I think I’ve made about 7 pounds of these meatballs in the past few weeks (no joke) so I figured it was about time I finally finished up this post and shared the recipe. I made a batch of these while I was sick the week before the holidays because when you have limited energy, you want to put it into cooking something hearty that will last you all week long. I made a huge 3 pound batch over the holidays for my grandparents, since they don’t want or need any presents but stocking their freezer with food made by their granddaughter is definitely accepted. I wish I had my camera for the look on my pop-pop’s face when I opened the freezer and showed him the stockpile- it was priceless. Finally, I made a batch for my own freezer since I have some work travel coming up this month and want to keep some heathy meals on hand for Tyler, so he isn’t tempted to order 3 meals worth of Chinese takeout and eat that all week long while I am on the road (yes, that really happened).
Spaghetti and meatballs are a personal favorite, maybe because of my Italian heritage or because they are one of the dishes I figured how to make early on when I got into cooking. My recipe is a lot healthier than most, hiding spinach in the meatballs, using the broiler to brown the meatballs without adding extra fat, and simmering them in a homemade sauce. While I know that opening up a jar of sauce is the norm these days, making it yourself is so easy and, dare I say it, fun. I always like to play around with the flavors, adding a touch of something new each time- so you can use this sauce recipe as a simple base and add your own touches (like a cup of red wine, if you are willing to part with it) to make it special. There is something very rewarding about making your own sauce- it seems like a labor of love, without feeling stressful. I also recommend making the sauce and “marinating” the meatballs on your prep day to let the flavors intensify and make a slow cooked gluten free supper a snap any work day.
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 5 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt & a few pinches of black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoons of italian seasoning blend
- 2 teaspoons of basil (I use the frozen kind)
- A dash of crushed red pepper flakes (or more if you like spicy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon of sugar
- 1 15 ounce can of fire roasted crushed or diced tomatoes
- 3/ 15 ounce cans of plain/no salt added tomato sauce (you can also use a combination of crushed and sauce here-depending on the texture you prefer)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 rind of parmesan cheese (frozen, if possible)
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- 1-1/4 pound of ground chicken or turkey (preferably organic)
- 1/2 cup of diced onion
- 2 cloves of minced garlic
- 1 egg
- 1 package (8-10 ounces) of organic frozen spinach thawed and very well drained
- 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese & romano cheese (I like to use a mixture of both, but you can use whatever you have on hand)
- 1/2 cup of fresh gluten free breadcrumbs (I grind up GF white bread from the freezer)
- 4 teaspoons of basil (I use the chopped frozen kind here, it holds up well)
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper
Prep Ahead Tip: You can make this entire sauce recipe on your prep day, the flavors will only intensify as it sits.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in a large pot
- Add onion, salt and a pinch of black pepper and cook until translucent and well softened, about 7 minutes
- Toss in minced garlic and cook for about 1 minute
- Add flavoring- red pepper, italian seasoning, basil and stir to combine
- Pour in the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce
- Add the sugar, bay leaf, parmesan rind and butter
- Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and allow the flavors to work together for at least an hour, though it can sit all day and just taste better with time.
Prep Ahead Tip: I try to add all of the ingredients (minus spinach) to the meat ahead of time and let it marinate for at least or a few hours or overnight. Ground poultry can easily taste bland and I find leveraging your prep time to let the flavors sink into the meat is time well spent. This trick also works great for meatloaf as well.
- Mix together the onion, garlic, salt, pepper, basil, cheese, and gluten free breadcrumbs in a bowl until well combined. Mixing the flavors together before adding the meat will help you avoid over mixing the meatballs. Add the meat, spinach, and beaten egg to combine.
- Use a small cookie scoop, sprayed with cooking spray or oil to form mini-meatballs that are similar in size. If the meat feels sticky, add a bit of olive oil to the mixture and/or your hands to help making rolling easier.
- Place the meatballs on a cook sheet, lined with tinfoil and sprayed with cooking spray. Spray the top of the meatballs and put under the broiler (make sure they are close to the broiler for better browning) and brown for about 6-7 minutes on the first side. Flip over the meatballs and brown the other side for about 4 minutes.
- Add the meatballs to your sauce and simmer for at least 15 minutes (the meatballs will be cooked by this time point, but you can simmer longer if desired).