Pesto Meatballs in Marinara (Paleo! Gluten-free!)

by Food Hound on October 20, 2014

in Main Dishes, Meat

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The carnivorous clamoring of forks has been heard loud and clear.

It has been two months (*GASP*) since my last post about fabulous, glorious, red-blooded American MEAT.  WHAT?!?!?!?!

I’ll give you the long version:  I have made, like, a dozen new recipes in a row that have flopped.  Sprinkled among these dismal dinners were some mighty, meaty meals… that are already on the blog.  Pecan-Crusted Skirt Steak and Creamy White Chicken Chili?  SO AMAZE.  But you, fans, want NEW!  Exciting!!  Rest assured that the Food Hound kitchen has been hard at work producing NEW, but has come up short on new and exciting.  More like new and MEH.

MEH.  There is no room in my life for MEH.  There is no room in your life for MEH.

But there is SOMUCHROOM for Pesto Meatballs!!

Pesto Meatballs, aka the meal that helped me rise from the ashes of my meal slump-rut (it’s a thing), are the brilliant combination of… wait for it… pesto and meat.  I love meat.  I love pesto.  Like, both of them- so, so, so much.  Why am I just now combining them???  Add that to the great unanswered mysteries of life, but the important thing is that I made them and they are divine.

But there is one teensy other reason these meatballs are so special… they are gluten-free.

I don’t eschew all gluten, so I am not going to take this blog down the weird road of millet and sorghum flour, but when a girl gets to a certain age, can she just admit she feels better eating less gluten??  Glory be, I’m not going to give up my (occasional. *sigh*) baguettes and my cinnamon rolls… but can we at least take the gluten out of meatballs?  Because I want my gluten in gloriously doughy bread form, preferably slathered in butter, and not snuck into my meat.  That’s not nearly as fun.

To say I am a food snob is soooooo much of an understatement, and I 100% thought these upheld the usual meatball texture requirements sans breadcrumbs.  The meat-dough (um, gross, but you know what I mean) wasn’t too sticky to work with, and they baked up soooo nicely.  And, hello, they have pesto in them- did I mention that??  I even made the marinara to go with it, which is rare for me because jarred marinara is my biggest convenience food crutch.  But I made the marinara here because it’s 3 ingredients and I was feeling highly ambitious.  It made me feel like Mario Batali without the orange crocks.  So legit.

Just like adding pesto to meatballs and taking out those pesky breadcrumbs.  SO MUCH FOOD LOVE!!!!

Pesto Meatballs in Marinara (Paleo! Gluten-free!)
Adapted from Melissa Joulwan's paleo blog (author of Well Fed and Well Fed 2- two cookbooks I want want want!)
Serves: 4
  • Meatballs:
  • 1 cup (packed) fresh basil leaves
  • ½ cup fresh parsley leaves
  • ½ cup walnuts
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 2 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • Dash crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ¼ c warm water
  • 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • Sauce:
  • 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (16-ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 20 large fresh basil leaves, slivered
  1. Place the basil, parsley, walnuts, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor and purée until it forms a uniform paste. You may need to scrape down the sides a few times to get it to the right texture.
  2. Place the ground meats in a large bowl, then add the pesto. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix the water with the cream of tartar and baking soda — it will fizz a little. Add to the bowl with the chicken and mix until all ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate at least 20 minutes (up to overnight) OR go ahead and roll them into 2-inch meatballs and let those rest in the fridge at least 20 minutes, up to overnight.
  3. When you're ready to make the meatballs, preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Roll the meat into 2-inch balls, if you haven't already. Bake on parchment-lined baking sheet for 30-35 minutes, until tops are lightly browned and centers are cooked.
  4. While the meatballs are baking, start the sauce. Heat a large non-stick skillet over low heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is warm, about 2 minutes, add the crushed garlic and when it’s fragrant, about 30 seconds, add the tomatoes. Stir to combine and bring to a very low simmer for about 10 minutes.
  5. Once the meatballs are done, toss them in the sauce to coat. Add the fresh basil leaves, stir, and serve!
The cream of tartar/baking soda combo to keep the meat light and juicy, with a nice, crisp exterior, per the author. Worked for me! They were killer!

The original recipe calls for ground chicken, which is only available in organic (read: way too much $$ for me to want to pay for ground chicken) form at my store, and I have had mixed results 'grinding' my own in my food processor (note: Santa! Please bring me a meat-grinding attachment for my KitchenAid mixer!), so I used a mix of turkey and pork, which are both mild enough flavors to let the pesto flavor shine through. By all means, if you want to try with ground beef or a meatloaf mix, let me know how it goes!

Lastly, if you want to use prepared pesto in place of making your own (a tip for a really, really easy weeknight meal!), you want to use about ⅔ cup pesto. It likely won't be paleo because most prepared pesto has cheese in it, but if that's not a concern for you, go forth and purchase!



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