Late last month, my department was hosting a few editors who were in town from Vietnam. On the second day of their visit, we all bundled up into our coats and raced across the street to the restaurant, where the host and waiters greeted us familiarly. They sat us at our usual table where we quickly defrosted thanks to the nearby brick oven (and the large goblets of wine our waiter almost immediately set before us.)
Along with the regular menu, our waiter filled us in on a list of specials, one of which instantly grabbed my attention: little balls of mozzarella, wrapped in prosciutto, baked in marinara sauce. I ordered it right away, and delighted in the tiny dish or warm baked mozzarella goodness.
That night, I decided to recreate the dish at home, replacing the marinara with a spicy arrabiata sauce, and multiplying it by about 20. The results were incredible! ...and I admit to having made the dish a full THREE times since. It's a perfect appetizer to start an Italian meal, and even makes for a nice little lunch (along with a salad and maybe a crusty heel of Italian bread).
You can easily customize the dish at home using your own favorite sauce. I really love the heat of the arrabiata and encourage you to try it first, but a classic marinara or maybe even a vegetable sauce would work well too. Vegetarians can skip the prosciutto and wrap the mozzarella with basil leaves before burying in the sauce. And if you have trouble finding the little round ciliegine (in Italian, "ciliegi" means cherry), you can just cut a regular size ball of mozzarella into 1" cubes.
Baked Mozzarella Arrabiata
Arrabiata is a spicy Italian tomato sauce. For this recipe you can use a good bottled one (I like Rao's) or make your own.
1 pound of mozzarella ciliegine or bocconcini (little cherry-sized balls of fresh mozzarella)
1/4 pound prosciutto (I like San Daniele)
2 cups arrabiata sauce
3 tablespoons of grated Pecorino (or other hard italian cheese like Parmiggiano Reggiano)
Fresh Basil (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Spread 1 cup arrabiata sauce along the base of a small (about 6") baking dish or ramekin.
On a clean work surface, cut each strip of prosciutto in 1/3. Take 1 ball of mozzarella and roll up in the 1/3 strip of prosciutto (it's ok if it's not perfect). Tuck seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with all the mozzarella until you run out of prosciutto, placing each prosciutto-wrapped ball tightly against the next, nestling them all into the baking dish.
Top the mozzarella balls with the other cup of arrabiata sauce, making sure to cover the entire surface of the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with a little grated pecorino and drop a few slices of extra mozzarella around the top. Bake in your preheated oven for 20 minutes or until the dish is heated through and bubbling. If you'd like, you can place under the broiler for an additional 2-3 minutes until the cheese on top is toasted.
Top the baked dish with a few leaves of fresh basil. Serve immediately.