Spaghetti and That's a Spicy Meat-a-balls!

Q: What's your ultimate comfort food?

So I've been feeling sick this week.  Not sick in a really specific way that I can effectively combat with all of my health tricks, but more of a general blah that makes me want to nap every three hours.  My theory is that I'm fighting off a flu that would have been catastrophic had I not diligently gotten my flu shot in December, but that's probably more of a means to pat myself on the back for getting a flu shot.  Either way, I feel exhausted, a little feverish and achy, and exceptionally unmotivated.

If we're then talking about what kind of food makes sense when we're in such a sick-ish funk, you'd think I'd be throwing together some of my Chicken Vegetable Soup. But no.  The Italian-American in me craves spaghetti and meatballs as the ultimate comfort food...go figure.  I used to try to replicate my mom's sauce recipe, but years of getting it not-quite-right led me to believe that it's physically impossible to make homemade sauce as good as hers.  So I make my own, simple version that suffices.  While it's pretty easy to whip up some decent sauce and boil some gluten free spaghetti, the true challenge is a tasty gluten free meatball that holds together without becoming something you could use to play squash.

Spaghetti and That's a Spicy Meat-a-balls

*This is a pretty simple recipe, but the only tricky part is planning - read the entire recipe before beginning, since there are 3 simultaneous things going on at once (making the meat-a-balls, cooking the tomatoes into sauce, and boiling the pasta).  This is the best order: prep all ingredients, start sauce, make meat-a-balls while sauce is simmering, start pasta while meat-a-balls and sauce are cooking.
*Though I haven't tried them, there are many good-looking vegetarian meatball recipes out there that need just a little tweaking to be gluten free, such as these on VegWeb.  Post a comment with your favorite veg meatball recipe, if you dare.
*My new favorite g-f spaghetti is Bionaturae, which I highly recommend whether you are g-f or not. Great texture and does not gel into a giant pasta ball if not rinsed a hundred times.

One package of your favorite gluten free spaghetti or fettucini, like Bionaturae spaghetti
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic, crushed
4 large, ripe roma tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons of g-f tomato paste (optional)
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried parsley
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
2 dashes dried rosemary leaves, chopped fine
Salt and pepper
3/4 pound ground turkey or ground pork (I use 1/2 lb ground turkey and 1/4 lb ground pork)
1/4 cup fine cornmeal or your favorite g-f bread crumbs
1 egg
1/2 cup frozen peas or shelled edamame, thawed
part-skim ricotta cheese for garnish

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 3 cloves of crushed garlic in a medium saucepan over low heat until the garlic is fragrant, 3-5 minutes or until slightly browned.  The point of this step is to draw out the potent garlic oil to mingle with the olive oil, as a delicious start to your sauce.

Add the 4 chopped roma tomatoes, 1 teaspoon each of the basil, oregano, parsley, and garlic powder, with a generous amount of pepper.  I don't add salt, but if you desire a little saltiness, add a dash at a time.  Also, you may wonder about the extra garlic powder in light of the garlic cloves - well, I love garlic.  If you have a hot date or don't share quite the same appreciation, leave the garlic powder out.

This is where I add the 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, but that's optional.  I think it adds a nice tomato kick to the flavor of the sauce, but it's not completely necessary.  Let the tomatoes cook down and simmer over medium-low heat, about 20-25 minutes.  Remove the garlic cloves, if desired, and mash any remaining large pieces with a potato masher.  After mashing, add the peas or edamame and heat through, about 2 more minutes.  Adding the veggies brings a little green to a carb-y dish - if you want to omit them, consider serving your spaghetti with a small side salad to add some fiber and color.

Meanwhile, once the tomatoes are in the pot and simmering, and you've started heating the spaghetti water in a large pot, make your meat-a-balls.  Measure all ingredients into a medium bowl - ground turkey/pork, 1 teaspoon each of basil, oregano, parsley, garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and (optionally) a few dashes of salt.  I also don't typically add salt to the meat-a-balls, since ground turkey and pork are salty enough for me, but that's up to you. Add the egg and 1/4 cup of cornmeal, and mix well.  Using clean hands is my preferred method for mixing, but you can also use a food processor, pulsing with the plastic blade, or stirring with a sturdy spoon.  Nurse Cara says: remember to always clean your hands thoroughly after handling uncooked meat, poultry, and eggs!!

Form the mixture into 18 - 1 1/2" balls, and cook over medium heat in a splash of olive oil or water, turning after about 7 minutes.  

The meat-a-balls are done when the outside is light brown, and a thermometer inserted in the middle of the little bundle of delight reads 165 degrees.

Meanwhile, while the meat-a-balls are cooking, add a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of olive oil to your now-boiling water.  Add the spaghetti and cook according to package directions, stirring every couple of minutes to prevent sticking.  

Drain and rinse the spaghetti when it's just al dente.  Return it to the pot and toss with a little sauce to prevent sticking.  Serve topped with meatballs and sauce, and garnished with a dollop of ricotta and some freshly-ground pepper.  Makes 4-6 servings.

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