “healthy” I look — grabbing my arms as their eyes widen exclaiming “OOOOooo HENG ZHUAN!” or very fit; it’s pretty much a nice way of saying “Man dude, that is one meaty ass arm you got there.”

But then this weekend I had an epiphany.  Life can be much worse than having meaty arms or not being a size nothing, like not ever being able to experience the perfect bowl of Spaghetti and Meatballs.  Now before you stamp crazy across my face, allow me to explain.  Not just ANY spaghetti and meatballs, but the PERFECT spaghetti and meatballs – picture this with me if you will: a trio of meats veal, pork and beef mixed with herbs and spices then seared off to trap in all the delicious juices, then finishing the meatballs off by slowly simmering them in a fresh basil tomato sauce.  What more do you need?  Though the origins are Italian, spaghetti and meatballs have become a comfort food to every American kitchen – and spaghetti and meatballs were my culinary introduction to the American culture.

My mother never made them; I think to this day she doesn’t really like any food outside of Chinese, she finds American food “heavy” so 7 days a week it was always Chinese for dinner.  So you can imagine my excitement when I slept over at a friend’s house in elementary school and her mother invited me over for dinner, FINALLY something NOT CHINESE.  You must realize now, I fully appreciate my upbringing, but at the time I really hated having to eat Chinese food all the time. My only access to “American Food” were those awful school lunches they would serve in the cafeterias, yes that depressing gray looking food that was either too salty or tasteless.  The only exciting days were Fridays when they would serve really nasty mushy pizza, but it was pizza and when you’re 7 that’s totally awesome.

Remember the cartoon Lady and the Tramp?  Remember that scene when the dogs share that plate of spaghetti?  Well while most people were probably concentrating on the developing relationship of the Lady and the Tramp, I was drooling over the cartoon spaghetti and meatballs. AND NOW I was about to experience my very FIRST “American Dinner” and not just any dinner, but a spaghetti and meatball dinner.  And it was beautiful, it was soul satisfying, and even after almost 20 years I still remember it.

I recently had my love for spaghetti and meatballs renewed when I tasted Chef Thomas’ recipe last week.  It was moist, savory and filled your nose with aromatic herbs and spices – I had to close my eyes as I tasted it, to pay respect to the meatball gods because it was FREAKING delicious.  I threw my arms up in amazement and exclaimed – “CHEF YOU GOTTA TELL ME WHAT THE SECRET IS!!!!” And he didn’t want to tell me.  It wasn’t until an intense ninja battle in the kitchen where I finally had to twist Chef’s arm behind his back and threaten to dump him into a gigantic pot of bubbling bisque that he finally said “Milk and bread, MILK AND BREAD!!!!”

Okay. So the ninja battle and the threatening fight didn’t happen, but Chef was gracious enough to share the secret – Milk and Bread folks.  I’ve never had a yummier meatball, it gives the meat a velvety texture that just melts in your mouth and immersed in a homemade tomato sauce with fragrant garlic and herbs, life doesn’t get any better than this.

Now, before yall get your panties in a bunch, the reason why I didn’t do Spaghetti and Meatballs was because…I’m an extremely messy eater.  Every freaking time I eat spaghetti and meatballs I ruin a shirt with spaghetti sauce — it’s inevitable.  So I used penne here instead, less sauce splatterage, no loose noodles dropping onto my shirt, and instead of the art of fork twirling, it’s simple fork stabbing 🙂  BUT by all means, use spaghetti, just because I am a slob during spaghetti and meatballs doesn’t mean you have to be. To each it’s own I always say!

Ingredients for Italian Meatballs: (Adapted from Chow)

(makes about 30 meatballs)

  • 2 cups stale bread (I used a baguette), crust removed and torn into large
  • 3/4 cup milk (I used skim but whole can work here too)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper
  • 4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • 1/2 medium white onion
  • 3 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoon Italian Parsley, cleaned and finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon Thyme, finely chopped
  • 6 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano- reggiano
  • 30 1″ cubes of Mozzarella cheese

In a medium sized bowl, place the bread and cover with milk.  Make sure all of the bread is moistened and let soak until the milk has been thoroughly absorbed by all of the bread, about 20 minutes.

Place the garlic, fennel seeds, salt and pepper on a cutting board and finely chop the mixture until it becomes well mixed and paste like.  In a large bowl, place the meats with the fennel mixture and mix until evenly combined.  Add the bread and any remaining milk until it is fully incorporated with the meats.  Add the onion and eggs along with the parsley, thyme and Parmesan and mix thoroughly until combined.

Take about 3-4 tablespoons of meat mixture between your hands and roll into a smooth compact ball, about 2 inches.  Make a hole in the center of the meatball using your thumb, and tuck a cube of mozzarella cheese in the middle.  Roll the ball closed to envelop the cheese, adding more meat if necessary. Set aside and continue to roll out balls until all of the meat mixture is used, will make about 30 meatballs.

In a large pan heat a tablespoon of olive oil or coat with cooking spray over medium-low heat.  Place the meatballs in the pan, leaving about 1/4 inch between each one — this will probably have to be done in a few batches.  Brown each meatball on both sides, making sure it is well browned on each side, about 4 minutes on each side for about 20 minutes.  Transfer the meatballs to a large heavy-bottomed pot or crock pot and set aside.

Ingredients for Tomato Garlic Basil Sauce:

(serves 6)

  • 1 can (14.5 ounce) whole peeled tomatoes
  • 4 roma tomatoes, cleaned and diced
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 1 medium white onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan Cheese
  • salt pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large heavy bottomed sauce pan at medium heat.  Once heated, add onions and tomato paste and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and chopped tomatoes and cook for an additional 2 minutes.  Pour in the canned tomatoes, broth, sugar, and half of the basil and bring to a boil, stirring.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 25 minutes or until thickened.

Once the sauce is a fork consistency, pour over the meatballs and place back on heat.  Bring back to a simmer on medium heat.  Cook uncovered, constantly stirring and allow meatballs to cook through, about 20-30 minutes.  Meanwhile, cook your penne.  Fill a large heavy bottomed pot 3/4 of the way with water, add 2 tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil.  Add 2 cups of dried penne and cook for 8-10 minutes or until el dente (Meaning still firm and almost cooked through).  Immediately strain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Place pasta in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Once meatballs are cooked through add the remaining basil and cheese and remove from heat.  Serve immediately.

When ready to serve, place penne in serving bowls and spoon sauce over noodles and top with 2-3 meatballs.  Serve with fresh basil as garnish and toasted garlic bread if preferred.

Now you can cut this recipe in half if the quantities are too large or you can do what I have done, which is freeze the additional meatballs I didn’t use.  I simply took a quart size bag, laid a piece of cardboard and placed my meatballs on top.  Now you have dinner ready for any day of the week you don’t feel like cooking or if you have unexpected guests coming over.  These also make great appetizers, you can simply roll the meatballs smaller (in bite size portions) and freeze them off the same way.

Price of Items:

  • 1 lb of pork – $5.99
  • 1 lb of veal – $ 7.99
  • 1 lb of beef – $ 5.99
  • 1/2 lb Mozzarella – $3.50
  • 2 cups of dried bread – $.50
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan – $1.25
  • 3 eggs – $1.00
  • 1lb of penne – $1.50
  • 1 can of peeled tomatoes – $1.50
  • 1 can of tomato paste – $.75
  • 4 roma tomatoes – $.67
  • 2 white onions – $.50
  • 1 quart beef stock – $1.99

Total cost per serving: $4.14

49 responses to “Penne and Meatballs Stuffed with Mozzarella

  1. WOW. The photos are speaking to me and telling me to eat it. I know how it feels to have those love handles but for us women, food makes us sexy sometimes. And I have to say it again and again, every post you make is getting better and better with more gorgeous photos. I’m not an expert in photography but I saw the difference. How do you find the time to take all of these photos? Taking photos is a challenge for as I have to bring the stuff out of the kitchen and into another room and sometimes I have to go down to the living room. Whew. 🙂

    And yes, the milk and the bread is the secret. This is pure comfort food and I would still have with spaghetti. 😀

    • Divina I loved your quote on “food makes us sexy” you are totally right, a little extra meat on the bones never hurt anybody and Collin has always said “there is nothing better on a woman than curves”.

      I really really appreciate your encouraging words Divina, it really means so much that you think I am improving (I am trying my best!). Unfortunately, it is very very time consuming when I’m not working as a pastry chef I’m busy shooting photos and I am just like you running back and forth from my kitchen to my apt backyard to the office to setting up light boxes right infront of my main door hahahaha my house is literally in shambles sometimes because of it. But with comments like yours, it really makes all the work and strife completely worth it, so thank you for that. 🙂

  2. I can not argue: these are the perfect meatballs! For the complete penne dish, I would willingly risk a muffin top (or rather, a pasta pooch). Gorgeous photos nearly had me poking at the screen with a fork. My Mac thanks you for providing the recipe!

  3. Of course your penne and meatballs is a masterpiece!

    Lol on your relatives. Mine always comment on how tall I am.

  4. Everything here looks so yum! I want meatballs. You know i feel the same way. I’m gradually growing wider and I’m quite the slim girl but the hate handles are popping up. Just generally my slouchy posture is also making my pear shape just the more pronounced! Woa hoa, someone just tell me to stop the snacking but welll..life could be worse, now couldnt it? Especially when I have friends who just refuse to eat and are miserable because of that. I’m glad i’m eating and happy. P/s. im’ so happy looking at these meatballs too.

    • Hahaha Diva you are funny, maybe its the whole getting older thing our metabolisms are finally quitting on us BUT YA KNO WHAT??? Food is tooo good to say no to, and you are right, I pity the fools that are miserable with hunger…by choice. BEING HUNGRY IS THE WORST FEELING IN THE WORLD (well at least to me hahaha). I am happy both of us are eating and happy because hell, life is too short to count those extra calories. Thank you for your funny words, you are a hoot!

  5. I am leading a group on a culinary tour through Italy in exactly 4 weeks from today and I share your challenge: I’ve been trying like crazy to lose the muffin top before I go, knowing I’ll be binging on great Italian food and wine for 3 weeks. But that just makes be feel deprived and then I down a sleeve of Thin Mints! The crazy relationship we have with food! And PS – the lactic acid in milk is also what tenderizes a perfect Bolognese sauce…oooh, now I’m craving a big ol’ bowl of spaghetti and meatballs!

    • WHOA!!! That is intese Michele, that culinary tour will be AMAZING!!!! Hahaha I laughed out loud when I read your comment because that is exactly what Ill be doing in Shanghai!!! I totally go food crazy when I try not to eat and “diet”, it is so counterproductive I dont even bother anymore hahahaha. Thank you for the interesting fact on what the milk does — I had no idea!!! And thank you for making me laugh 🙂

  6. Oh those are good looking meatballs. I love meatballs. I’ll definitely have to try these.

  7. I know how that muffin top feels like. I try to lose as much weight as possible before I head to SG for a visit too. I look small here but back in Asia, I feel like a giant!
    Those meatballs are fantastic. Another of my favourite comfort food.

    • Hahaha aren’t muffin tops awful? Yeah my friends think im completely bat shit crazy when I complain about being big but they don’t understand how freaking TINY the people in Asian are!! Thank you for your kind comment 🙂

  8. I come to your site like to a museum – to enjoy the art ;-). Your pictures are just so pretty and inspirational! And I think I am inspired enough to try that tomato sauce (so many tomatoes, wow…).

    • Oh wow this is probably one of the nicest comments I’ve had yet, thank you very much for that. If you try the tomato sauce tell me what you think! 🙂

  9. You’re killing me…I’m trying to “buckle down” and do weight watchers hardcore before a trip to the beach. I WANT THIS DISH. NOW. (crying, crying)

    • HAHAHAHA Carli you are hysterical — I totally feel you on buckling down BOY DOES IT SUCK! Hahaha you can indulge after the trip to the beach, which by the way I hope you have a great time!

  10. I love those meatballs, so beautiful and the pictures are just like a piece of art ~ very classic.
    My husband’s family in Taiwan always saying the same thing ~ you’re looking better than the last time when I saw you ~ sometime I wonder why didn’t they tell me that I’m looking older than the last time….

    • Aw Anncoo thank you for your very kind words, that is so nice of you to say 🙂 Hahaha aren’t asian relatives so funny sometimes? I use to get a little offended but now I can’t help but laugh hahaha

  11. I made some stuffed meatballs recently too and they were SO good! I stuffed mine with chopped string cheese, which I guess are pretty much just cubed Mozz. Love them!

  12. Gorgeous. These sound similar to my favorite meatball recipe – they sound amazing; nothing satisfies like a fabulous meatball and pasta dish. I sympathize with the love handles – I’ve been trying to lose some generous “love” ever since my son was born, and every time I focus on it, my cravings set in, and it seems counterproductive! I keep telling myself it is about a healthy active lifestyle, its just that my healthy active lifestyle happens to include a healthy chocolate craving every day. (;

    • HAHA Laura I COMPLETELY agree with you that every time I focus on losing the extra pounds I seem to eat more…Why are our brains so funny? I always say, life is too short to worry about a few extra pounds — you are right as long as you keep a healthy active lifestyle you are good to go and YES it must include a “healthy” nibble of dessert on the side 🙂

  13. YOUR PHOTOS!!! Wow. They are AMAZING! I love the shots with the mozzarella hanging on the fork. Goodness!!

  14. Joy babe, you’re such a lucky girl! It’s really not easy to get a chef to tell you his secret ingredients in his cooking. Your chef is such a nice man and got a really big heart.
    You know, I took awhile to figure out the word ‘muffin top’ and then all a certain… oooooh..THAT muffin top!!! hahaha….. Hey, are you forgetting something! You’re working in the kitchen, aren’t you? SO…. just over dosage in taste testing that’s all. haha… Be good, sweetie and have a fun day!

    • Chef Thomas is such a teddy bear Kristy you would love him — he has a very warm and cheerful demeanor all the time! HAHAHA those muffin tops are freaking terrible Kristy!!! I try not to indulge too much at work but WHO ELSE IS GOING TO TASTE ALL THE PASTRIES?!?! My life is hard I tell ya…so so hard having to taste all of these desserts every single day… I always tell collin he’s stuck with me, even if I balloon up to 500 lbs 🙂

      but you’re right…I should limit my “taste testing” because I am starting to look like some of my pastries 😦

  15. Llllarrrrrrr!! This looks delicious, love the bread and milk addition!! 🙂

  16. Wooo……I’m drooling crazy…
    The meatballs look so delicious!

  17. i remember when i was a teenage. i went completely crazy about my weight. u know that’s so typical for young girls. i would actually not eat for days just to get myself a pound or 2 lighter. and turned out i became so unhealthy that i even missed my periods for months.
    now, i’m so into cooking, maybe eating to be exact :P, i really dont think i would give it up for anything. do i still worry about my weight? oh, of course, but as long as i’m not obsessed, i think i’m fine. haha……
    now question, tell me how long it usually takes u to shot those beautiful photos while you have this awesome meal done at the same time?

    • Lululu I completely feel you, I think I had issues with food from 12-18…then I went to college and said F*** it IM GOING ALL OUT…but as a result I gained 30 lbs…oops! But now I realize life is all about moderation, cant have too little or too much of one thing. AND COME ON let’s get real here, when do diets EVER WORK — I’d rather quit torturing myself and give myself tiny rewards from time to time (everyday?) 🙂

      It takes me awhile to shoot each post because I’ll start with my ingredients and work my way to the final product — I think in all for this post it took me about 5 hours to shoot . Collin is very patient when I make dinner, I usually give him the model product though so he’s happy in the end haha.

  18. WOW! I need to try this out looks amazing – Incredible job!

  19. Totally amused…haha. Well, now I wonder what my family and friends will say when I go back for holiday….hmmm. It usually takes the opposite meaning huh…..so horrible 😦 Never mind, when comes to good food, I’ll eat to my heart’s content…and then…laugh at the thought of your muffin top !…LOL Looking at your meat balls……too suffering to resist. I can eat all 😛

    • HAHAHA Mary Moh, I can’t help but love my relatives brutal honesty sometimes — it’s so funny hahaha. I completely agree with you about good food — I will NEVER hold back I will eat and eat and eat until it’s gone. Which is probably why I am dealing with this muffin top hahaha 🙂 No worries, one of these days we will indulge together!!

  20. Waaah! I commented on this yesterday…a looooong loving comment and it looks like it didn’t post!? Ack! I probably short circuited my keyboard with drool. Hopefully this one posts =)

  21. Oh Joy! You did it again! Those pictures are wonderful! Those meatballs look so good and I don’t even really eat red meat! yumm

    This is incredible. Do you actually eat that food? It would take me hours to take all those gorgeous pictures!

  22. Hahaha this is SO funny! YOU are so funny! I am still laughing. 🙂 Thank you!

    And you know what!? I ALWAYS focused on the spaghetti and meatballs too in “Lady and the Tramp”. I still remember it so well. I had many dreams about that scene!

  23. Wow, amazing post. And I agree, it has to be the perfect spaghetti and meatballs. Lol re: “hate handles”!

  24. These meatballs look and sounds amazing!

  25. I’m pretty sure my laptop screen is full of drool now. I salivated looking at these pictures. If ONLY I could eat cheese! AAGHHHH you temptress.

  26. my gosh! absolutely gorgeous pictures. and equally wonderful recipe.

    Love handles :-).. I can relate to them all of a sudden.. not that I like them too much.

  27. This really was the perfect meatball and your photography is beautiful, looking forward to your next post!

  28. You’re going to Shanghai soon? Lucky you! I did some consulting there a few years ago and i had a great time. The food was amazing. You should worry about the love/hate handles AFTER you come back. 🙂

    Of course, i’m willing to help. I can eat those delicious looking meatballs for you if you want. 😛

  29. Those meatballs look so yummy! Hope you enjoy your trip Shanghai 🙂

    BTW, I really enjoy your blog and would love to share the Sunshine Award with you. Please check out my post under the Awards tab at my blog http://rotinrice.blogspot.com/p/awards.html

  30. I’m going to make this tonight but have a question! Did you just use the bread crust? Sorry if it seems like a stupid question. I’m not a good cook at all so I want to make sure I follow the recipe precisely!

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