Chef Joe likes to rev up these classic Italian comfort dishes with hidden nutrients. The results are juicy and delicious meatballs and a tasty marinara that will please your children without drawing too much attention to the healthy vegetables inside.
As another option, Chef Joe suggests substituting ½ the fresh mushrooms with grilled eggplant if desired. The final result is processed in a blender, so “veggie” phobic children will never be the wiser!
Meatballs (10 servings)
- 1.5 pounds sliced button mushrooms (or ¾ pounds mushrooms and ¾ pounds eggplant)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup grated carrots
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
- 5 pounds ground beef (80/20)
- 5 cups fresh breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs – lightly beaten
- ½ cup shredded parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup minced fresh parsley
- 1 tablespoon crushed fresh garlic
- ¼ cup finely diced onions
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
Marinara (approx. 1 gal)
- 2 cloves chopped garlic
- ½ cup finely diced onions
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped carrots
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced button mushrooms
- 1/3 cup diced red bell peppers
- 2 tablespoons diced parsnips
- 2 tablespoons diced celery
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 cups canned crushed tomatoes with liquid
- 5 cups tomato puree
- 1/8 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/8 (or less) teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- 2/3 cup chopped fresh spinach
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1/3 cup (or more) water
Sauté sliced mushrooms in olive oil until cooked through. Cook until liquid is absorbed. Cool and place in food processor. Pulse till minced. If using eggplant, pre-heat grill to high. Grill a whole eggplant on each side until charred. Cut in half and remove skin. Puree in a food processor.
Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, combine beef with minced mushrooms (and pureed eggplant if using) and the remaining ingredients. Mix well to combine. You may use a table top stand mixer if you prefer.
Spray a sheet pan with cooking spray or cover with parchment paper. Use a kitchen scale or ice cream scoop to portion our 2 ounce chunks. Lightly roll into balls and place on parchment paper. Leave approximately ½ inch of space between meatballs. Bake at 400F for 15-20 minutes until internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees. Reserve for use in marinara sauce.
In a large pot, sauté onions and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add carrots, celery, peppers, mushrooms, and parsnips and continue to sauté for 3-5 minutes.
Add crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, and 2 cups water (use the water to rinse the empty tomato cans to incorporate any leftover tomato and/or puree.) Add sugar, oregano, basil, red pepper, and salt. Simmer for 45 minutes or more. Puree with immersion blender. Add fresh chopped spinach and parsley. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes.
Cook pasta of choice according to provider’s directions. When pasta is slightly al dente, drain and add to a warm pan. Stir in sauce and meatballs until heated through. Plate and serve. Garnish with fresh parsley, fresh basil, and parmesan cheese if desired.