Chicken Meatballs with Pasta al Pomodoro

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Chicken Meatballs with Pasta al Pomodoro

My boys are both in high school now, and both are running cross-country.  My older son is driving now so the two of them leave the house around 7:45 in the morning and are gone until 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening.  I am hearing faint whisperings of an empty nest. At first I felt a bit at loose ends, but then I remembered how much I relish time home alone.  And in the past few weeks, several tasks that have lingered on my to-do list for an absurdly long time have finally gotten done.  I had hoped that if I ignored that stuff long enough it might go away but apparently the IRS had no interest in cooperating.

Family dinner is more important than ever.  Warren Buffett is constantly begging to watch New Girl during dinner but I resist.  We talk about school, all the crazy politics these days, Warren Buffett’s latest plan to make a million dollars. I tell them goofy stories about my students, correct their table manners and insist they eat their vegetables.  They make me laugh.  They make each other laugh. And then we watch New Girl.

This recipe for chicken meatballs with pasta and a pomodoro sauce served with a green salad is a perfect family dinner — lots of carbs and protein for the athletes. The meatballs can be a do-ahead or a chance to drag the kids into the kitchen and put them to work.  It is a versatile  meal– skip the meatballs and go vegetarian or skip the pasta and go low carb.  Make a double batch of the chicken meatballs to use  in meatball subs for a later meal.  I freeze them before baking, but you could also bake and freeze, then rewarm in the sauce.

Chicken Meatballs with Pasta al Pomodoro

Ingredients:

For the Chicken Meatballs:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2/3 cup minced onion
  • 2 ounces fresh spinach, roughly chopped
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • olive oil cooking spray

For the Pasta al Pomodoro:

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 28 ounce can crushed San Marzano tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon  Gourmet Garden Basil Herb Blend or basil pesto
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt (divided)
  • 12 ounces spaghetti
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Put a large pot of water to boil for the pasta.
  3. Warm the olive oil in a medium non-stick skillet over medium-low heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes until it softens and begins to brown.
  4. Add the spinach to the skillet and cook for about 3 minutes until it is wilted and any water has evaporated.
  5. Add the garlic and cook another 1-3 minutes.  Remove the skillet from the heat and let the vegetables cool.
  6. In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, bread crumbs, cheese, egg, tomato paste, salt and pepper.  When cool, add the vegetables and stir to combine.  Stir in the milk, adding it sparingly.
  7. Spray a rimmed cookie sheet with olive oil cooking spray
  8. Roll the chicken mixture into 12 golf ball-sized meatballs and place them on the cookie sheet.
  9. Bake for about 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is at least 165 degrees.
  10. Wipe out the non-stick skillet and heat the 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Add the minced onion and cook for about 10 minutes until it softens and begins to brown.  Add the garlic and cook for 1-3 minutes.
  11. Increase the heat to medium and add the crushed red pepper flakes, tomatoes, basil puree, pepper and 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Cook the sauce, stirring occasionally, until it thickens, about 20 minutes.
  12. Add the 1/2 teaspoon salt to the pot of boiling water then drop in the pasta. Cook the pasta according to package directions until it is not quite tender (about 2 minutes less than the prescribed cooking time).  Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water.
  13. Turn the heat up to medium high and stir the pasta water into the sauce to loosen it.  Bring the sauce to a boil and stir in the drained pasta, continuing to stir until the sauce coats the pasta and the pasta is al dente.
  14. Serve the pasta in shallow bowls.  Top each with 3 meatballs and a sprinkling of Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley.

Yield: 4 servings

Prep time: 50 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

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