Something just occurred to me as I stared at these pictures.

You didn’t have to make the meatballs. Why not just, like, brown the meat with the same seasonings and flavors?

Uh huh. Maybe. Why didn’t I do that? That would have been so much easier.

I think it’s because I’m in love with mini things. Mini things are cuter. Mini things are more fun. (note: my brain said funner.) Mini things are easier to eat and mini things fit in adorable little jars and sweet little bowls with flowers on them that I break immediately after I shell out an arm and a leg for one.

I’m also all about eating things that are all the same size in one big bowl, which is probably the only reason that I ever choke down a chopped salad. Little shells, little tomatoes, little meatballs and even little balls of cheese!

If you know me – real or invisibly – you’ve probably already figured out that I designed this entire meal around those dumb little balls of mozzarella. I LOVE THOSE THINGS. The fact that they come in a few different sizes and go perfectly with cherry tomatoes and a lot of salt and pepper might be one of the few reasons I began eating the occasional vegetable voluntarily.

And no, please don’t break out the-tomato-is-really-a-fruit argument yet. You can wait a few more months into summer when I’m really all over them and boasting about my very grand (and non-green) veg consumption.


This was also a great way to bridge the gap in our house between a pasta lover and a tomato sauce hater. It had enough tomato-y stuff to make him happy, and little enough in order for me to love it and… pick around some of it. I mean, when it comes to a dish like this, it allows you the freedom to pick out all of the little cheese balls.

Don’t know anything about that though.


Caprese Shells with Mini Meatballs

Yield: serves 4

Total Time: 45 minutes


1 pound lean ground beef
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated romano cheese
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs

1 1/2 pounds whole wheat pasta shells
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 pint grape tomatos, halved or quartered
10 fresh basil leaves, chopped + more for topping
1 cup ciliegine (mini fresh mozzarella balls)
freshly grated parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Prepare water for pasta and bring to a boil. Spray a large baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a large bowl, add ground beef, egg, oil, cheese, breadcrumbs, garlic, salt, pepper, basil and parsley. Mix to combine, gently tossing a few times with your hands. Don’t overmix – it will result in tough meatballs! Using a teaspoon measuring spoon, roll mixture into small meatballs, about the diameter of a nickel or so. Place in the baking dish and bake for 20 minutes.

While meatballs are baking, begin to boil pasta. Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add olive oil and garlic, then stir in diced tomatoes, chopped basil and fresh grape tomatoes. Before draining pasta, reserve 1/3 cup of the water and pour into the skillet. Add the pasta into the skillet, then add the meatballs once finished. Turn off the heat and add the mozzarella. Top with some freshly grated cheese and more basil.

Cutest little spoonful!

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71 Responses to “Caprese Shells with Mini Meatballs.”

  1. #
    Mariah & Coty — April 4, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

    Umm…this looks dynamite! We love your recipes!


  2. #
    Albanyish Dana — April 4, 2013 @ 9:09 pm

    sometimes when I want mini-meatballs i just make up the meat and spices, etc and then use my little cookie scoop to make the mini-meatballs, just scoop and drop in the pan, quicker than all that rolling, as long as you don’t feel the need for them to be perfectly round.


  3. #
    Emily @ Life on Food — April 5, 2013 @ 6:28 am

    Anything mini makes me jump for joy. I cannot decide what is better the meatballs or the balls of cheese. Great dinner!


  4. #
    Mandie @ Oh So Decadent — April 5, 2013 @ 7:24 am

    It’s always about the mini things! Because when you eat mini food you don’t feel so bad about eating an entire bowl, they are small after all. But I think these caprese pasta is the perfect mini meal and I still love the idea of mini meatballs!


  5. #
    Jocelyn (Grandbaby Cakes) — April 5, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    Those meatballs are screaming at me from the screen. I definitely need to make this!


  6. #
    Mindy@FindingSilverLinings — April 5, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    Maybe it’s because I am small (5’2″). Matber it’s because I’m a kid trapped in a 30 year old’s body. I love mini anything! My grandmother makes her lasagna with mini meatballs throughout.

    As an Italiana, approving this recipe is a big deal for me. I take tomato sauce and meatballs seriously. I love that you didn’t overcomplicate this. So many people make “Italian style” food and don’t do it any justice. This looks fantastic! Thank you for always innovating.


    • Jessica — April 5th, 2013 @ 12:17 pm

      that’s so kind and means so much to me – thank you!


  7. #
    Mindy@FindingSilverLinings — April 5, 2013 @ 12:12 pm

    *maybe lol funny typo


  8. #
    Nutmeg Nanny — April 5, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

    Wow, these photos are spectacular! I agree, if it’s mini i automatically like it more :) this dish is mouth watering.


  9. #
    Bev @ Bev Cooks — April 7, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    OMG. This is so a wet dream for me. Don’t tell anyone I said that.


  10. #
    KImberly — April 8, 2013 @ 1:20 pm

    Man I just love your stuff!! I get excited when I see a new blog post from you pop up in my “inbox.” Can’t wait to try these tonight with my family/1 MANGA MANGA! :)


  11. #
    Whitney — April 9, 2013 @ 3:13 pm

    I want this… like right now. I love mini things too. No one ever gets my slider obsession, but apparently they don’t like cute food. (Which is basically like saying you don’t like cute babies and you would rather look at an ugly one.) I will blame my obsession with mini food with the Spaghetti-O’s with mini meatballs or the mac and cheese with little cut up hot dogs my grandmother used to feed me. (Tried the O’s again recently to see if they were as good as I remembered- not so much.) I think your recipe will do the trick!


  12. #
    Julie — April 10, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

    My dad used to always correct me – “‘Funner’ isn’t a word!” but it sounds right, doesn’t it? ;) I’m not a big tomato sauce fan, either. These look great!


  13. #
    Kelly — April 13, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

    you had me at caprese…


  14. #
    AliSue — April 18, 2013 @ 8:01 am

    Making this for lunch next week! I can’t wait!


  15. #
    Sara — May 10, 2013 @ 5:32 pm

    Meatballs were amazing. Would probably go with the smaller size mozzarella balls, but recipe was great. Will def make again!



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