Friday, August 2, 2013

Healthy Homemade Spaghetti and Meatballs

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There are few meals that are more comforting than spaghetti and meatballs.  But why take the time to make it from scratch?  The over-riding reason for me is because you can control the fat and sodium while customizing the recipes to your taste.  Both of these recipes - the meatballs and the sauce - are healthy versions but still full of flavor.  In particular, the meatballs are made with chicken and turkey sausage and then baked before putting them in the sauce.  They're tender and delicious and would make a great meatball sub, or made in a smaller-sized version they're great in soups or as appetizers with a dipping sauce.  Before discovering this recipe we had previously bought frozen turkey meatballs that we liked, but they're very high in sodium.  I actually like this recipe better because the meatballs have more flavor and aren't as dense in addition to being lower in sodium.  If you like spicy food you could always substitute hot Italian sausage for the mild version called for in the recipe.

This is a good weekend project because the sauce takes a while to cook.  Make the meatballs while the sauce is cooking and freeze them for later. Tip: if you freeze them on a pan or rack before putting them in a freezer bag, they don't stick together and you can take out as many as you want.  You don't even have to thaw the meatballs - just drop them in a pan of sauce and they'll be nice and hot when the sauce is heated.

Both recipes make a lot so you'll have quite a few meals or you can hold a big family gathering.  The sauce is versatile and can be used in all kinds of recipes - lasagna, baked pasta dishes, chicken parmigiana, etc.

I always use low-sodium versions of canned tomato products whenever possible to keep the sodium content down, and I also like to use one can of fire-roasted tomatoes in this recipe to give it a little extra flavor and because I like the little black flecks.  It's a good basic recipe that you can vary by increasing or decreasing the spices.  Freeze the sauce in several meal-sized containers that you can later thaw and add olives, mushrooms, or whatever you want for that meal.

When I was a kid we didn't go to restaurants because we were "too young to behave properly in  a public restaurant".  Seems like a quaint idea today, doesn't it?  Anyway, take-out was the alternative and spaghetti was the first restaurant take-out food we had, so that fact alone made it incredibly exotic to me.  (Our family isn't Italian and my mother never made spaghetti at home.)  Even today spaghetti is a fun meal to me.  Make it from scratch for (or maybe even with) your family and it will be special for you too.

click here for a printable recipe version

Spaghetti and Meatballs
Makes 9 cups of sauce and 20 – 30 meatballs depending on size

For the meatballs:
¾ lb ground chicken
½ lb chicken or turkey Italian sausage, casings removed
2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 teaspoons minced garlic (two cloves)
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
¼ cup freshly grated Romano cheese
¼ freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
3 tablespoons milk
1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
Salt and pepper

 For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried marjoram
½ dried basil
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes, undrained
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce

Hot cooked pasta

To Prepare the Meatballs:
Preheat the oven to 350d. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Romano, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently but thoroughly with your hands (plastic gloves are helpful).  Make any size meatballs you want, rolling them gently in your hands to make a smooth ball, and place on the parchment-lined pan.  Bake for 30 minutes until cooked through and lightly browned.  Set aside to serve with spaghetti sauce or freeze for later.  To freeze:  wait until the meatballs are thoroughly cool, then place the entire pan in the freezer until the meatballs are solid.  Remove the meatballs from the pan and place in a zip lock bag; freeze.  To reheat, place frozen meatballs into sauce and heat on medium for approximately 15 minutes.

To prepare the sauce:
Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat; add onion and sugar.  Cook 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.  Stir in wine; cook 1 minute.  Add remaining ingredients, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer 1½ - 2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Serve meatballs and sauce over hot cooked pasta with additional Parmesan on top.