Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spaghetti with Meatballs - Whole30 Style

Last week, as I mentioned in my previous post, I began the Whole30 Challenge.  Refer to the aforementioned posts if you want the whys, wherefores, and hows of this decision - for now, I am going to share my first recipe.  It's not really "my" recipe - it's combined from a few different blogs, starting with an idea from NomNom Paleo.  Yes.  Using zucchini to make spaghetti!  I had to try it.

So I bought myself a julienne peeler...

And got started.

First, before the spaghetti noodles were an issue, I had to make sausage.  So I found this recipe and followed it.  Only I quadrupled my quantities.  And I ask you in advance: please pardon the quality of these photos.  I may be a beginner at this food-blogging thing, but even a professional would have had trouble with the lighting I was dealing with.  I was cooking at 8:30 at night.  Why???  Long story.  Just trust me - there was NO natural light to be found.  I apologize profusely for the, um, unappetizing colors you might encounter.

Now, without further ado!

I combined:

1 lb ground turkey or pork
1 T onion flakes
1/4 tsp each cumin, black pepper, nutmeg, oregano, red pepper flakes, and ground ginger
1/2 tsp each dried basil, thyme, and sage
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
1 egg, lightly beaten

I browned up half of the sausage and saved it for use in a breakfast casserole.  I took the remaining 2 lbs and formed them into cute little balls about 1" in diameter while I heated a pan of grapeseed oil on the stove.  Why grapeseed oil?  Because it was a light oil that I had handy and it has a high smoke point - a big plus for a perpetual everything-in-a-pan-burner like myself.

Once that was done - and it took a long time to transform 2 lbs of sausage into 1" balls - I dropped a few of them into the hot pot to brown quickly.

Note: please don't leave the little meatballs for more than a few seconds to brown them on each side.  I put my first batch in and went back to forming more meatballs.  Duh.  I wasn't thinking about how hot the pan was, and should have known better.  They were so stuck I could barely retrieve them and they pretty much fell to pieces on me.  What we're going for here is not to cook them through - only to lightly brown them on all sides so they will have a nicely caramelized exterior before we cook them in tomato sauce later.  If we just plopped them right into the pot of tomato sauce raw, they would cook, but they wouldn't have that nice, savory, slightly crisp exterior that makes a nice contrast with their juicy innards.  Yum.  I'm getting hungry talking about all of this caramelization.  Let's move on to the next step, shall we?

After all of the meatballs were browned and waiting in a new pan (it took a while, but it was worth it), I simply popped open a jar of spaghetti sauce.  So easy, it made up for the labor of making the meatballs.  I chose one of the only brands I could find that did not contain added sugar or soybean oil.  C'mon, people. Soybean oil in spaghetti sauce?  Since when??

 Just as an aside, do you see that jar to the left?  Yeah, that was an Old Italian Spaghetti Sauce, or something.  Same brand, and an identical ingredient list except that the tomatoes were "Roma tomatoes."  I wondered why it had such a dark, rich color compared to the plain old "Spaghetti Sauce" pictured.  Well, I found out when I popped them both open.  Same exact sauce inside.  But the "Old Italian" stuff was in a dark red jar.  Yeah, I don't really understand the marketing thought process behind that one; but moving on!

In goes the sauce, so the meatballs could braise.  I got it up to a nice simmer, put the top on, and cooked those babies for nearly an hour, for two reasons: 1. I am terrified of salmonella in turkey and was determined to kill all traces of it; and 2. I kind of forgot about them for the last 20 minutes or so.  I had really intended to pull them at 40 minutes.  But that's the best part about braising - it's hard for your meat to dry out when it's drowning in liquids!

I'm actually totally faking you guys out with this long post because I'm just blabbering and trying to disguise the fact that I hardly took any pictures.  I'll do better in the future.  I'm new here in the cooking blogosphere.  This isn't even a cooking blog, for crying out loud.  I need a "Handprints in the Kitchen" section or something.

While the meatballs braised, I pulled out my knife, cutting board, and brand new julienne peeler.  And then I washed up about 6 zucchini, thinking I would only make enough noodles for a couple of meals.  

And from there, it's as easy as peeling the zucchini.  Per the suggestions at Nom Nom, I left the tops on the zucchini so I could use that as a handle, and used my knife to cut a thin slab off the side of each zucchini so it would lay flat on the cutting board.  From there, I grabbed on and went to town with my julienne peeler.  You should check out the pictures at Nom Nom because she did a much better job of photographing the process!

I only photographed the middle of the process:

And the end result.  Voila!  Spaghetti noodles!

I tossed them in a microwave-safe covered dish with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and popped them in the microwave (covered, of course) for 2 minutes.  My microwave is from the dark ages of microwaves, however, so you might need to do yours less.  It all depends on what texture you want!

And at last, after the meatballs were done, I was able to assemble my plate of spaghetti.

And it was delicious.  Really, really delicious.  So delicious that my husband, who isn't even doing the Whole30 yet, asked if I could make it again.  I would be happy to oblige him.  Next time around, though, I will remember - a word to the wise - don't eat too many zucchini "noodles" with each serving of your meatballs.  I kind of forgot about the fact that zucchini is, um, a lot more Fiber-Rich than your typical semolina noodles.  I'll spare you any details, but suffice it say: you could be a bit uncomfortable if you don't treat your zucchini noodles with respect and take a modest portion.

Here is the recipe in its succinct form:

Turkey Meatballs w/Zucchini Spaghetti 

(Printable version)

1 lb ground turkey or pork
1 T onion flakes
1/4 tsp each cumin, black pepper, nutmeg, oregano, red pepper flakes, and ground ginger
1/2 tsp each dried basil, thyme, and sage
1-1/2 tsp sea salt
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 T grapeseed oil, light olive oil, or other light oil suitable for frying
1 jar of your favorite spaghetti sauce

Combine all ingredients except oil and sauce.  Form meat into 1" balls.  Heat oil in a pan over medium heat.  When the oil is hot (you can tell if it is starting to have a shimmery look), add a few meatballs at a time.  After a few moments, quickly use tongs to turn the meatballs over and roll them around so that they brown nicely on all sides.  If you leave them too long on one side, they will stick and fall apart!  Keep them moving!

When the meatballs are nicely browned, move them into a fresh pot and add a new batch to the hot pan.  Continue until all of your meatballs are browned and transferred into the new pan.  Pour in the jar of spaghetti sauce and gently stir so that it coats all of the meatballs.  Bring pot to a very low simmer, cover, and cook for 30-40 minutes, or until meatballs are thoroughly cooked.  While the meatballs are cooking, you can start on your:

Zucchini Spaghetti
6 medium zucchini
olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
julienne peeler

Cut a thin slice off the back of each zucchini so they will lie flat on the cutting board, leaving the tops on to use as a handle.  Using a julienne peeler, peel each zucchini, pressing firmly to form solid slivers - "spaghetti noodles!"  Toss zucchini noodles with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.  Put in a covered microwave-safe dish and heat for 2 minutes until just warm but not starting to disintegrate. 

Pour spaghetti and meatballs over the zucchini noodles and enjoy your grain-free pasta!


  1. Sounds really yummy...especially the sausage! Do you think it would work with ground beef? And what if you don't have a microwave...would the noodles be the same boiling them like normal pasta noodles?

  2. The sausage was fantastic! I would think it would be yummy with ground beef, though I've never actually made beef sausage. I should try that sometime!

    Without a microwave - good question! (And good for you for going microwaveless - I haven't worked up the nerve, myself.) I'm certainly no expert, but I would think you might just drop them into the boiling water for a minute or to and then put them in ice water so they don't keep cooking. That's my best guess. Let me know what works if you try it!