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.

Yeah.

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.

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Caprese Shells with Mini Meatballs

Yield: serves 4

Total Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

meatballs
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

pasta
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

Directions:

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. #
    1
    Tricia — April 4, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    Looks delish! I love all of the colors. I might have to make this tonight!

    Reply

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    2
    Angela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat — April 4, 2013 @ 7:05 am

    Ah this looks so perfect and spring-y! I know you’re all about the mozzarella, but for me, the highlight of caprese anything is the basil – the more the better!

    Reply

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    3
    ashley - baker by nature — April 4, 2013 @ 7:08 am

    Work schmurk… I need to run home and get my mini meatball on!

    Reply

  4. #
    4
    Ashley — April 4, 2013 @ 7:10 am

    This looks…AWESOME!!! I can not wait to try it, its literally taking everything in me right now to not go out to the store and buy all the ingredients. But it will be happening soon.

    Reply

  5. #
    5
    Jennifer @ Peanut Butter and Peppers — April 4, 2013 @ 7:23 am

    The mini fresh mozzarella balls are so cute! I need to find them!! This is one of my all time favorite combinations! Yum!!! Oh and the mini meatballs, so adorable!

    Reply

  6. #
    6
    Tieghan — April 4, 2013 @ 7:48 am

    I am so with on the mini things! Oh gosh and if I could find those mini mozzarella balls I would be ALL OVER the to! Plus, the mini meatballs look so much neater than a sloppy meat sauce!

    Reply

  7. #
    7
    Aggie — April 4, 2013 @ 7:55 am

    Love the mini mozz balls with the shells! This looks delicious!

    Reply

  8. #
    8
    Robyn Stone | Add a Pinch — April 4, 2013 @ 8:11 am

    Mercy!!! I’m loving those cute little morsels of cheese!!! I can’t wait to try this!!! xoxo

    Reply

  9. #
    9
    stacy t — April 4, 2013 @ 8:19 am

    my belly just growled.

    Reply

  10. #
    10
    Samantha @ Blissfully Bossy — April 4, 2013 @ 8:34 am

    So glad I found your blog — these recipes are delish!

    Reply

  11. #
    11
    Averie @ Averie Cooks — April 4, 2013 @ 8:39 am

    I love caprese salads. Great idea to put those adorable little balls of mozzarella over shells!

    Reply

  12. #
    12
    Yammie @ Yammie's Noshery — April 4, 2013 @ 8:42 am

    So cute I’m dying.

    Reply

  13. #
    13
    Jenna @ www.sensationallyseasonal.com — April 4, 2013 @ 8:45 am

    Those mini mozzarella balls are my addiction! They are so good! I love stuffing other mini things with them so you get a taste of meatball or whatever and then a ton of cheese.

    Reply

  14. #
    14
    the 3volution of j3nn — April 4, 2013 @ 8:47 am

    Deliciously darling! Every bite is adorable.

    Reply

  15. #
    15
    Claire @ Live and Love to Eat — April 4, 2013 @ 8:50 am

    I bought mini spiral pasta for a dish last week and agree it was much more fun! :)

    Reply

  16. #
    16
    Liz @ The Lemon Bowl — April 4, 2013 @ 8:55 am

    I want to dive head first into a bowl of this!!

    Reply

  17. #
    17
    Cassie | Bake Your Day — April 4, 2013 @ 8:59 am

    Great flavors and I love the meatballs!

    Reply

  18. #
    18
    Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking — April 4, 2013 @ 9:02 am

    I’ve never wanted meatballs so badly before 8:30am. Amazing dish!

    Reply

  19. #
    19
    Laura (Blogging Over Thyme) — April 4, 2013 @ 9:30 am

    This looks great! And love the mini meatballs…so cute. Reminds me of the flavors in the 30-Min Lasagna Skillet, which was awesome :)

    Reply

  20. #
    20
    Erica {Coffee & Quinoa} — April 4, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    Adorable! I love those little mini mozzarella balls. Totally worthy of designing a meal around!

    Reply

  21. #
    21
    joelle (on a pink typewriter) — April 4, 2013 @ 9:32 am

    This sounds delicious. I want a mini meatball like asap.

    Reply

  22. #
    22
    Christine @ Cooking with Cakes — April 4, 2013 @ 9:42 am

    So happy to see you do another pasta dish!

    Since you’re not a tomato sauce fan, as an Italian gal I honestly think this would be amazing with just an EVOO + Garlic + White Wine sauce in place of the diced tomatoes – really light & delish! But keep the cherry tomatoes, since they’re all cute :)

    Reply

  23. #
    23

    I love mini meatballs, making this tonight

    Reply

  24. #
    24
    Janie — April 4, 2013 @ 9:49 am

    Hi Jessica!
    Love your blog :)
    Where is that big, white bowl from? It’s so pretty, I love it.
    xoxo

    Reply

    • Jessica — April 4th, 2013 @ 9:56 am

      thank you! i got it for my wedding but it is part of the lenox butler’s pantry collection – pretty sure it’s still available. it’s huge!

      Reply

      • Janie — April 4th, 2013 @ 9:59 am

        THANK YOU!!
        I also registered for Lenox for my wedding but not that piece. yay leftover gift certificates :) xo

  25. #
    25
    Carly @ Snack Therapy — April 4, 2013 @ 9:50 am

    Those little fresh mozz balls make my heart sing.

    Reply

  26. #
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    Mr. & Mrs. P — April 4, 2013 @ 9:54 am

    Who would love this!! Delicious!

    Reply

  27. #
    27
    Ashley Bee (Quarter Life Crisis Cuisine) — April 4, 2013 @ 10:24 am

    Ah! So cute! I never would think to make mini meatballs, but they are perfect for a pasta! A meatball in every bite :)

    Reply

  28. #
    28
    Heidi @foodiecrush — April 4, 2013 @ 10:30 am

    me loves me some mini balls

    Reply

  29. #
    29
    Sarah — April 4, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    If you love mini food you have to look at this post. Seriously.
    http://iloveswmag.com/2011/11/30/emily-plans-a-wedding-the-food/

    Reply

  30. #
    30
    Marie @ Little Kitchie — April 4, 2013 @ 10:44 am

    So cute! I’m glad you didn’t realize you could make this without the meatballs before… because I am loving them! And with those little mozz balls – perfection!

    Reply

  31. #
    31
    Rachel @myurbanoven.com — April 4, 2013 @ 10:56 am

    This looks fantasitc! Mini Meatballs? Why did i not think of this??!! I can’t wait to try this recipe out. YUMM!

    Reply

  32. #
    32
    Elisa @ Insalata di Sillabe — April 4, 2013 @ 11:09 am

    Yummy! A very Italian recipe, indeed! Plus, I LOVE mini things so much, they’re definitely cute and those mozzarella little balls are perfect for a pasta or rice salad!

    xo, Elisa

    Reply

  33. #
    33
    Marcie @ Flavor the Moments — April 4, 2013 @ 11:22 am

    I’m on a Caprese kick right now, so this looks really good! I just had Caprese grilled cheese yesterday, and I’d love to have this pasta tonight. I love your little meat balls, too!

    Reply

  34. #
    34
    Laura L. — April 4, 2013 @ 11:23 am

    Where does one find these little cheese nuggets?? I need this in my life!

    Reply

  35. #
    35
    Alicia Greenrabbit — April 4, 2013 @ 11:24 am

    I need to know ,
    do you eat all of the scrumptious dishes , because I don’t want to feel that I’m eating these and enjoying such goodness!!!!! ( I do feed my family these yummy dishes too)

    Reply

  36. #
    36
    Lindsay — April 4, 2013 @ 11:59 am

    adorable! i’m so with you, assortments of mini things of the same size get me EVERY TIME. not even just food….makeup, nail polishes, accessories, lotions..it’s a problem.

    Reply

  37. #
    37
    Jessie {Life As A Strawberry} — April 4, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

    I’m drooling. Also, tiny things are the greatest.

    Reply

  38. #
    38
    Ashley @ Wishes and Dishes — April 4, 2013 @ 12:16 pm

    This is making me want meatballs in a bad way!! Love the little mozz balls

    Reply

  39. #
    39
    Jenna — April 4, 2013 @ 12:31 pm

    I like the idea of mini meat balls

    Reply

  40. #
    40
    Jackie D — April 4, 2013 @ 12:44 pm

    This sounds really good. Quick question, did you drain the canned tomatoes or use the juice too? Thanks!

    Reply

  41. #
    41
    Eileen — April 4, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

    Who isn’t in love with tiny mozzarella bocconcini? I certainly am. (Isn’t it the best thing ever when you happen to find them at a salad bar? Mozzarella and greens and grape tomatoes for lunch!) This pasta looks perfect–so fun and delicious! I bet kids would be all over this one. :)

    Reply

  42. #
    42
    Jess — April 4, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    Ahhhh! I want to some to your house for lunch!

    Some Snapshots Blog
    Jess

    Reply

  43. #
    43
    Mimi @ Culinary Couture — April 4, 2013 @ 2:07 pm

    Where do you get the mini mozzarella balls!? I must know! Also, has anyone ever told you that your pictures get more fabulous by each post!

    Reply

  44. #
    44
    FashionEdible — April 4, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    This is a great way to transition from winter to summer cooking! Love seeing the freshness of this dish! Also a big fan of anything mozzarella.

    FashionEdible Blog

    Reply

  45. #
    45
    Potatoes and Pilates — April 4, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

    I am having sinful thoughts about hot gooey mozzarella now!

    Reply

  46. #
    46
    Nicole @ Liberty Belles — April 4, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

    love it! making it this weekend

    Reply

  47. #
    47
    Meghan @ The Tasty Fork — April 4, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

    This is the perfect meal for date night on Friday!! Thanks for sharing the recipe, Jessica! You rock!!

    Reply

  48. #
    48
    Julia Jolliff — April 4, 2013 @ 4:18 pm

    You just make me VERY hungry! I love this pasta and am going to be making this soon!

    Reply

  49. #
    49
    Hannah — April 4, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

    Yumm,,.

    Also, don’t let anyone tell you a tomato is not a veggie. Would you call a pepper a fruit just because it has seeds? Or a pumpkin? What I learned in nutrition class (uggg) is that a fruit has a certain number of carbs per serving (15g, I think) while a veggie has less (5g or less, maybe). So, by that, I do believe a tomato remains a veggie. (Also a certain qualifier is the type of vitamins and minerals, but let’s be honest, how many of us actually look that up on fresh produce?)

    Reply

  50. #
    50
    Laurie {SimplyScratch} — April 4, 2013 @ 6:58 pm

    Sounds perfect to me…mini meatballs… mini balls-o-cheese! I’m totally diggin’ this!

    Reply

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