Sure, you’ve heard of a cheese-stuffed burger, but a cheese-stuffed meatball?! Now that’s next-level culinary innovation. Tuscan-spiced ground beef is wrapped around shredded mozzarella, then baked. While the meatballs are in the oven, you’ll be boiling rigatoni and whipping up a marinara sauce any nonna would be proud of. Everything gets tossed together, then sprinkled with buttery panko, Parmesan and more mozz. A trip under the broiler transforms the topping into crunchy, melty perfection. “Now that’s a cheesy meatball!”
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Tuscan Heat Spice
• Adjust racks to middle and top positions and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. • Reserve half the mozzarella in a small bowl (you’ll use the rest in the next step). • In a large bowl, soak half the panko (you’ll use the rest later) with 2 TBSP water (3 TBSP for 4 servings); let sit until absorbed.
• Add beef*, half the Tuscan Heat Spice (you’ll use more later), ¾ tsp salt (1½ tsp for 4), and pepper to bowl with panade. • Form into four 3-inch-wide rounds (eight rounds for 4); divide remaining mozzarella between the centers of each. Gently fold meat around cheese, shaping and sealing to create cheese-stuffed meatballs.
• Lightly oil a baking sheet. Spread meatballs out across entire sheet. • Bake on middle rack until cooked through, 20-22 minutes. (It’s OK if some cheese oozes out!) Remove sheet from oven. • Heat broiler to high.
• Once water is boiling, add rigatoni to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, 9-11 minutes. • Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain and set aside. • While pasta cooks, place 1 TBSP butter (2 TBSP for 4 servings) in a second small microwave-safe bowl; microwave until melted, 30 seconds. Stir in remaining panko, ¼ tsp Tuscan Heat Spice (½ tsp for 4), salt, and pepper. (You’ll use the rest of the Tuscan Heat Spice in the next step.)
• Once meatballs and pasta are done, heat a large, preferably ovenproof, pan over medium-high heat. Stir in marinara, remaining Tuscan Heat Spice, ½ cup reserved pasta cooking water (¾ cup for 4 servings), 1 tsp sugar (2 tsp for 4), and salt (we used ½ tsp; 1 tsp for 4). Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, 3-4 minutes. • Remove from heat; stir in 1 TBSP butter (2 TBSP for 4). Season generously with salt and pepper.
• Stir drained rigatoni and meatballs into pan with sauce. If needed, stir in more reserved pasta cooking water a splash at a time until everything is thoroughly coated in sauce. (TIP: If your pan isn’t ovenproof, transfer mixture now to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.) Top pasta with Parmesan, reserved mozzarella, and panko mixture. • Broil until panko is golden brown and cheese has melted, 1-2 minutes. TIP: Watch carefully to avoid burning. • Let cool slightly, then serve.