Recipe: spaghettini and gooey mozzarella meatballs from Woods chef Bruce Woods

Recipe: spaghettini and gooey mozzarella meatballs from Woods chef Bruce Woods

Toronto Life Cookbook Recipe 2012: Spaghettini and Mozzarella Meatballs

By Bruce Woods

PREP TIME: 20 minutes
COOK TIME: 55 minutes
Serves 4


2 cans of plum tomatoes, each 28 oz
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
5½-oz can tomato paste
1 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped
½ tsp salt and pepper
Pinch of chili flakes
1 bay leaf

1 lb spaghettini


1¼ lb ground beef
2 slices day-old bread, cubed
¼ cup 2 per cent milk
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup grated parmigiana reggiano
¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp salt and pepper
12 cubes firm mozzarella, about ⅓ of a ball

1. Purée tomatoes and their juices in a food mill or food processor. Strain through a sieve. Discard seeds.

2. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof pot. Set over medium heat. When hot, add onions and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes until soft. Add puréed tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 cup water, bay leaf, parsley and chili flakes. Bring to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat and cook for 30 minutes until slightly thickened. Remove bay leaf.

3. To prepare meatballs, place bread cubes in a bowl. Pour milk overtop. Soak for 15 minutes. Drain and squeeze out extra moisture. Add ground beef, onion, garlic, egg, cheese, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix using your hands. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350º F. Divide mixture into 12 portions. With wet hands, form a portion into a patty, then push a cube of mozzarella into the centre and form meat into a ball around the cheese. Repeat with remaining meat and cheese. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4. Coat a large skillet with oil and set over high heat. Add meatballs. Cook for about 10 minutes, turning often. Carefully add meatballs to sauce in ovenproof pot. Bake for about 10 minutes. Remove from oven.

5. Boil spaghettini in salted water until al dente. Drain well. Add to tomato sauce and meatballs. Gently stir. Divide among dishes. Top with grated Parmesan.

Toronto Life Cookbook Recipe 2012: Spaghettini and Mozzarella Meatballs
Custom-make your noodles. A simple pasta machine (that clamps to a tabletop) will let you work the pasta through it slowly to the desired thickness.

Toronto Life Cookbook Recipe 2012: Spaghettini and Mozzarella MeatballsBRUCE WOODS

Tracking the peripatetic career of chef Bruce Woods is a bit like following a culinary homing pigeon. He’s moved back and forth from Toronto to places as scenic as Portofino, Sardinia, Portpatrick in Scotland, and Vancouver. At heart, the Beaverton, Ontario–raised, George Brown–schooled Woods likes nothing more than to linger in this city, playing in his local rec hockey league and picking up groceries at St. Lawrence Market on his days off. Before opening Woods, his first solo restaurant, he ran the kitchen at King Street’s Modus, making Italian-American classics for the power-lunching set. Bay Street sharks came in droves, but the cooking tended toward the warm and fuzzy. These meatballs, served with spaghettini, are stuffed with supremely oozy mozzarella. It’s pleasingly messy, even for the suit-wearing crowd.

Recipes developed by Victoria Walsh. Recipe photography by Ryan Szulc. Portrait photography by Raina and Wilson. Illustrations by Aleksandar Janicijevic. Interviews by Denise Balkissoon, Ariel Brewster, Andrew D’Cruz, Jennifer Goldberg, Matthew Hague, Claire Hastings, Bronwen Jervis and Simone Olivero.