Fancy schmancy gives way to Easy peasy
Before I met Stacie and started this blog (back in my stay-at-home mom and wannabe urban homesteading days not so long ago) I was a hardcore ‘producer’ type. I gardened, preserved, fermented, soaked and sprouted like it was my job and I made everything from scratch. Everything. If there was a hard/complicated/fancy/involved way of doing something I was all over it. Come to think of it, it WAS my job and I loved because it was the way my inner producer/creative/tinkerer expressed herself. It was hard work but it was good, honest work. And then…
Then the blog really took off and when we made it our full-time jobs about a year ago, life got really busy. I had to stop making all the things and fussing over all the meals and instead start cranking out simpler yet just as healthy meals to feed by hungry family so I could focus more time on the blog.
By eating simpler meals and taking advantage of more short cuts (using frozen vegetables, store-bought condiments, sauces, and more) plus meal prepping and batch cooking on the weekends I was able to free up quite a bit of time to follow my food blogger bliss while juggling all the mom-tasks and my downsized garden.
Though it’s been awesome I have to admit, sometimes I just want to make a more involved meal. I want to cook for the joy of cooking. For me, cooking is therapeutic and experimental and hands-on and it’s my happy place when I know I have the time to create something extra special. It’s the way I slow down when life seems like it’s moving too fast.
Which brings me to these Italian Meatballs with Zoodles. They’re what I’d consider to be the ultimate compromise between my need to create and my need to just get ‘er done. They’re the perfect marriage of fancy and fast. They’re hearty and delicious and fresh and gorgeous yet the ingredient list is short and you won’t be left with a pile of dishes that takes all night to wash. And bonus points for being Whole30-complaint and equally at-home on both date nights in or busy weeknights.
Wondering if you should purchase grass-fed beef? Learn how to choose quality red meat in this post!
Get these Italian Meatballs and Zoodles on the table even faster with these tips
This recipe is fairly quick to make already but you can really speed things up by purchasing pre-spiralized zucchini noodles from the produce section of your local market or by cutting them with a spiral slicer yourself during your weekend meal prep. They’ll keep, uncooked, in the fridge for up to 4 days. You can also make and shape the meatballs up to 3 days in advance and cook them on the stovetop while the noodles are in the oven (yes, the oven. It’s the lazy way of making zoodles that aren’t soggy).
Feel free to cook the meatballs and the blistered tomatoes ahead of time and gently reheat them in a covered skillet while you make the zoodles. That’s the fastest way but I have to admit, this dish just has that extra something special when you make the meatballs and sauce right before serving. That and the fact that if you make them ahead of time you run the risk of them not actually making it to the intended day of consumption because the smell of the garlic and spices and fresh basil will overtake you. Don’t day I didn’t warn you.
Wait, it gets even better
I love when I can cook once and eat twice, don’t you? Chances are good that you might not have any leftovers with this dish (we never do, it’s just so good) but that’s okay because the recipe makes enough meatballs for two batches. Yesssss!
You can freeze half of the meatballs (uncooked) so that next time you make this dish, you just have to thaw and cook. Or you can fully cook them and freeze them to have on hand for those nights when opening a jar of marinara sauce and using pre-made spiralized vegetables is all you have the bandwidth for. I get it. I have those nights too.
They’re also delicious cooked and served with a side of Oven Baked Sweet Potato Toast for an egg-free breakfast. Or serve them up with Fried Plantains and Creamy Broccoli Slaw for an under 20-minute meal.
Don’t wait another minute, get these Italian Meatballs with Zoodles on the menu ASAP
Italian Meatballs with Zoodles (Whole30)
This dish takes a little longer to prepare but all of the steps are simple (and trust us, it’s worth the extra effort!) Spiralized zucchini makes a wonderful Whole30-compliant substitute for pasta plus it’s a great way to get more vitamins, minerals and fiber in your diet. Use the extra meatballs to top a salad, toss in a soup or enjoy alongside your favorite roasted vegetables when you need a quick and easy protein option later in the week.
- 1 lb. grass-fed ground beef or bison
- 1 lb. Whole30-compliant bulk Italian sausage*
- ¼ tsp. black pepper
- 6 medium zucchini, spiralized or cut into thin ribbons with a vegetable peeler.
- 1 Tbsp. avocado or olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 pints grape or cherry tomatoes
- Small handful of fresh basil, torn
- Optional: Extra Virgin Avocado or Olive oil for drizzling
* To make your own Italian sausage combine:
- 1 lb. ground pork
- 1½ –¾ tsp. salt
- ½ tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. dried fennel, lightly crushed
- ½ tsp. garlic powder
- Preheat oven to 375℉.
- Combine ground beef or bison and Italian sausage (or pork plus salt and spices) in a medium bowl, sprinkle with black pepper and mix well. Using your hands or a small scoop, shape meat mixture into 32 meatballs (slightly smaller than a golf ball).
- Place a large skillet (cast iron works best) over medium heat. When pan is hot, add half of the meatballs and cook 10-12 minutes, turning occasionally until cooked through.
- Remove cooked meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate and repeat with remaining meatballs.
- While meatballs are cooking, spread spiralized zucchini on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Toss with avocado oil and bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, tossing halfway through, until noodles are just tender.
- After meatballs are cooked, pour off all but 1 tablespoon of the fat remaining in the pan. Turn heat up to medium-high. When pan is hot add tomatoes. Allow tomatoes to cook 4-5 minutes or until their skin starts to blister and they begin to burst. Stir and cook an additional 3-4 minutes. Add garlic, stir and cook for 30 seconds.
- Reduce heat to medium-low. Add zucchini noodles and half of the meatballs to the tomatoes in the pan. Toss well to coat and sprinkle liberally with fresh basil.
- Drizzle with extra virgin avocado oil or olive oil, if desired, before serving.
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