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Newfoundland and Labrador

Kohlman: Meatballs make for a cozy comfort food



With the blast furnace firing and snowflakes fluttering down in the middle of winter, you want to wrap yourself in cold-weather comfort.

For me, this includes slippers, woolen jackets and cozy home cooking – like meatballs.

We need to talk about meatballs.

If you’re a carnivore, they’re pretty much perfect. But just like their cousin Meatloaf, they have an unfortunate name. They taste so much better than “meatballs” would have you believe. Plus, they’re easy to toss together and work well with a variety of condiments. And you can make a large batch ahead of time and freeze it for future meals. I feel like I’m winning at this coming of age thing when I look in my freezer and see bags of homemade meatballs just waiting for me to toss with gravy and serve. Speaking of sauces, they can be anything you crave, be it sweet and sour, creamy mushrooms, or rich and tangy tomatoes.

My meatball recipe makes a great use of mixing and lengthening ground beef with cooked green lentils. That’s correct. Lenses. Lentils grown right here in Saskatchewan not only help make your grocery store more expensive, but they offer excellent nutritional value thanks to protein and fiber. Trust me, picky eaters won’t even know they’re there, especially when the meatballs are smothered in tomato sauce! I usually double this meatball recipe and use some for pasta and save the rest for future meals. My future self is already grateful.

This baked pasta makes a great use of pre-packaged gnocchi (found in the pasta aisle) and any veggies you like. I really like peppers and zucchini here, but mushrooms, eggplant, and even broccoli would be wonderful. If you want to add another shortcut and use store-bought tomato sauce, that’s fine too. These are busy days and the eaters are hungry, so I totally understand if everything can’t be made from scratch. My favorite shortcut is usually grated cheese. Just between us, I find grating cheese so tedious. So when I find it on sale I like to use it on pasta and pizza instead of pulling out the box grater. Sometimes the days are tough and we do our best. That’s all that counts.

Spiced Beef and Lentil Meatballs

500 g lean ground beef

1 cup cooked green lentils

1/2 cup finely chopped onion

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1/2 cup breadcrumbs (such as panko)

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp dried oregano

1 tsp dry mustard powder

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

3 tbsp canola oil

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

2. Combine all ingredients (except oil) in a large bowl and mix gently until combined.

3. Shape into golf-sized meatballs, about 1 1/2 inch in diameter. This should make about 14 meatballs. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the oil over the meatballs.

4. Bake for 15 minutes or until the thermometer reads an internal temperature of 160ºF.

5. Remove from the oven and let rest until pasta is done. Can keep meatballs in the fridge for up to three days or freeze for up to three months.

Baked gnocchi with meatballs

A cheesy pasta dish of pillowy gnocchi and tender meatballs, baked in a rich and flavorful tomato sauce. Serve with crusty bread or garlic toast to soak up the sauce.

2 tbsp canola oil

1 onion, diced

2 red peppers, chopped

2 medium zucchini, chopped

2 garlic cloves, chopped

2 tsp Italian seasoning

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Pinch of red pepper flakes

1 can (796 ml) tomato passata

1/2 cup red wine, white wine, reduced-sodium chicken broth, or water

1 tsp brown sugar

1 500g pack of potato gnocchi, uncooked

2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

2 teaspoons chopped basil or parsley for garnish (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.

2. In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the canola oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion. Fry for a few minutes until the onion is translucent. Stir in the remaining vegetables, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Simmer for a few more minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. Pour in the mashed tomatoes, wine and sugar. Cook uncovered for three to four minutes. Add the potato gnocchi, breaking them up when lumps stick together. Be sure to smother any gnocchi in the sauce. Cover and bake 15 minutes, until gnocchi is tender and sauce is bubbly.

4. Remove the pan from the oven and dip the meatballs into the sauce. Make sure the sauce coats the top of the meatballs. Top with the grated mozzarella. Bake uncovered for 10-12 minutes until cheese is melted and sticky. Place under the grill for a minute or two to brown the cheese, if desired. Let stand at least five minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley. Makes four servings.

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