Spaghetti & Fontina-Stuffed Veal Meatballs

Lately, my pasta dishes have kind of obviously been focused on comfort-food, and this is no different. Today, we have another classic dish, with a little twist to make it something special: spaghetti and fontina-stuffed veal meatballs.

Spaghetti & Fontina-Stuffed Veal Meatballs

I decided to make my own tomato sauce, but I struggled with it. When I say struggled, I don’t mean that making the sauce was hard–far from it! The real difficulty was resisting my temptation to over-complicate things and throw in all sorts of herbs and spices. I decided for once to give the classic Italian cooking mantras a chance and to let the tomatoes speak for themselves, hoping they wouldn’t let me down. As it turns out, the tomatoes heard my prayers and they came through! I didn’t have any great fresh tomatoes, but I did try a recommendation for a better brand of canned San Marzano tomatoes, which was certainly a bit pricier than other canned tomatoes I was used to, but wow, when it comes to Italian cooking, this is well worth the money! The sauce was sweeter, less acidic, tasted so much more authentic, and was so delightfully simple to make–definitely the kind of thing that will elevate any tomato-based pasta dish. I’ve learned my lesson and wanted to shout it from the proverbial rooftop, so there you go.

As for the meatballs, those were also a delight. My regular readers are probably familiar with my ongoing veal love affair, so given the opportunity to make a meatball, I thought ground veal rather than beef or pork would be a delightful twist. Furthermore, why not stuff each one with a beautiful, melty, cheesy center? These meatballs were tender, flavorful, spiced just right, and creamy once broken in two. They were the perfect thing to have atop the noodles with the perfect sauce–they really took spaghetti and meatballs to a new place for me. If veal isn’t your thing, you could certainly use a mix of ground beef and pork, but I am a big fan of the flavor and texture of veal.

This is also my entry in Festa Italiana, hosted by Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita and Proud Italian Cook.

  • Meatballs
    • Extra-virgin olive oil
    • 2 shallots
    • 4 garlic cloves
    • leaves from 2 sprigs of thyme
    • handful of parsley leaves
    • ~1.5 lb ground veal
    • 1 egg
    • salt
    • ground black pepper
    • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
    • ( oz) 1/2 inch cubes Fontina cheese (as many as there are meatballs)
    • 2 slices of white sandwich bread, crusts removed and bread torn into 1-inch pieces
    • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 lb spaghetti/fettucine/linguine/whatever noodles, or you could make your own
  • Tomato sauce
    • ~42 oz San Marzano tomatoes (I used canned–Cento brand)
    • handful of fresh basil
    • 1 carrot
    • 1 stalk celery
    • 1 shallot
    • 4 cloves garlic

Sauté the sofrito

Firstly, if you’re making your own tomato sauce, you should start that first as it requires time to simmer, so you might as well let it do that while you do everything else (if you’re going the jarred route, feel free to skip ahead). Luckily, this is pretty simple. Begin by finely dicing the carrot, celery, shallot, and garlic, and in a saucepan with some hot olive oil, sauté the sofrito (celery, carrot, and shallot). After about 8 minutes of letting them soften up, add in the garlic, continuing to sauté for another minute or two.

Add the tomatoes and heat to a boil

With the sofrito sautéed, now you can simply add the tomatoes, squishing each one as you add it to the mix. Heat this up to a rapid simmer, letting it actively bubble for about 10-15 minutes, after which, drop the heat down to low/low-medium and let it simmer uncovered, giving it a stir once in a while. Set aside the basil leaves for later so you don’t forget them–they go in the sauce, but just not now.

Dice up the herbs and veggies

So with the sauce taking care of itself, on to other things, namely, the meat balls. Begin by prepping all of the fresh items, finely mincing the shallots and garlic as well as chopping up the parsley and thyme. Also, take this time to grate the Parmigiano-Reggiano and to cut 20 ~1/2 inch cubes of fontina cheese for later.

Soak the bread in milk Mix the Parmigiano-Reggiano, herbs, etc Mix in the veal and egg, mix well

Now, sauté the diced shallot in some hot olive oil for about 8 minutes and then add in the garlic for another minute or two. Get this off of the heat and set aside in a large bowl. While you wait for that to cool off a bit, focus on the bread. Many recipes call for using white bread, but I never purchase white bread and don’t intend to buy a whole loaf for two slices. I instead took slices from a stale baguette, so I’d recommend you improvise with whatever “plain” bread you have handy, using enough to be very roughly equivalent to 2 slices of white bread. Then, in a bowl, soak this in milk, pressing the bread into to ensure all it is sopping it up. Let this soak for about five minutes.

Once the shallot/garlic mixture has cooled down a bit, add the Parmigiano-Reggiano, herbs, and dry spices to the bowl. Also, squeeze the bread to wring out the excess milk, crumble it up (maybe take a trip through the food processor if you’re so inclined), and add it to the bowl as well, discarding the leftover milk.

Finally, add in the egg and ground veal and get your hands dirty, mixing everything well until completely integrated into a well seasoned meat mixture.

Form balls from the meat mixture, stuff a block of fontina in each and seal shut

Now, you can begin to form the meatballs. Grab very roughly a tablespoon or two’s worth of the mixture and roll it into a ball, setting aside. I wound up with about twenty, but your mileage may vary. Once you have all of the meatballs rolled out, grab your fontina chunks and press it into each meatball, rolling it up again to patch up the hole and hide the cheese inside.

At this point, gauge how far along you are with the tomato sauce. If it’s nowhere near done yet, a good step is to let the meatballs rest in the fridge so they can firm up a bit and hold their shape better, but its not required that you do so.

Brown the meatballs on all sides in olive oil

Heat up some olive oil on medium-high heat and brown all of the meatballs on all sides, working in batches and taking care not to crowd. This will help the meatballs hold their shape and put some nice color and flavor on them. Roll them around, doing your best to brown them on all sides, but not with the intent of cooking them all the way through. Figure each side will take somewhere around 2-3 minutes. Set these aside.

Tomato sauce after simmering–looking good!

Check in on the tomato sauce–it looks nice and thickened up to a sauce-like consistency (for me, that took somewhere between 1 hour 30 minutes and 2 hours), so add in the chopped basil from earlier. Wow, its almost as if my timing is perfect and flows just with the written schedule I’ve posted here. What a coincidence…

Simmer the meatballs in the tomato sauce to cook all the way through

So with the tomato sauce pretty much done, gently place each browned meatball into the sauce, which is still simmering on low-medium heat. Let this continue to simmer uncovered for about 10-15 minutes more so that the meatballs can cook all the way through.

Cook the pasta

You know what else takes about 10 minutes to cook? The pasta. You didn’t forget it, right? Boiling water, cook per directions, drain–you know the drill. This way, everything will come out hot at the same time.

Spaghetti & Fontina-Stuffed Veal Meatballs

Putting this all together is easy. Plate a nest of noodles, cover with a good scoop of sauce, top it off with 2 or 3 meatballs, and sprinkle on some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and parsley. Enjoy!

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32 Responses to “Spaghetti & Fontina-Stuffed Veal Meatballs”

  1. Pixie Says:

    What a fabulous idea of using ground veal to make meatballs- I bet that was delicious!

  2. RecipeGirl Says:

    It looks absolutely comforting and delicious. I love veal too- what a great idea to make meatballs out of it!

  3. Judy Says:

    That dish looks incredible!

  4. noble pig Says:

    This looks like something right out of Little Italy! I feel like I can smell and taste it. Those meatballs look great.

  5. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) Says:

    No matter what culture you grew up in, there’s nothing that says comfort food more than spaghetti and meatballs. These look divine.

  6. dp Says:

    There is nothing like making your own sauce! I grow my own tomatoes and by the end of the season, I’ll have stewed gallons of tomatoes, which I use for sauce and whatever. For tomato sauce, I like to throw in a few anchovies. It gives it that extra something-something.

  7. swirlingnotions Says:

    At first I thought you meant spaghetti-stuffed meatballs and I thought to myself, “if anyone would take a stab at stuffing spaghetti into meatballs, it would be Mike.” But I think the fontina is a nice touch :-). These look great . . . I’ll give your recipe a shot on our next pasta night!

  8. Toni Says:

    What a fabulous idea to stuff meatballs with a melty cheese! You definitey have put meatballs and spaghetti back on my list!

  9. a. grace Says:

    would you believe i’ve never tasted veal? i think it’s because of the adorable calves i see frolicking in the fields around my house. they’re awfully cute, as long as you don’t get too close. you’re making them look mighty tempting to eat though…

  10. Bellini Valli Says:

    These just sound delicious beyond belief. You are right they are very comforting:D

  11. Kevin Says:

    Nice looking meatball pasta! I like the sound of using veal for the meatballs. I like th idea of stuffing them with cheese even more! :)

  12. pam Says:

    Please, please, please, move to Tennessee and cook for me. Please.

  13. Peter Says:

    Mike, you and I were thinking the same way…at least our stomachs were.

    I love the stuffed fontina idea!

    Pasta and meatballs always satisfy.

  14. Susan at Sticky,Gooey,Creamy,Chewy Says:

    Mike, these look fabulous! No fair! I can’t eat meat today.

    I make my meatballs with veal too. I just think they’re better with veal. Those San Marzanos can really break the bank! I will often use half San Marzano and half regular canned plum tomatoes. It still makes a really sweet and lovely sauce. Besides, the carrot adds some sweetness too.

  15. Zenchef Says:

    I think i could eat something like that everynight for dinner. hehe. Looks really good!
    I once tried a recipe for veal meatballs that contains about equal measures of ground veal and ricotta. It was different but great also. Like little clouds. I posted it a few months back on my blog.

  16. Deb Says:

    This looks so mouthwatering Mike! Do I see a hidden strawberry inside? Now that would be interesting!

  17. Nina Says:

    Can I have meatballs and spaghetti for breakfast. I don’t think I can wait for lunch let alone supper. I want it now!!!!

  18. mike Says:

    Pixie — thanks! It was…veal makes everything better! ;-)

    RecipeGirl — thanks! I’d use it in place of beef whenever I could if it were more reasonable, lol…

    Judy — thanks! :-)

    noble — thanks! :-) Today, this had me wishing i had more meatballs leftover for a meatball sub (used to be one of my favorite sandwiches growing up).

    Lydia — agreed! Who doesn’t like spaghetti and meatballs? Thanks!

    dp — I agree. I occasionally find myself resorting to jars, but the more I make my own, the more I appreciate the flavor of a good tomato (haven’t touched a jar in a good while now!). I wish I had all of those fresh tomatoes like you–gallons sounds pretty darn good! Also, good point on the anchovies–I’ve heard this but never tried it myself. Next time, I definitely will. Thanks!

    swirl — lol, now that would be quite a meatball! Haha, I guess you’ll have to settle for fontina instead! ;-) I hope it goes well when you try it–let me know! Thanks!

    Toni — Thanks and very glad to hear it! :-)

    a.grace — thanks and that is surprising! I recommend it to everyone as I think it is a really special meat, although I could see having calves nearby frolicking around as a slight complication, lol. If you do consider giving veal a shot, I’d recommend trying osso bucco (posted somewhat recently)–if any veal dish will sell you on veal, that’s the one!

    Bellini — thanks! Something special about meatballs, right?

    Kevin — thanks! I had a craving for melty cheese and thought this could be a nice change from the norm…

    Pam — haha, thanks! :D

    Peter — great minds (/stomachs) think alike! Thanks and agreed about pasta and meatballs.

    Susan — thanks! I like changing up the usually-made-with-beef things to veal since it just makes it new and usually better. And agreed about the San Marzanos…its unfortunate that they cost such a pretty penny….a bit more than double last I checked. :-/ Good for very tomatoey sauces, but not an everyday tomato, that’s for sure.

    Zenchef — thanks and same here! That’s an interesting idea regarding the veal/ricotta–I’ll be sure to check it out.

    Deb — now that would be taking my obsession a step too far, lol! Thanks! :-)

    Nina — thanks! If leftover Chinese food or pizza is a suitable breakfast, I don’t see why this couldn’t be either! ;-)

  19. Marie Says:

    Mike, Thank you so much for this delicious dish! A true classic for any Italian feast!! I love San Marzano tomatoes too, I think it makes the sauce so smooth! Thank you for joining us with your wonderful dish. So sorry again for the posting issue! :-)

  20. Maryann Says:

    Wonderful dish, Mike!
    Go on over to my blog and you will see your post :)

  21. zlamushka Says:

    hm.. veal balls…yumm… pasta, yummier.. bottle of wine.. a nice cherry on the top..

  22. Kittie Says:

    Mike, these look so delicious! Now that cheese is open to me again, I look forward to giving them a go… (I also have the same urge to over-complicate my cooking ;))

    Whenever I see you have a new post in my reader I always know I’m in for a treat – thanks!

  23. jaden Says:

    yum! that is the most awesome comfort food ever.

  24. amanda Says:

    We love meat balls or polpette as they are called here. I like the idea of the melting cheesy surprize in the middle and will definately give this a go. Ciao

  25. mike Says:

    Marie & Maryann — thanks! No worries about the mix-up, thanks again for your help and for hosting the event!

    zlamushka — thanks! :-)

    Kittie — wow, thanks, glad you enjoy it! :-) I hope you like these, let me know how it goes! You can never go wrong with cheese in the middle…

    jaden — agreed and thanks!

    amanda — welcome! Thanks and glad to hear it–I’d be happy to hear how they turn out for you! Thanks again for visiting, I hope to see you again :-)

  26. campodifragole Says:

    Stuffed meatballs? Wow! It sounds incredible! Great pics :)
    Ciao, daniela

  27. katie Says:

    Asolutely drool-worthy!
    I always bought ground veal when we lived in Andorra – it was ‘country’ veal (1 year old and grass grazed) rather then milk-fed and it was soooo good! And much better than the tough old bulls they used for beef….

  28. Helen Says:

    Mmm, these look totally delicious, I love the idea of stuffing them and I really love veal!

  29. mike Says:

    campodifragole — thanks! Glad you enjoyed it :-)

    katie — thanks! And that sounds like it would be delicious.

    Helen — thanks! You definitely can’t go wrong with veal and its a good thing stuffing them is so easy

  30. Marlon Says:

    San Marzano tomatoes are the best. But let me tell you a brand that is better then Cento. Whole Foods carries Organic San Marzano Tomatoes by the brand name of Racconto. And Costco of all places carries a brand named, Nina (huge gallon can for 3+ dollars!) is also excellent. I never got the flavor from Cento that I do from these 2 brands. Try them!

  31. Bette Says:

    I had some ground veal in my freezer so I made these a few weeks ago. They were delicious! Equally delicious was a meatball sandwich made on a great ciabatta roll the next day. The sauce also was yummy! Total comfort food. Thanks!

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