Marinated mozzarella balls are the epitome of a quick and easy appetizer! With basil, lemon, garlic, and red pepper flakes, this mozzarella is fresh, flavorful, and comes together in minutes. Serve them with bread, use them on a charcuterie board, or eat them alone. You truly can’t go wrong, they’re the best!

A white bowl of marinated mozzarella balls with basil, lemon, and red pepper flakes on a beige table next to a white plate of oil, white plate of bread, grey bowl of olives, halved lemon, and wood bowl of red pepper flakes.

Don’t mind me, I’m just out here pretending I’m lounging in the courtyard of a Tuscan villa sipping Prosecco. But since that’s not quite in my immediate future, I’ll just be spending my days sitting on my deck with a bottle of bubbly and plenty of snacks.

My go-tos these days are spicy deviled eggs, marinated butter beans, and these mozz balls. No cooking, no fuss, just a dumb good app that doesn’t even require messy fingers – just skewer them with a toothpick, pop em in your mouth, and enjoy. Simplicity at its finest.

Put on your favorite sundress, grab a drink, and join me, friends. It’s apertivo time.

Recipe details

Whenever I need an appetizer that I can make stat, this recipe immediately comes to mind. I learned about the beauty of marinated mozz in culinary school and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s fresh and tangy and simple. Plus, let’s be honest, who doesn’t love cheese? It’s the kind of recipe I make when I’m making a big meal for a dinner party or the holidays. An impressive app that requires no extra work.

  • The recipe comes together in just 5 minutes.
  • They’re great on cheeseboards, Caprese skewers, or with bread.
  • You only need a handful of ingredients to make this recipe.
  • These mozz balls are tangy, citrusy, salty, and so delicious.
  • They’re a huge crowd pleaser. Perfect for parties, holidays, and get-togethers!

The ingredients

Glass jars of mozzarella pearls, olive oil, and lemon juice on a beige and brown background next to wood bowls of lemon zest and garlic, basil, and white bowls of basil and spices.
  • Mozzarella balls – look for Ciliegine (a.k.a. “cherry size”) which are the perfect size for snacking.
  • Extra virgin olive oil – use something good-quality because it will have a major effect on the overall flavor of this app.
  • Garlic – a bit of minced garlic will complement the basil and lemon without overpowering the other flavors in the marinade.
  • Basil – to add a touch of herbal sweetness! Use fresh basil for the best overall flavor.
  • Lemons – we’ll use both the zest and juice for both intense citrusy flavor and a hint of tartness.
  • Red pepper flakes – for a touch of spice. You can totally leave this out if you’re not a fan of spice!
  • Salt – I use Morton’s Kosher salt to season the marinade.

Substitutions & variations

  • Mozzarella – if you can’t find Ciliegine (“cherry size”), you can also use mozzarella pearls. Or, slice a couple of the large mozzarella balls into cubes.
  • Herbs – try thyme, parsley, oregano, or a mix of different herbs.
  • Hot peppers – use a touch of Calabrian chili instead of red pepper flakes.
  • Additions – add sun-dried tomatoes, olives, artichoke hearts, or sweety drop peppers.

How to make this recipe

Three steps to making marinated cheese. In photo 1, a white and wood bowl filled with Italian dressing is placed on a beige counter next to basil, white bowls, and wood bowls. In photo 2, hands pour the dressing over a grey bowl of cheese pearls. IN photo 3, a spoon mixes the cheese pearls with the marinade.
  1. Start by draining the mozzarella balls and placing them in a jar or medium bowl.
  2. Next, make the marinade for the mozzarella balls. Whisk the olive oil, garlic, basil, lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt in a small bowl until combined.
  3. Pour the marinade over the mozzarella balls and stir to coat. Cover and marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight. Enjoy!

Storing & make-ahead

To store the mozzarella balls, or make them in advance, refrigerate them in a sealed jar for up to 4-5 days. The olive oil will solidify in the fridge, so just let them warm up at room temperature for about 20-30 minutes until the oil is completely thawed. Give the cheese a good stir before serving.

Unfortunately, you cannot freeze this recipe. The freezing process will affect the overall texture of both the cheese and the oil. Just make them fresh or up to 5 days in advance!

Serving ideas

You can eat these mozzarella balls on their own, or you can serve them on salads or other appetizers. Here are a few of my favorite ways!

  • With crackers, crostini, focaccia, or crusty bread
  • On a cheese board or charcuterie board
  • Make Caprese skewers with cherry tomatoes & basil
  • Serve over salads or with fresh melon
  • Add to pastas or pasta salads
  • Store in jars and give them as gifts!
A hand pouring olive oil into a jar of cheese, spices, and herbs on a beige counter next to lemons, a white bowl of basil, a wood bowl of red pepper flakes, and a beige counter.

Tips & tricks

  • You can use dried herbs in a pinch. I personally think fresh herbs taste better but dried will totally work. Use about 1-1 1/2 Tablespoons of dried herbs in the marinade for the mozzarella balls and add more, to taste.
  • Occasionally stir the mozzarella balls as they marinate. We want to ensure that all of the cheese gets covered in the dressing so it’s nice and flavorful.
  • Marinate the mozzarella for at least 1 hour but preferably overnight. The longer it marinades, the more flavorful the cheese will be!
  • Serve the mozzarella balls at room temperature. Cheese tastes better, creamier, and more nuanced at room temperature. 20-30 minutes should do the trick!

Recipe FAQs

What is the difference between mozzarella and mozzarella balls?

Typical fresh mozzarella comes in large 8 ounce balls. Mozzarella balls are bite-sized and come in various sizes. Ciliegine (“cherry size”) is my favorite because they’re perfect for snacking. Bocconcini (“bite-sized”), Noccioline (“nut size”), and Perlini (“pearl size”) are all great options too!

Where can I find mozzarella balls?

You will find the fresh mozz balls in the cheese area of the grocery store. If you can’t find them in the regular cheese aisle, look in the artisan or specialty food section of the deli.

Can I use regular mozzarella?

Totally! Just slice a couple of 8 ounce mozzarella balls or cut them into cubes. If you’re using sliced mozzarella, just marinate them in a shallow dish so the slices all get covered.

What olive oil is best?

Since olive oil is a main flavoring agent in this recipe, I recommend using a good-quality extra virgin olive oil. Pick something that you enjoy the flavor of on its own. My go-to grocery store olive oil is California Olive Ranch, but anything you like will work!

Why did the olive oil solidify in the fridge?

Olive oil will get cloudy and solidify once it gets cold in the fridge. But don’t worry, it’s not a problem! Just let it warm on the counter for 20-30 minutes until the olive oil thaws completely. Then, give the mozzarella balls a stir and you’re good to go!

A white plate with crackers, marinated mozzarella balls, olives, and a gold cheese fork on a tan counter next to a white bowl of marinated mozzarella balls, crackers, a grey bowl of olives, a wood bowl of red pepper flakes, and a halved lemon.

More party apps

An Effortless French Cheese Board
Honey Baked Camembert with Pecans
Little Smokies in a Blanket with Puff Pastry
Bacon and Corn Fritters with Chipotle Aioli
Beef Wellington Bites with Dijon Sauce
Tempura Fried Cheese Curds with Sriracha Mayo
Cranberry Orange Cheese Balls
Fried Burrata with Roasted Peppers & Pesto
Savory Palmiers with Parmesan & Everything Bagel Spice

If you make this recipe, I would love it if you left a star rating and review! I read every single comment and love hearing what you think about my recipes. Thank you for supporting Sunday Table!


5 from 1 vote

Marinated Mozzarella Balls with Basil & Lemon

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Marinating Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Marinated mozzarella balls are the epitome of a quick and easy appetizer! With basil, lemon, garlic, and red pepper flakes, this mozzarella is fresh, flavorful, and comes together in minutes. Serve them with bread, use them on a charcuterie board, or eat them alone. You truly can't go wrong, they're the best!

Ingredients

  • 1 pound mozzarella balls, preferably Ciliegine ("cherry size")
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, plus more or less, to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more or less, to taste
  • Toasted crostini, crackers, or bread, for serving

Equipment

  • Large jar (or a medium bowl)

Instructions 

  • Drain the liquid from the mozzarella balls. Place the mozzarella in a large jar or a medium bowl.
  • To a small bowl, add the olive oil, garlic, basil, lemon zest, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, and salt. Whisk to combine.
  • Pour the marinade over the mozzarella balls. Stir to coat. Cover the jar or bowl and place the mozzarella balls in the fridge. Marinade for at least 1 hour, but preferably overnight. Serve with crostini, crackers, or bread.

Notes

You can use dried herbs instead of fresh in a pinch. Use about 1-1 1/2 Tablespoons of dried herbs and add more, to taste.
Stir the mozzarella balls every once in a while as they marinate. This will ensure that all of the cheese gets covered so it’s nice and flavorful.
Marinate the mozzarella for at least 1 hour but preferably overnight. The longer it marinades, the more flavorful the cheese balls will be.
Serve the mozzarella balls at room temperature. Cheese tastes better, creamier, and more nuanced at room temperature. 20-30 minutes should do the trick!
Cuisine: American, Italian
Course: Appetizer
Serving: 1serving, Calories: 218kcal, Carbohydrates: 2.6g, Protein: 10.1g, Fat: 18.4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Cholesterol: 40mg, Sodium: 189mg, Potassium: 18mg, Fiber: 0.1g, Sugar: 0.2g, Calcium: 123mg
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xo Sara Lynn

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