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Meatballs with Kale

I don't think I have ever met a meatball that I didn't like. In this house we are all about the lovely balls of meat. Whether it's swedish meatballs, spaghetti and meatballs, my vietnamese bbq pork meatballs, sticky meatballs, saucy meatballs, spicy korean meatballs or lamb and mint meatballs - any meat that can get jammed into my meat grinder ends up as a meatball at some point, so watch your step when you visit.

I like this basic recipe from Bon Appetit. I have made a few changes but I like the high cheese/bread to meat ratio and find it yields a really light,  tender meatball. The combo of the soft texture and my addition of italian sausage means you have to take a bit more care with the meatballs and add a few extra steps to prepare them but they are sooooo good that it's worth it as a treat. These are good meatballs to make on the weekend, when you have a bit of time. Pour a big glass of wine and put on some music and set aside a couple of hours.

They are delicious, sure, but what makes them really kind of special is the addition of kale. When I make kale for dinner, which is all the time, I often have just a handful of cooked kale left over - not enough to serve again the next night but I can't just throw it out. One of the best uses for this leftover kale is to whiz it up in the food processor and throw it into these meatballs. I am fortunate that I have never had to hide veggies in food because The Kid is a freak and he has loved kale since he was a baby  (thank you super baby food) but I know that this is not the case with all kids. This is a perfect way to sneak some kale into your kid's piehole without them suspecting that they are eating the most nutritious vegetable out there.

One word of warning, these meatballs are very tender and delicate and they tend to fall apart a bit after if they spend a lot of time in the sauce. I don't mind this at all and we really like the way they turn the marinara into a bit of a textured meat sauce as they start to fall apart so on day two, I often gently smash them up in there as I reheat them.

Meatballs with Kale

approx 25 meatballs
adapted from bon appetite

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs

1/3 cup milk

500g or 1 lb ground beef

250 g or 1/2 lb Italian sausage (you can use sweet or hot, up to you), casing removed and broke up a bit

1 cup finely grated parmesan (freshly grated off a block)

1/3 cup finely chopped Italian parsley

1/3 cup finely chopped fresh basil

*1/3 cup finely chopped leftover kale that was sautéed in olive oil with garlic or make just for this

1 tsp kosher salt

at least ten grinds of fresh black pepper

2 large eggs

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 scallions (green onions) finely chopped

*tomato sauce

make the breadcrumbs by whizzing fresh bread in a food processor and put them in a bowl, covering them with the milk and stirring until the bread is evenly moistened and set aside while you prep the rest of the ingredients.

with your food processor, whiz up the parsley, then the basil and then the kale. I used leftover kale that I had sautéed in olive oil, a bit of chicken stock and garlic for dinner the night before. The next time you make kale, set a cup of it aside for this purpose. You could even freeze it and keep it for the meatballs because just throwing in plain kale won't give you the same burst of flavour. If you don't make it the night before, it's still worth it to make it and use some of it for the meatballs and use the rest in something else.

While your meatballs are in the fridge, get everything ready for the sauce and try to time so that the sauce just gets going when you take the meat of the fridge and make the meatballs. Of course you can also make the tomato sauce ahead of time and just reheat it while the meatballs are baking too.
Remove the bowl from the fridge and roll the meat into golf ball sized balls. I get about 36 golf ball sized meatballs of out this recipe.

Remove the bowl from the fridge and roll the meat into golf ball sized balls. I get about 36 golf ball sized meatballs of out this recipe.

Beat the two eggs lightly and then add the garlic and scallion to the eggs and set aside.

Put your beef and sausage in a big bowl and using your hand like a claw, mix up the meat just a bit. Add in the parmesan, salt and pepper, the herbs and the kale and the moistened bread crumbs. Using that claw hand, quickly and gently mix all this stuff together. Don't overmix or your meatballs will not be melt in your mouth tender. Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge for at least 10 or 15 minutes but an hour or more is better.

Now, because they have so much cheese and bread in them and they really are very soft in texture, I bake them off before cooking them gently in the simmering sauce to make sure they hold their shape. Also, the sausage makes them delicious but definitely adds a lot of fat so I do this: line a big baking sheet with parchment or foil. Oil a rack and place that over the parchment on the baking sheet and gently lay the meatballs on the rack. This will allow them to cook off and most of the fat from the sausage will render out of the meatball. I know this is more work that usual but they are so soft and tender and delicious that it's worth it every once in a while.

After they bake for the allotted time, remove them from rack and gently lower them into the simmering sauce and cook them for another 15 or 20 minutes.To serve, gently remove the meatballs from the sauce with a slotted spoon, toss your cooked pasta (I like spaghetti but you can use any shape you like) with a bit of sauce, plate, put some more sauce on top and then arrange a few meatballs on the pasta and eat.

*Tomato Sauce:

1/4 cup olive oil

1 large sweet onion

2 or 3 cloves garlic, chopped finely

3 cans of plum tomatoes

1 big stalk of basil

kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a heavy pot over medium heat  sauté the onion in the olive oil until it softens. Add the garlic and sauté for another few minutes, careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the tomatoes. It is up to you how you like to deal with the tomatoes. If you like the sauce a bit chunky, you can just squish the tomatoes between your fingers as you add them. If you want a really smooth sauce, you can use an immersion blender to blend them to a smooth consistency.
Taste and add the kosher salt and pepper to taste. Put the whole stalk of basil in the sauce and let this simmer for about 15 minutes to reduce a bit and then add the meatballs and continue to simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

*Sautéed Kale

1 big bunch of kale, leaves removed from stems and coarsely chopped

2 or 3 tbls olive oil

2 or 3 cloves garlic, sliced

about 1/2 cup chicken stock or water

salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan with a lid over med high heat. Add the garlic and cook for a minute until it just starts to take on some colour. Add the kale and the chicken stock and cover the pan. Lower the heat to med and let it cook like this for about 5 minutes. Take off the cover and continue to cook until the liquid is all evaporated.

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