Monday, July 27, 2015

FMD Garden Meatballs with easy sauce and zucchini noodles

Yum. So I got the basic recipe for these meatballs from the FMD blog here . I was looking for a Phase 2-friendly meal that wouldn't leave me feeling unsatisfied. As a reminder, Phase 2 of the Fast Metabolism diet is very low-carb and low-fat. So lots of meat and veggies. But tomatoes and tomato sauce are technically not allowed in Phase 2, however, so this recipe ended up developing into a P1 and P3-friendly dish. 

This recipe hits all of the right notes- the meatballs satisfy the craving for something that feels fatty, the sauteed zucchini noodles have a bit of sweetness and just a little crunch, and the tomato sauce adds spice and acidity. 

I'm going to do this in 3 chunks: I'll give the meatball recipe, talk about how to make and cook the zucchini noodles, and then review the quick and versatile tomato sauce. 

Chunk 1: Meatballs. I unfortunately failed in picture-taking on the process, but will add some the next time I make these (which I am sure will be soon)
  • You need 1 1/2 lb. of meat in total. The original recipe recommended 1/2 lb. lean ground turkey and 1 lb. lean ground beef. I opted for 1/2 lb. lean ground turkey and 1 lb. or ground pork loin. There was a sale... You can really use any combination of meats (based on phase if you're following FMD) that you want. Follow your meat bliss. 
  • 4 cups spinach
  • 4 good-size stalks of celery
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1-2 tbsp Sriracha (based on personal spice preferences)
  • 1 tbsp of tamari or Bragg's liquid aminos
  • 1 7-oz. can diced mild green chiles (optional. I didn't add them, but would probably taste great, especially if you got the fire-roasted kind)
  • 1 tsp sea salt (himalayan if you got it),
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp black pepper, again based on taste
Preheat your oven to 375 deg F. Put the meat in a large bowl. Then pull out the food processor. If you don't have a food processor, just pull out the good knife and give a rough chop to the spinach. Chop the green onions. Then finely dice the celery and seed and finely dice the bell pepper. You want pieces that are small enough to mesh well with your ground meat and not just pop out of your perfectly formed meatballs.

If you do have access to a food processor, just toss each ingredient into the food processor separately. The spinach should only take a few pulses to break it into bite-sized pieces. The celery and bell pepper should also only take a few pulses.You don't want to puree it, you just want small pieces that are easier to incorporate into your meat. You will likely still want to hand-chop the green onions.

Add the veggies, sriracha, tamari or Bragg's, S&P, and chiles if you're using them. Get your hands in there and mix everything well until it is all incorporated.This recipe is meat to make 6 meal-sized servings. I found that if I made them just a hair bigger than golf-ball sized, they made exactly 24 meatballs, which = 6 four-meatball servings. Voila. I set mine in a glass 9x13 casserole dish for a perfect fit.

They will need to bake for approximately 30 minutes. I took mine out at about 20 minutes and used a turkey baster to pull out some of the excess juice that pooled at the bottom of the pan, as it tends to form that protein reside that can be unappetizing. As they cook, they may look a bit dry, but these meatballs remained remarkably moist.

While these meatballs are baking, I would suggest you work on Chunk 2: The Zucchini Noodles (and also start Chunk 3, actually...)

A few months back, I purchased a spiralizer on ebay. This has become the best $24.99 I have spent on a kitchen tool in a long time.

There are 3 different blades, so you can make 2 widths of "noodles," or more of a butterfly shape (I think of those big plates of butterflied potato chips you can buy at county fairs- it's that kind of shape). You pop a zucchini on the blade, turn the crank, and it's off to the races!

Creating zucchini pasta

Unless you have a giant zucchini, generally I have found that one zucchini per person is a filling portion. I know, it sounds like a lot. But trust me, it's how much you're gonna eat. 

Zucchini has a high water content, so in order to get a nice brown on the noodles,you need to get some of the water out. Toss these noodles with a bit of salt, and let them sit on a stack of paper towels for 5-10 minutes. Then grab some more paper towels and press down on the pile, trying to get as much water out of the noodles as you can.

Let the noodles drain

Now, here is the important part. To keep this low-fat, you want to be able to brown the noodles without using any oil or butter. The best way I have found thus far is to use the right pan. Specfically, I love this sautee pan. (Not sponsored in any way lol). I found this randomly years ago- to be honest, I really liked the red color, and the guy at the kitchen store strongly recommended it. Turns out, this pan allows you to cook things at high heat and get a nice sear/browning- mostly without sticking. 

I cook the noodles by using just a quick hit of non-stick spray**. Then I get the pan nice and hot- about a medium-high heat. Toss in the noodles and mix them around a bit so they are evenly spread and add any spices you might like. I added a liberal sprinkle of garlic powder here and a touch of salt and pepper. Step back and let them cook for a couple of minutes- you will start to see the noodles brown slightly.*** 

If you keep cooking them at a that level of heat, you should see increased browning- but they will also become softer. Stop cooking them when they have reached the level of brown and crunch/softness that you prefer. There is no wrong answer here. In this particular recipe, I preferred them a bit crunchier, I felt that heartiness held up best to the tomato sauce. 

steamy cooking zucchini
cooked noodles

Onto Chunk 3!!
The ideal time to start this would be right when the meatballs go in the oven. While you are cooking out the canned taste and infusing flavor into this sauce, the meatballs and zucchini will be cooking up all happy-like. 

Chunk 3: Sauce

I think there are a number of healthy recipes that can be made tastier and more satisfying with the addition of a good tomato sauce. My favorite tomato sauce is posted here. That can be modified by removing the butter completely. However, for this recipe, I wanted something a bit chunkier **. I was also going for quick and easy.

1 can diced tomatoes with basil and garlic already added
1 small can tomato sauce
seasonings as desired (basil, oregano, garlic powder)
optional: fresh basil, fresh garlic, chopped onion, a little EVOO

Put the diced tomatoes and sauce into a pan. Add a liberal dose of S&P to taste, as well as 1/4- 1/2 tsp of your seasonings. I like a liberal dose of additional basil, dried oregano, and garlic powder. Let it cook down for about 15 minutes- you'll notice it thicken up. About 10 minutes in, taste for seasonings. If it's too bland, punch it up. If you like spice, maybe even toss some red pepper flakes in there.

Not quite low-fat options: You can develop some additional flavor by taking a few minutes first to heat some olive oil in your sauce pan and sautee some chopped garlic and diced onions (for this amount of tomato, I would suggest 3 cloves of garlic and 1/2 of a medium onion). Add them to your sauce pan, then toss in the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce. Continue with the recipe as noted above. 

Note: Regardless of which option you choose, fresh basil is always an excellentaddition :)

Plating: Create a layer of zucchini noodles on the plate just as you would with an awesome plate of pasta. Ladle a layer of sauce. Add your meatballs and top with more sauce. Optional bits: more fresh basil and a nice dash of grated parm (unless you're on FMD, of course ;) ).

Bon appetit!

FMD Footnotes

*FMD note: I originally formulated this when I somehow misread a list, thinking tomatoes were a no, but for some reason tomato sauce was ok. It turns out this is actually best for Phases 1 and 3. For Phase 3, you could even sautee the noodles in a little olive oil and use the alternate version of the sauce with garlic and onions that I have noted. Fats! Woo!

** No cooking sprays are allowed on FMD- you can use a spritz of veggie broth instead, that should keep things moist and add some great flavor. However, you may want to lower the heat just in case the lack of a non-stick element causes the noodles to cook too fast and stick to your pan. 

*** Now for those of you on the FMD, you may want to stop here- I am told that letting veggies caramelize (even without additional fat) may bring out the natural sugars in a way that is not fitting with the plan. 

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