These lightened Italian meatballs are made weekday-friendly by shortening the cooking time. Photo by: Melissa d'Arabian via AP
September 13, 2017 10:55:20 AM
Spaghetti and meatballs was the classic dish I ate at Grandma's house growing up: She had her all-day recipe that filled her creaky house with heady aromas that built anticipation as meatballs simmered in sauce on the stove.
The fact that she was 100 percent first-generation German -- she emigrated at the age of 6 -- never stopped me from making her recipe the benchmark by which every other meatball would be judged.
Tweaking her recipe to lighten it up a bit, and make it weekday-friendly by shortening the cook time, was a task I didn't take lightly. And truth to be told: There is a special place in this rush-to-eat food world for the leisurely simmer of small orbs of meat in thick, tangy tomato sauce covered in a fine slick of co-mingled pork and beef fat that has gently floated to the top. But life is busy, and we need to get a healthy dinner on the table and move on. I get it. These meatballs are for those nights.
First to change: The fatty mix of pork and beef became simply lean (93 percent) beef. Feel free to mix in turkey, but our family preferred the beef. The next tweak: I added a half pound of mushrooms for every pound of beef to stretch the meat out and add in nutrients. I pulsed the mushrooms in a food processor, and then cooked them with another healthy meat stretcher -- onions. (Here, you could add other veggies too: shredded zucchini, carrot, and chopped spinach work great.) I added the mushroom and onion mixture right in with the ground beef, and they added flavor, moisture and bulk, with nary an added calorie (nor a suspicious eye from any of my four kids). I used one egg white (no yolk), and used oats pulsed into a coarse flour instead of breadcrumbs. Simmer these meatballs directly in a pot of a high-quality jarred marinara sauce (check for no added sugar), and in 20 minutes, they will be succulent, tender, and juicy.
Almost like Grandma's.
LIGHTENED ITALIAN MEATBALLS
Start to finish: 40 minutes
8 ounces white mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups)
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped, about 3/4 cup
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dried Italian herb blend
1 egg white, lightly beaten
1 pound 93 percent lean ground beef
2 tablespoons grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1/3 cup oats, pulsed or blended into a coarse powder
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
4 cups jarred marinara sauce, with no sugar added
Chef's Note: This recipe yields tender, juicy meatballs, but for caramelized, crustier meatballs, bake on a foil-lined baking sheet for 20-25 minutes at 375 F, and then toss in sauce.)
Nutrition information per serving: 233 calories; 80 calories from fat; 9 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 49 mg cholesterol; 724 mg sodium; 17 g carbohydrate; 4 g fiber; 8 g sugar; 22 g protein.