Italian Chickpea “Meatballs” with Herbed Tomato Sauce

IT’S MARCH MADNESS BABY!!!!

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I’ve gone completely off the deep end. Mike doesn’t even know how to handle my new-found love of all things basketball. But tell me there’s $100 at stake, and I take shit seriously.

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I joined the NCAA pool at work, and in my determined fervor to not lose, I spent (no joke) 3 hours cramming college basketball knowledge into my previously sports-neutral brain. I studied stats. I read player analysis and game predictions from various sports writers. I compared different brackets online and looked into why a team was chosen over another and whether it was the best choice.

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What this experience teaches us is that I am highly motivated by prize money. I won’t say how my bracket is doing, because I’ve also developed a bit of a serious superstition problem, but I will say I’m going through withdrawals at the moment since the games don’t continue until Thursday. Like I said, Mike is wondering who I am and what I’ve done with the real Jen.

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But really – she cooks AND she likes basketball? He’s not complaining.

What You Need:

  •  1 spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
  • IMG_135315 plum tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 medium eggplant cut into cubes (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 1 can chickpeas
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp oregano
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil leaves
  • 1/2 tsp ground sage
  • 1/2 tsp ground thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp cornmeal
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

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What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

Combine the tomatoes, eggplant, onion and garlic in a large dutch oven or baking dish and bake, covered, for about 45-60 minutes. It’s done when the veggies are soft and cooked through with their juices at the bottom of the dish.

In a food processor, combine the chickpeas, egg, all the spices and the cornmealand blend until well-combined. This is your “meat”ball dough.

Scoop the dough out of the food processor and form into small round balls. Set aside.

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Once the tomato and eggplant mixture is done baking, scoop out the veggies using a slotted spoon to separate them from the juices.

In the food processor, blend the tomato and eggplant mixture until it becomes a chunky sauce.

Pour the sauce into a slow cooker and add the chickpea balls.

Cook on low for 1-2 hours (I cooked for 2 hours and kept on warm for another hour while I was at work).

Serve over baked spaghetti squash and top with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

And I will say that some of the “meat”balls did break apart in the crock pot (just a bit) but all that happens is the tomato sauce turns into a delicious “meat”sauce. YUM.

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Baked Spaghetti Squash and Vegetables

Whenever Mike and I return from a holiday weekend, we inevitably feel totally stuffed (even if our last big meal was the day before) and guilty from all the treats and goodies we tossed freely into our mouths. And yet somehow we still manage to cram leftovers down our throats.

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When we returned on Sunday from our whirlwind Thanksgiving holiday in Connecticut and New York, I gave myself one last hurrah meal. I indulged with a bagel pizza I made using a New York bagel we heisted from Mike’s aunt’s house before heading out. There is just something so special about these bagels. It’s rumored to be the water used in the dough, which is apparently unique to the Empire State. Whatever it is, I had no choice but to say a tearful farewell to these bagels and what had been turning into a dangerous daily breakfast habit.

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Enter the spaghetti squash. Low in calories and sugar but high in nutrition and taste, there is no better way to reverse the holiday binge than with spaghetti squash. I typically prefer to prepare these as though it is actual pasta, and slather it with homemade tomato sauce and cheese, but given the circumstances I thought a lighter meal would be better. And this dish certainly is light. It really helped start our week off on the right foot.

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What You Need:

  • 1 spaghetti squash (about 5 cups cooked)
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 jalapeno (seeded if desired)
  • 4 or 5 large white button mushrooms, chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth, divided*
  • 1 tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 6-10 Campari Tomatoes, cut into quarters (juices should be kept and added to dish)
  • 2 cups fresh baby spinach, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

What You Do:

Preheat oven to 400F

*Because this recipe calls for vegetable broth, you have the option to simply make your own. Boil 2 1/2 cups water in a pasta pot and add any parts of the vegetables from this recipe that you’re discarding. (Onion and garlic skin, mushroom stems, a few springs of sage, jalapeno stem and any unused parts of the tomatoes). Once you have boiled down the vegetables, strain the broth into a separate pot and set aside.

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Halve the spaghetti squash with a sharp knife. Dig out the seeds with a spoon and place squash face-down on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until the squash skin becomes darkened and the squash begins to caramelize around the edges. If you can easily stick a fork through the skin and squash meat, you’re good to go.

While the squash is baking, heat coconut oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add onions and garlic and saute until translucent and soft. Add chopped mushrooms and jalapenos, heating continuously until the mushrooms are brown, soft and fragrant. The mushrooms will emit some water, so let the entire dish simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.

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Once the water begins burning off, add one cup vegetable broth and stir. The heat should still be on medium and the broth simmering. Once it has simmered down to less liquid, add the sage and tomatoes with their juices. Continue to simmer.

Using a fork, remove the strands of spaghetti squash from the shell. You should have about 5 cups. Add it to the vegetable mixture and mix everything up well.

Add the remaining 1/2 cup vegetable broth (if you made your own, simply freeze any leftover broth for another dish).

Add the spinach and mix until it becomes limp and blends into the dish.

Top each serving with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

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Pro Tip: If you have extra time, pile the whole deal into a baking dish, sprinkle with the cheese and bake on 350F for about 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Spaghetti Squash with Homemade Tomato Sauce

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You will never need to eat pasta again. Ever.

I’m serious. And I’m Italian. So this goes against everything my people believe but I’m sticking to it.

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When I would see recipes for spaghetti squash, I tossed them aside, figuring it was just a weird stringy food that could never take the place of my beloved whole wheat spaghetti. But I came across a large spaghetti squash at a farmer’s market this winter and talked to the farmer about it. He couldn’t believe I’d never made one before.

When people who grow food for a living tell me that I “have to try” something, I don’t take it lightly. I took that sucker home, and cooked it up following his (suspiciously simple) directions.

Well first of all, I felt like a food genius. I brought Mike in to see the cooked squash in action.

“Check this out!” I told him, gently plying away the spaghetti-like layers of sweet smelling squash with a fork. I know he was impressed. Who wouldn’t be?

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And second of all, it isn’t some weird stringy food. It’s great. Drenched in homemade tomato sauce, it’s almost like eating actual spaghetti, except with fewer calories and carbs. And one spaghetti squash makes quite a bit of food, and is one of those leftovers that makes the early part of my workday a time where I am simply waiting to eat.

Preheat oven to 450F

What You Need:

  • A spaghetti squash (1-2 pounds)
  • Tomato sauce. For a great homemade recipe that you can make simultaneously with the squash (efficiency!!!!) use this recipe.

What You Do:

Halve the spaghetti squash lengthwise from the stem to the bottom. Scoop out the seeds and extra stuff.

Place the halves insides down on a baking sheet (you can put foil under them if you want to make the cleanup easier).

**You do not need to use any oil! The squash produces liquid while it bakes and will not stick.**

Bake for about 40 minutes or until the skin starts to pucker and brown. You will also see liquid start to seep out around the base of the squash. You may also see the juices start to caramelize around the base of the squash – this is totally ok and really enhances the flavor. But that also means it’s time to take it out of the oven.

With a fork, gently separate the stringy squash layers from the skin and scoop onto your plate or into a bowl.

Cover in tomato sauce and freshly shredded Parmesan and enjoy!

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Pro Tip: You can save the skins and reuse them for in a homemade vegetable broth! Simply freeze them in a large bag with other vegetable cooking scraps until you need to make your broth!