by Diane Rossen Worthington

Vegetable Meat Balls with Zesty Tomato Sauce Recipe
Vegetable Meat Balls with Zesty Tomato Sauce Recipe

It was difficult for me to decide this year which movie I wanted to highlight with my Oscar party menu. And what could be more satisfying than a bowl of meatballs with zesty tomato sauce while watching the show? Serve it alone or on a bed of penne that only requires a fork for eating.

Parmesan, Dijon mustard, herbs and a rich tomato sauce give these fluffy meatballs an Italian-American touch. Much of their flavor and moistness comes from shredded carrot and zucchini that replace the usual fat or cream. Make sure to shred or grate the carrot and zucchini very finely, and taste the zucchini to make sure it isn't bitter. A mixture of veal and turkey instead of beef lightens these unusual baked meatballs. Baking the meatballs cuts down on extra fat. If you don't have time to make up the sauce just use a good quality marinara sauce and add some thyme and basil, as well as some crushed red pepper if you like it spicy. Remember you can make both the meatballs and the sauce a few days ahead of the party.

Set up a casual buffet table with deep chili bowls (to avoid spills on the couch!) and forks wrapped around pretty napkins tied with twine. Make sure to have bottles of chilled Prosecco on hand to toast the winners. For red wine drinkers, serve a Chianti or zinfandel.

Start off this Seriously Simple menu with a platter of Italian meats, cheeses and crackers. I like to have cut-up vegetables with dips at the ready so you don't have to make a salad. Serve the meatballs with or without pasta and some Italian bread. For dessert, how about the simple Italian affogato, a scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with a shot of espresso, in a coffee cup? Arrange a platter of little amoretti or biscotti cookies to accompany the affogato. And don't worry if your guests are rooting for another movie -- meatballs are universally appreciated.

Vegetable Meat Balls with Zesty Tomato Sauce

Makes About 30 meatballs, to serve 8 to 10.

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 medium carrots, peeled and finely shredded

1 medium zucchini, finely shredded

1 pound lean ground turkey

1 pound lean ground veal

1/3 cup fine dried breadcrumbs

2 large eggs

1 large egg white

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

3 cups Double Herb Sauce (see below) or favorite good-quality Marinara sauce

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley, for garnish

1. In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onions, and sauté them for about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until they're soft and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute. Add the carrots and zucchini, blending with the onion mixture, and cook for about 2 minutes.

2. Transfer the cooked vegetables to a large mixing bowl. Let cool. Add the remaining ingredients except the tomato sauce. Blend well, using a large spoon, potato masher or your hands to mix all the ingredients together.

3. Preheat the oven to 375 F. With your hands, gently roll the mixture into meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Place them on a large baking sheet that has been lined with aluminum foil. Bake the meatballs for 35 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the tomato sauce.

4. To serve, arrange the meatballs in a serving dish and spoon the hot sauce over them. Serve immediately.

Advance Preparation

Can be prepared 2 days ahead through step 3 and refrigerated. Reheat in a 350 F oven for 20 minutes, occasionally basting with tomato sauce. The cooked meatballs can also be frozen.

Double-Tomato Herb Sauce

This reworking of the classic tomato sauce includes both canned and sun-dried tomatoes for extra-rich flavor. This thick home-style sauce is equally good on pasta, pizza, meatballs or eggs.

Makes about 2 quarts.

One 3-ounce package dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 medium carrot, peeled and finely chopped

1 celery rib, finely chopped

One (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

One (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup full-bodied red wine like Chianti or merlot

2 cups water

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil or 2 tablespoons dried

Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place the sun-dried tomatoes in a small mixing bowl and pour boiling water over them. Let them steep for 5 minutes. Drain the softened tomatoes and reserve.

2. Heat the oil in a large nonaluminum pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot and celery, and cook until soft, stirring frequently to prevent burning, about 10 minutes. Add both the canned tomatoes and the softened sun-dried tomatoes, the garlic, wine, water and herbs. Partially cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper.

3. Puree the mixture in the pot with a hand blender or in a food processor fitted with the metal blade until the sauce is a fine puree with no large pieces of tomato. You may need to add more water for a sauce-like consistency since the sun-dried tomatoes provide extra thickness. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and pepper and herbs it desired. Serve hot.

Advance Preparation

Can be prepared up to 5 days in advance, covered and refrigerated. It also can be frozen in small containers for up to 3 months.

Vegetable Meat Balls with Zesty Tomato Sauce, Italian Cuisine


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