Thursday, February 12, 2009

Healthier Real Meatballs and Spaghetti--Barefoot Bloggers

February's first Barefoot Bloggers recipe was selected by the wonderful Rebecca from Ezra Pound Cake. Rebecca selected a great dinner recipe, Ina's Real Meatballs and Spaghetti. Although, this recipe is not full of cream and butter as some Ina recipes are, there were still ways for me to lighten it up and make it a little healthier to fit in with my goals. (Primarily by using whole grain bread and pasta, replacing the meat with a leaner choice, reducing the oil, adding my favorite flax seed and browning the meatballs in the oven). Lest you think I had tasteless meatballs and spaghetti, I also used a couple of tricks to enhance the flavor. You can find Ina's recipe below at the Food Network site (here) or on page 103 of Barefoot Contessa Family Style. My healthy changes are in red below and since I halved this recipe, the amounts in my changes are for a half portion of the recipe.

Real Meatballs and Spaghetti
Barefoot Contessa Family Style, Ina Garten
(Makes 6 Servings) (Makes 3+ Large Servings)

For the meatballs:
1/2 pound ground veal  (used 1 lb ground bison / buffalo for the veal, pork and beef)
1/2 pound ground pork  (omitted, see above)
1 pound ground beef  (omitted, see above)
1 cup fresh white bread crumbs (4 slices, crusts removed) (used whole grain bread crumbs)
1/4 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs  (used dry whole wheat bread crumbs mixed with no salt Italian seasoning)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 extra-large egg, beaten  (used 1 egg white)
Vegetable oil  (omitted oil and baked meatballs)
Olive oil  (omitted oil and baked meatballs)
(added 1/2 onion grated)
(added 1 Tbsp ground flax seed)

For the sauce:  
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped 
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt  
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
(added 1 soft beef bouillon cube)  
(added 1 tsp crushed red pepper)

For serving:
1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions (used whole wheat pasta)
Freshly grated Parmesan

Place the ground meat, both bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, grated onion, flax seed, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You will have 14 to 16 meatballs. (Note: I had 12 large meatballs from this mixture)

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don't crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don't clean the pan. (I placed the meatballs on a foil covered pan and baked them for about 25 minutes in a 425 degree oven until browned)

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in the same pan. (Because I baked my meatballs instead of browning them in oil, to add some extra flavor to the sauce I crumbled a soft texture beef bouillon cube into the pan with the olive oil to cook the onions). Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and pass the grated Parmesan.

Notes/Results: Yum! I have never really craved spaghetti and meatballs but this recipe could become crave-worthy, especially now that it's healthier. Although I am sure Ina's recipe is delicious, the changes I made did not have a negative impact, there was a ton of flavor, great texture, and most importantly I felt better eating it. First off, I used ground bison for the meatballs because of it's rich taste, less fat and extra iron and protein. The whole-grain bread and dry wheat crumbs (with no-salt added Italian flavoring) were not too heavy and the flax seed is not at all noticeable. Since I planned on baking the meatballs rather than frying them, I wanted to boost the flavor and moisture level so I ground up an onion and added it to the mixture. Baking the meatballs made a lot of the oil unnecessary but I was concerned that the sauce would lose some of the flavor from the browned meat bits so I added a beef bouillon cube to the olive oil used to cook the onion (since the cube had salt, I didn't need to add extra to the sauce), and a teaspoon of crushed red peppers for a little flavor kick. Served on some whole-wheat spaghetti with a little grated Parmesan and a side of salad, this was a healthy, delicious dinner and I actually wished I had made the whole batch! I will make this again.

Great pick Rebecca--I loved this one! You can see what the other Barefoot Bloggers thought of their Real Meatballs and Spaghetti and find out how to join Barefoot Bloggers at the BB site here.


  1. Your healthy changes sound wonderful, Deb! I'm going to try to make some whole wheat breadcrumbs next time, what a great idea. I loved your plated pictures, makes me want to have this dish again soon, I agree that it can easily become crave-worthy :)

  2. Your changes sound great - no compromising on taste at all. Nice pics as well!

  3. I'm glad to see someone else baked them! They really did turn out well, and I'll have to try your other suggestions for making it healthier next time I make this!

  4. Wow. I think you and I are on the same page. I literally did the same thing (except for the meats... I used super lean beef and pork).

    Looks great!


  5. I love healthified recipes that actually taste good and call for real serving sizes. I tend to take most traditionally fried things and bake or grill them, and to me they taste just as good (maybe even better)!. Looks yummy.

  6. Great job on making them healthier!

  7. Yum!!! I did not make these yet, but when I do, I am going to incorporate some of your changes, Deb. It certainly looks like your version is not missing a thing! I can't wait to try this!

  8. How delicious!! I do get cravings sometimes for spaghetti and meatballs and thanks to you I'm having one now! Great job making them healthier without giving up any of the taste.

  9. I'm an inveterate recipe lightener too - love the changes you made. Spaghetti and meatballs make me weak in the knees and I crave it most of the time. I just wish it weren't so time-consuming. Baking the meatballs would help a lot with that problem.

  10. Mmm..p'sketti!
    Pass me a large bowl please, and don't spare the wine!
    Great job lightening up Ina - maybe there's a job in there somewhere..

  11. Great job making these lighter. I ended up baking mine as well!

    I'll definitely try your changes, they sound wonderful.

    ;) amy

  12. I'm making this tomorrow for a Friday the 13th dinner party. I'm definitely using some of your ideas....especially baking the meatballs. It not only saves calories, but clean-up as well. I hate cleaning a greasy stove top! Thanks!

  13. Very interesting substitutions! This has given me some great ideas.

  14. looks great and I especially love your healthy modifications.

  15. ain
    I actually thought about baking mine having tried a baked meatball recipe from Cooking Light that I really enjoyed. I wish I had followed your lead and baked these. Maybe I would have loved them as much as others have!

  16. Looks delicious and love your healthier version!!

  17. Deb, I love your changes. My husband is a huge fan of bison - though I have yet to use it for meatballs ... it never occurred to me. Good idea! I'm going to try this. Thanks!

    Sadly, this will be the second soup-less weekend in a row for me ... too many plans and not enough time in the kitchen. Next week for sure! And, as always, I'm looking forward to reading your round-up on Monday.

    Enjoy the weekend!

  18. I thought this was great. It is one of those recipes that you can tweak a little to suit your tastes, too.

  19. That looks really delicious! I used to use a lot of kangaroo meat in this sort of dish/pasta sauce because it is so lean but with good flavour - I will have to try bison!


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