I’ve said this before, and I’ll likely say it again, but I grew up on meatloaf. One of my favorite meals as a kid was meatloaf–topped with sweet tomato paste–served with mashed potatoes. Followed for a few days by cold meatloaf sandwiches.
It has always baffled me….no…..astonished me, that neither my children–the fruit of my loins–nor my husband, a proper southern man, will not admit to liking meatloaf. Funnier still because they love meatballs. I almost don’t have the heart to tell them that meatballs are little more than meatloaf shaped in smaller portions.
I think it’s the term “loaf” that throws people off. During the 1950’s, thrifty housewives looking to stretch their grocery dollars created scads of loaf-style recipes. This usually involved mixing meat with filler ingredients such as oats, cracker crumbs, bread cubes, potatoes and other vegetables, and using a binder such as egg to hold it all together. There was meatloaf, salmon loaf, ham loaf, olive loaf and veal loaf. When was the last time you thought to yourself “mmmmm, olive loaf…?” Yeah, me neither. And don’t even get me started on SPAM (secretly, I like it, but the concept is pretty gross).
This Donna Reed generation was quite fond of gelatin dishes, and gave us jello molds, jello salads, and the savory gelatin dishes such as aspic and confit. Just the thought of meat and vegetables hanging around in a savory gelatin suspension is, quite frankly, cringe worthy. It seems this era really liked foods made into shapes and loaves. Have I mentioned my disdain for gelatin based foods? I don’t like to eat anything that wiggles, jiggles, or makes bizarre chortling sounds when being moved from the preparation dish to the serving platter. I think that the term “loaf ” does for many people what the term “gelatin mold” does for me—induces an involuntary response to un-eat. I am not sure how much credibility the 1950’s housewives really earned in the annals of culinary history.
Keep in mind that this is also the same generation that expected women to be wearing a nice dress, heels, and pearls, ready to serve their men dinner when they walked in the door. I am not saying it isn’t okay for a woman, especially one who doesn’t work outside the home, to take the more traditional role in the household. I am definitely the chief cook and bottle washer in my home, and I prefer it that way. I am saying that whoever thought I should do it while wearing heels and pearls was watching way too much Leave It To Beaver.
So, to provide my kids with the same yummy “loaves” I had as a kid, I have only to shape them into balls and call them as such. On a side note, meatballs are a great way to hide vegetables from your kids, if you have finicky eaters. You can replace half the meat in your chicken or meat ball recipe with finely chopped vegetables, and your kids will never know.
Chicken Meatballs (With Stealth Vegetables)
- 1 pound ground chicken breast
- 1/2 cup minced onion
- 4 cups baby spinach leaves, packed
- 2 carrots
- 1 small zucchini
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1/2 cup white wine
- juice of one lemon
Place chicken in a mixing bowl with onion. Set aside. In a food processor, place spinach, carrots, zucchini, garlic and pulse until finely chopped. Add to mixing bowl, along with salt, pepper, egg, and bread crumbs. Use your hands to mix thoroughly, and shape into 2 inch balls.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Cook meatballs on all sides until nicely browned. Add broth, wine and lemon, and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove lid, raise heat to medium high, and cook until the liquid has reduced to about 1/2 cup.
–with squash ribbons (as pictured above): using a vegetable peeler, cut yellow summer squash into long ribbons. Stop peeling when you reach the seeds, and turn the squash to another side and repeat. Saute the ribbons in a few teaspoons of butter for three minutes, just until they are heated, and act like noodles. Serve with the chicken meatballs, a little of the pan sauce, and top with grated parmesan.
–add 1 cup of bottled Teriyaki sauce at the very end, and heat through. Serve over rice.
–place in a pot of chicken stock, with your favorite vegetables for an easy soup
These homemade meatballs in marinara sauce take a little effort, but are incredible. I make this large batch, and freeze leftovers for future use, but the recipe halves easily if you want to make less.
- 1 pound ground chuck
- 1 pound ground pork
- 1 pound ground veal (use 1 /12 pounds each of beef and pork if veal isn’t available)
- 4 beaten eggs
- 3 large cloves fresh garlic, finely chopped (only use fresh)
- 3 t salt
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (not the stuff in the green can)
- 1 1/2 cups bread crumbs, unseasoned
- 1/2 C fresh basil, thinly sliced
- 1/2 C olive oil
- 4 32 oz cans of premium canned tomatoes (look for a brand with no salt or citric acid)
- 1/2 c sugar
- 1/2 c thinly sliced fresh basil
- 6 cloves finely chopped fresh garlic
- 3 t salt (or more, to taste)
In a large bowl, mix together all ingredients except for olive oil. Mix until just incorporated–do not over mix the meat mixture or the meatballs will be tough. Form meat mixture into balls that are 2″ in diameter, or slightly large if you wish. Heat olive oil in a large skillet or electric fryer to a medium high heat. Brown the meatballs in batches, on all sides. Place them in a large dutch oven as they are browned (they will not be cooked through yet). If using a large electric skillet, you can leave them in there. When all of the meatballs are browned and in the dutch oven, mix together all of the sauce ingredients and pour over the meatballs. Cook over medium low heat or in a 250* oven for 3 hours (stir periodically if cooking on the stove top).
The long, slow cooking is integral to this recipe. It allows the juices from the meat to cook into the sauce, and for the sugars in the tomatoes to caramelize a bit, increasing the sweetness of the sauce. If you cook them hotter and faster, then results will NOT be the same. Serve over cooked spaghetti, or your favorite pasta. Slice and use on homemade pizza, in lasagna (see below), or on sandwiches.
Serves an army, or a hungry family of twelve.
- 1/2 recipe meatballs and sauce, see above
- 1 package no-boil lasagna noodles
- 2 cups ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed, sliced thin
- 1 egg
- 1 t salt
- 1 pound grated mozzarella cheese
- 8 oz grated Parmesan cheese
In a bowl, mix ricotta, egg, basil, salt until well blended. Set aside.
Place a small amount of sauce and spread in the bottom of a 9×13 cake pan or lasagna pan. Place one layer of noodles (3 noodles) across the bottom of pan, spaced evenly apart. Slice meatballs in a single layer across noodles. Place a few dollops (1/3) of the cheese mixture on top of the meatballs, and spread gently with a rubber spatula. Sprinkle 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella cheese on top of the ricotta. Ladle a generous portion of sauce over the cheese. Repeat layers of noodles, meatballs, ricotta and mozzarella until gone. Top with final layer of sauce, and shredded Parmesan cheese. Bake at 375* in the lower portion of your oven for 1 hour, until cheese is melted, bubbly, and starting to toast.