Juicy, tender chicken meatballs stuffed with gooey mozzarella cheese and tossed with rich tomato sauce--yes, this is as tasty as it sounds! Try these easy mozzarella stuffed meatballs over some pasta or rice, scooped onto garlic bread, or even spooned into a sandwich. Best part? You can prepare these in advance, check out my tips below.
Cheese stuffed meatballs!
Is there anything more comforting than juicy meatballs smothered in a rich red sauce? I think not! Not only are these mozzarella stuffed meatballs perfect for batch-cooking, they’re also an ideal appetizer, a low-carb meal along with a salad, or simply served over spaghetti for an easy dinner.
One of my favorite meatball recipes is my baked chicken meatballs, so I didn’t reinvent the wheel here. The meatball mixture is very similar, with a few key tweaks.
I added a light breadcrumb coating that forms a nice golden-brown crust when sautéed in a little extra virgin olive oil. And I made it a little more indulgent with one simple ingredient: bocconcini (baby mozzarella balls). Yes, bite into one of these stuffed meatballs and you’ll be met with perfectly gooey, warm cheese.
To bring the comfort factor full circle, the meatballs are tossed in pasta sauce, either homemade or, for a short-cut, good store-bought marinara. Think of these as chicken parmesan meatballs! Best part? You can prepare these chicken meatballs ahead (check out my tips below).
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Mozzarella meatballs ingredients
This chicken meatballs recipe has 3 main components: The meatball mixture, mozzarella cheese, and rich homemade tomato sauce. Here’s what you’ll need to make them:
- For the meatball mixture: You’ll need 1 pound 1 lb ground meat. I went with ground chicken, but ground turkey, lean ground beef, or lean ground pork would work as well. You’ll also need an egg, minced garlic, grated parmesan cheese, breadcrumbs, dried oregano, sweet paprika, and fresh Italian parsley for the meatball mixture.
- Baby mozzarella balls (bocconcini): Bocconcini are small balls of mozzarella around the size of a large cherry tomato. If you can’t find them, you can use regular fresh mozzarella. You’ll need to slice it into much smaller cubes, though, so it will fit in the meatball.
- Extra virgin olive oil: A little EVOO works to brown the meatballs in a skillet so they form a nice golden crust. Our mild-intensity Arbequina California olive oil is a good option.
- Pasta sauce: Use either homemade spaghetti sauce or store-bought marinara.
How to make mozzarella stuffed meatballs
While these chicken meatballs take a little time and preparation, the effort is well worth it! Here’s how to make chicken parmesan meatballs:
- Make the meatball mixture. Grab a large mixing bowl and combine 1 pound ground meat, 3 minced garlic cloves, 1 beaten egg, ½ cup grated parmesan cheese, ⅓ cup breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons dried oregano, ½ teaspoon sweet paprika, and 1 cup fresh chopped parsley. Season with kosher salt and black pepper to taste and mix again. To avoid tough, dense meatballs, handle the mixture gently. Just mix enough that everything is incorporated.
- Stuff the meatballs. Start by wetting your hands with water so the meat mixture doesn’t stick. Take 1 heaped tablespoon of the meatball mixture and form it into a ball. Make a little indentation in the middle, and add a mozzarella ball into that indent. Reform the meatball around the cheese, making sure that the meat completely encloses the bocconcini.
- Bread the stuffed meatballs. Add about ⅓ cup plain breadcrumbs to a shallow bowl. Roll each meatball in the crumbs so it is completely coated. Set aside on a platter and repeat until all the meatballs are breaded.
- Brown the meatballs in extra virgin olive oil. Add some olive oil to a large oven-safe skillet. You need just enough to cover the bottom of the skillet. Heat over medium-high heat on the stovetop until the oil is shimmering, and then add the meatballs. Make sure each meatball is making contact with the the skillet. Cook, turning, as needed, until the breadcrumbs transform into a golden crust. This will take 2 to 3 minutes.
- Add the spaghetti sauce and bake. Turn off the heat, and carefully pour tomato sauce (homemade or 25 ounces store-bought) all over the meatballs. If you have a few extra mozzarella balls, nestle them in the sauce. Cover the pan with a lid or foil and bake in a 400 degrees F heated oven for about 10 to 15 minutes (or until the meatballs are cooked through). Cooked chicken has an internal temperature of 165 degrees F when measured with a meat thermometer. Serve warm, before the cheese hardens up.
Make ahead tips
Meatballs are a wonderful dish to prepare-ahead of time because they are easy to refrigerate (or freeze!) before you cook them.
You can shape the meatballs a day in advance, and store them on a tightly covered baking sheet in the refrigerator overnight.
To work even further ahead, you can freeze the uncooked mozzarella stuffed chicken meatballs in an airtight container. I use a long, slightly deep freezer-safe container and freeze the meatballs in layers, with sheets of parchment paper between them so they don’t stick together.
They will be good in the freezer for up to 3 months (but I like eating them within 2). You can cook them directly from frozen.
One thing I love about meatballs is how versatile they are. Need an appetizer? Simply thread a couple onto small skewers and pair them with a dipping sauce.
For dinner, the easiest way to turn these chicken parmesan meatballs into a meal for the family is to quickly cook some spaghetti, and smother the noodles in the rich sauce with a few meatballs. Add a side of crunchy garlic bread or a light green salad.
Or, turn the chicken parmesan meatballs into a saucy pita sandwich or wrap similar to what I do with my kofta pitas.
How to store leftover stuffed meatballs
The great thing about meatballs in general is that they are an excellent option for batch-cooking. I sometimes double the recipe just so I have plenty of leftovers to keep for later!
Leftover cooked meatballs will keep in the fridge for up to 4 days in an airtight container. Simply reheat the meatballs and sauce in a skillet over medium heat until warmed through.
If you decide to batch-cook, you can either freeze the meatballs while they are still raw, as I detailed above, or you can freeze them together with the pasta sauce in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag. Thaw in the fridge overnight and reheat in a skillet on the stove.
More meatball recipes
Baked Mozzarella Stuffed Meatballs
- 1 pound ground chicken, ground turkey, or lean ground beef
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 raw egg, beaten
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ⅓ cup plain breadcrumbs, plus more for later (or gluten free breadcrumbs if needed)
- 2 teaspoons dry oregano
- ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1 cup fresh chopped parsley
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 20 baby mozzarella balls, bocconcini, (if you have more, you can use them in the sauce)
- Extra virgin olive oil, the everyday California EVOO is a good option here
- Pasta sauce, homemade or 25 ounces store-bought marinara
- Make the meatball mixture. In a large mixing bowl, combine the ground meat (I used ground chicken), garlic, egg, parmesan cheese, and breadcrumbs. Add the oregano, paprika, and parsley. Season with kosher salt and black pepper and mix to combine. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the mixture for later or you can proceed to finish the recipe. See prepare ahead notes).
- Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Prepare a bowl with more breadcrumbs (start with ⅓ cup). You’ll roll the meatballs in this mixture later.
- Form and stuff the meatballs. Take heaping 1-tablespoons of the meatball mixture and form them into balls, making an indentation in the middle. Insert a mozzarella ball in the center of each meatball, and reform the meatball making sure the cheese is covered with the meat mixture.
- Roll the meatballs in the breadcrumbs so that each meatball is covered with breadcrumbs all over.
- Brown the meatballs in olive oil. In a large oven-safe skillet set over medium-high heat, add enough extra virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. When the oil is shimmering, add the meatballs to the skillet, making sure each meatball comes in contact with the oil. Cook the meatballs, turning over as needed, until a golden brown crust forms on the outside (about 2 to 3 minutes).
- Add the sauce. Turn the heat off, then pour the sauce all over the meatballs (carefully as it might splatter). If you have a few extra mozzarella balls to use up, you can nestle them in the sauce.
- Cover and bake. Cover with a lid (or foil if the pan does not have a lid), and transfer to the oven. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through.
- What meat to use? For lighter meatballs, I decided to use ground chicken. Ground turkey would be another light option. But you can also use lean ground beef or ground pork.
- What is bocconcini? It is basically baby mozzarella balls, about the size of a cherry tomato. If you can't find it, use regular fresh mozzarella cut into small cubes.
- Make ahead tips: You can make the meatballs, coat then in bread crumbs, lay them on a large baking sheet, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate a night ahead of time. Or, you can freeze the uncooked meatballs. Lay the meatballs in a freezer safe container, in layers if possible. (Use parchment paper between layers so they don't stick together.) Cook them directly from frozen.
- Serving suggestions: Serve these saucy, cheesy meatballs over some spaghetti for an easy pasta dinner. Or, pair them with a green salad.
- How to store leftovers: Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 4 days in the refrigerator. Or, you can freeze the meatballs and sauce in freezer-safe bags or containers for up to 3 months.
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