Monday, February 24, 2014

Crispy Baked Meatballs (with Secret Spinach!)

I'm a huge fan of Pinterest. It has helped open up my cooking world from some dozen and a half tried & true recipes (and a shelf of cookbooks) to an infinite number of tasty possibilities. Some have been tremendous hits (Lemon Blueberry Cake...drool!) while others, remarkably bland fails (Greek "inspired" meatballs that were... uninspired). My poor family has acted as my guinea pigs for years, with hungry stomachs and a big sense of adventure.

One of my constant Pinterest searches is a way to tempt my kids to eat their vegetables. It's shameful, but veggies are not often welcome on their plates despite my repeated attempts. I still won't give up, and I have been able to get them to eat pumpkin, sweet potato, and peas (sometimes)... But, leafy greens are always tricky.

In comes Alton Brown. This guy is a Food Hero of my Husband's (along with chefs like Eric Ripert, Gordon Ramsay, and Thomas Keller. A wide array of foodie talent). What I love about Alton Brown's recipes are that they provide very precise directions in a "no fuss, no muss" way. Everything is deliberate and has a well explained reason for being there. A favorite in this house are AB's Baked Meatballs.

Now, you are probably asking, "how did we get from eating veggies to celebrity chef meatballs?" Well, the hidden gem in this meatball recipe is in the form of spinach. I know, you are going to yell at me that these aren't the traditional Nonna made meatballs served with delicious gravy on Sundays.... And I fully admit that - They are not traditional...And that's ok. My kids eat them and eat the hidden spinach. Score!

I have made modifications to this recipe over time to suit my family's taste. I replaced the ground lamb (can be hard to come by) and ground pork (my husband doesn't like the sweeter taste) to a completely ground beef mix. I often use fresh baby spinach instead of thawed frozen spinach. I also use Panko Breadcrumbs instead of traditional Italian breadcrumbs because I like the extra crunch of the dehydrated crumbs.

Even after all of these modifications, the result is a tasty, moist (thank you fresh spinach!), and savory, yet baked (!!!!) meatball. The texture play of the soft meat with the crisp crumb on the outside is delicious and also stands up to the sauce. The best part, as I wrote above, is that my kids scarf them up, spinach and all. Maybe there is hope yet for these veggie-hatin' kids after all!

Note: I have also left out the Parmesan on occasion, if I have run out - they still come out pretty darn good!

Baked Spinach Meatballs
modified from Alton Brown's recipe
makes 20-24 meatballs

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 cups fresh baby spinach
1 whole egg
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup for the meatball mixture and 1/2 cup for rolling
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Preheat your oven to 400F. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, spinach, egg, spices, salt, and 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs (I wear gloves to keep my hands clean). Mix very well and really get in there to break up the spinach leaves.

 In a separate small bowl, place the 1/2 cup of reserved panko and a pinch of salt. Mix.

Take out two large baking sheets. Take 1 1/2 tablespoons of the meat mix and gently roll it in your hands. Don't squish to hard! Once it looks like a meatball, roll it in the panko crumbs and place on the baking sheet.

When all the meat has been rolled, place pans into the hot oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until fully cooked.

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