Grain-based Italian meatballs

I’ve been waiting a long time to share this recipe with you – one month and three days shy of an entire year, to be exact.

grain-based Italian meatballs(1)tossed with a rich marinara and best-quality gluten free spaghetti

I’m a very impatient person – it’s felt like an e-t-e-r-n-i-t-y.

I think it’s worth it, though, and not just because I’m excited about these grain-based meatballs. You see, my dear friend Kathy just also happens to be a fantastic cookbook author – and she lets me test and develop recipes for her – and this particular recipe is on page 17 of her latest book, Vegan Slow Cooking – For Two – or Just For You.

deciphered for the massesAren’t you glad I didn’t just scan my original notes and make you try to decipher them?

Did I mention this is her third book? You should visit her site to see what she’s been up to, and to check out the other recipes being shared on this tour. Psst – I’m also giving away a copy of this book! Details in the recipe notes…

grain-based Italian meatballs(2)meatballs always taste better with a hunk of focaccia bread

Back to these meatballs. They are vegan, gluten free, made out of wholesome pantry staples, and free of any binders. They come together in less than 10 minutes, bake in 20, and work just as well as links. I prefer meatballs, though, so that’s what I’m sharing with you today.

meatballs in the makingmeatballs in-the-making
grain-based Italian meatballs-preready for the oven
grain-based Italian meatballs-postleftovers, for a repeat meal in 24 hours // the only reason I saved any was to show you how well they hold up // we always gobble these up in one night
grain-based Italian meatballs Day 2gently simmered for 5 minutes on day 2 // I think they held their shape nicely

Grain-based Italian meatballs

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These don’t have any binders – no ground flax or chia, no psyllium husk, no xanthan or guar gum. Why? Because when I create something new, I always start as simply as possible, and then go from there. I have no idea how they would do if fried, because I don’t like to fry things. I have no idea how they freeze, because I don’t like to freeze this sort of thing. But they’re damned good straight out of the oven. Want to win a copy of this book? Leave me a comment between now and midnight on Sunday, 29 September 2013, and a winner will be randomly selected. Fair Winds Press is letting me give away a print or digital copy, winner’s choice.

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1/2 cup cooked brown lentils, drained
2 teaspoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano or marjoram
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup cold, cooked long grain brown rice
1/2 cup cold, cooked quinoa
3/4 cup almond meal (not flour)
1/4 cup nutritional yeast flakes

Preheat oven to 350 F / 180 C and place a rack in the center position. Line a baking tray with parchment paper or oil lightly.

In a food processor, puree the first nine ingredients (lentils through black pepper) into a paste. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside.

In the same food processor (no need to wash between steps), combine the grains, almond meal and nutritional yeast. Pulse until coarsely ground but not pureed.

Add the rice mixture to the lentil mixture and stir until everything is completely incorporated. It will have the texture of veggie loaf. Wet your hands and shape into links or meatballs. Space evenly on the try at least 1 inch apart.

If making links: Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Turn the oven off, leave the tray inside for 10 more minutes, and then remove the tray and allow to cool at room temperature to firm up.

If making meatballs: Bake for 10 minutes, flip over, bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove the tray and allow to cool at room temperature to firm up.

Links are great for slicing into coins and reheat nicely in a dry or lightly oiled skillet. They can be layered in a dish a few minutes before serving, but won’t hold up if baked in something like a lasagne. If I’m making a baked pasta dish, I like to nestle them in the top just before the final broil – drizzled with a bit of additional sauce and sprinkled with gluten free breadcrumbs, they heat through but don’t fall apart.

Meatballs (or whole links) hold their shape well and can be gently simmered in a sauce for up to 5 minutes. They also reheat well, as long as you refrigerate any unused meatballs in a covered dish without sauce; the moisture will make them disintegrate.

Yield: 15 – 30 links or meatballs, depending on size; I usually end up with 20 medium-sized meatballs

Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 20 minutes

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I’m lucky I didn’t burn the house down

This past weekend, I baked and cooked around the clock for two entire days. None of it was planned! And yet all of it went smoothly.

Action JacksonThis particular bowl saw a lot of action // muffins, granola, macaroons, grain-based sausage, brownies . . . I’m full just thinking about it

While the muffins were cooling and the granola was baking, there was an impromptu birthday party. I had no idea there were triplets in the house!

birthday girlsthere ain’t no party like my nana’s tea party // . . . happy birthday, dear Rainbow Sparkles, Kookaburra, and Click . . .
zesty macaroonsorange zest-spiked macaroons // totally on a whim, because I needed something to do while the granola was baking

At one point, I had four slow cookers going at the same time. Beans, more beans, lentils – and the richest, smoothest marinara I’ve ever made. Accidentally slow cooking my marinara sauce for 18 hours was the key.

grain-based Italian meatballsspaghetti and grain-based meatballs simmered in glad-I-didn’t-burn-the-house-down marinara // meatball recipe will be posted on Wednesday
researchresearch! because somehow, I was still actually hungry // I rarely eat when I’m cooking or baking, the smell all on its own makes me feel stuffed

There was also potato focaccia bread, triple chocolate buttermilk brownies, multiple tester recipes for two of my favorite cookbook authors, and another accidental discovery – my wok is the perfect popcorn popper.

When I wasn’t actively cooking, I managed to leave my kitchen. There was a library visit, grocery shopping, Lego building, movie watching, more Lego building, winter clothes sorting, book reading, and even laundry. Whew! Just thinking about it all makes me tired. The only thing we didn’t do was go for a hike, because my still-healing knee was throbbing. Apparently, standing on an injured knee for several hours straight will do that.

Oh, and there was also this soup.

cup o' soup creamy tomato soupI used both my slow cooker and my oven for this, and it was totally worth it
soup dregsthe best part of cleanup duty

Slow cooker tomato soup

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This recipe may read as long and complicated, but most of the time is spent waiting for the soup’s base ingredients to melt together in your slow cooker. It can be made on a stove top, but the results just aren’t the same. You’ll need to purée the base by itself, and then again with the rest of the ingredients once they have roasted. I usually combine everything in a tall, stainless steel pasta pot and use my stick blender, but a stand blender or food processor will also work.

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Soup base, to slow cook:
1/2 cup red lentils
1/4 cup steel cut oats
2 medium tomatoes, chopped (or 10-12 cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 tablespoon chicken-style broth powder
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
10 basil leaves, torn
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
salt and white pepper

Soup body, to roast:
4 medium tomatoes, quartered (or 20-25 cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 large shallot or red torpedo onion, quartered
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
large pinch kosher salt
large pinch turbinado sugar

Finishing garnish:
nutmeg
agave
crostini or croutons, optional

In a 2- or 3-quart slow cooker, combine the first seven ingredients (red lentils through smoked paprika) with 2 1/2 cups of water and set to low. Allow everything to cook for six hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if needed. You want enough liquid to purée everything easily at the end, but not so much that it will be watery. When the six hours have passed, purée everything until smooth and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Keep the base warm in your slow cooker until the roasted vegetables are ready.

When your slow cooker has about an hour to go, preheat your oven to 375 F / 190 C. In a baking dish, arrange the quartered tomatoes and shallot, cut sides up, in a single layer. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, then sprinkle on the salt and sugar. Roast until the tomatoes have caramelized and their juices are concentrated.

Combine the puréed base and the caramelized tomatoes, shallots and their juices in a blender or food processor (in multiple batches, if necessary) and purée until completely smooth, adding water if needed.

Garnish with a drizzle of agave and fresh grated nutmeg, and serve with small crostini or croutons.

Yield: 2-4 servings, depending on course and appetite

Prep time: 10 minutes | Slow cooking time: 6 hours (mostly unattended) | Roasting time: 30-45 minutes