With its unapologetic green color and earthy flavor, spinach is not a vegetable about which most people are indifferent.
Particularly in the frozen spinach category, too many fall into the “you’ve got to be kidding” category, most likely based on memories of grade school lunches past where the innocent green was boiled to brownish-grey oblivion (I think I can still recall the smell).
It’s because of this that I relish the challenge of winning over a larger subset of the population to this healthy, convenient, and, yes, potentially scrumptious, vegetable.
If a single recipe can aid in the conversion, it is my Florentine meatballs (the Florentine referring to the spinach and cheese mixed in with the meat). They are tender, delicious, and easy to make—all of my favorite dinner criteria. They work especially well for me and my husband because I can make them in advance, store them in the refriegerator or freezer, and reheat later.
You can enjoy the meatballs in multiple ways, too. Try adding them to a simple soup (chicken broth, small pasta, more of the spinach and a few other vegetables—in the style of Italian wedding soup), make a meatball sandwich, pita or pizza, or go classic by simmering in marinara sauce and then spooning atop pasta. A final option is to serve the meatballs (again, simmered in marinara) on a bed of rice (brown or regular); that’s how I grew up eating them.
A word of caution as you prepare this otherwise foolproof recipe: meatballs bear a similarity to quickbreads in that, if overworked, they will become tough and leaden. Thankfully, avoiding such mini-catastrophes is easy.
Here’s how: Break up the ground meat into a large bowl—you need the space. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients (e.g., seasonings, egg, breadcrumbs, etc.) evenly over the meat. This is especially important for the salt—you don’t want to redistribute one patch of salt in a field of ground meat; make the salt work for you and sprinkle those grains all over the meat.
Next, mix all with damp hands. I keep a small bowl of water nearby—this makes for easy hand clean up, too, especially if you keep your rings on. Mix just until everything is nicely distributed, but don’t overmix. A light touch is key—you’re making meatballs, not throwing pottery.
For even meatballs, I use a cookie scoop (specifically a 2-tablespoon size scoop for this recipe; it’s the OXO medium size cookie scoop). Be gentle scooping the meat; you don’t want to compact it (or else petite bowling balls will be your dinner misfortune).
One last trick is that I typically undercook my meatballs for a few minutes. I’ve given the full cooking time in my recipe, but since I typically make my meatballs in advance (and freeze, or reheat later in the day), I know I’ll be simmering them in marinara sauce or in a bowl of broth later. Undercooking them those few minutes (about 2-3 minutes less than the full cooking time), ensures tender (and fully cooked, once they have simmered away) meatballs down the road.
Spinach Florentine Meatballs
3/4 pound extra lean ground beef
3/4 pound ground pork
1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed of liquid
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Optional: warm marinara sauce (purchased or homemade), hot cooked whole wheat or regular pasta
Preheat the oven to 400F.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, HALF of the spinach (reserve the other half for sauce—see my notes below), cheese, egg, garlic, basil, oregano, salt, red pepper flakes, and bread crumbs. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated.
Using hands, shape the mixture into 20 medium-large meatballs. Place meatballs on a large rimmed baking sheet. Bake 18-20 minutes or until well-browned and cooked through. Makes 20 medium-large meatballs (5 servings, 4 meatballs per serving).
Nutrition per Serving (4 meatballs):Calories 284; Fat 12.7g (poly 1.3g, mono 3.5g, sat 7.0g); Protein 12.3g; Cholesterol 111.2mg; Carbohydrate 4.6g; Sodium 621.3mg)
(Note: I did the nutrition analysis using Diet Analysis Plus 7.0.1)
Serving Suggestions: These meatballs are wonderful on their own, but I like them best in a traditional manner, namely warmed in marinara sauce and served atop a mound of hot, cooked whole wheat or regular spaghetti or linguini—with a final sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
About the Second 1/2 of the Frozen Spinach: Stir it into the warm marinara sauce. It won’t change the flavor, but it will add more great nutrition, with ease.
Freezing: You can freeze the meatballs (cool completely first) in freezer bags for up to 2 months. Great for quick & healthy lunches (meatball sub anyone?) and dinners (a good option if you are only cooking for one or two).