After a season of gifting and celebrating, we often find ourselves entering the New Year with our our pants a little tighter. Though many use this a reason to pursue the latest fad diet, I’m suggesting we use it as an opportunity to fuel our bodies and souls with food that makes us FEEL good. I’m a believer in the adage that the cure is in the kitchen. Eating clean foods with less pesticides and processing is a good start. Organic foods made with simple clean methods will be a step in the right direction. Also adding as many plants into our menus as possible adds fiber and nutrients adding efficient fuel to our bodies.
Today I making a classic Sunday spaghetti dish just a bit differently. My husband is a New Yorker at his core. One of his favorite meals is a good meatball sandwich. Yep, he’s easy to please. So today I’m adding plenty of veggies to my tomato sauce and baking my meatballs in it. I’ll add a cheesy blend and crusty loaves of bread. The kids will want it served with pasta but if I know my husband he will be happy to scoop up those cheesy meatballs with a piece of crusty bread. A glass of red wine and we’ll both, (all) be happy.
When you are shopping for organic foods don’t forget to look for organic wine and even coffee. Both grapes and coffee beans can be heavily treated with pesticides.
If you like spicy foods this dish is easy to convert into a twist on a classic Shakshuka by adding the heat of a good harissa paste or powder and adding eggs allowing them to bake sunny side up in the last few minutes of cooking.
Shakshuka is a traditional Middle Eastern dish with a North African twist, with harissa (eggs baked in a spicy tomato stew). I love when recipes can be changed up just a bit to give it a whole new flavor.
Meatball and Mozzarella Pan Bake
- 2 onions, small diced
- olive oil for frying
- 5 garlic cloves, crushed
- 3 bay leaves
- 2 14.5oz cans organic chopped tomatoes
- 2 28oz cans organic crushed tomatoes
- 1-2 cups organic frozen kale chopped small
- 1-2 cups organic frozen spinach chopped small divided.
- 1 cup organic frozen carrots chopped small
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 lbs organic ground beef
(optional: use half pork half beef)
- 3/4cup panko breadcrumbs
- 2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tbsp dried oregano
- 1 egg
- 8 oz grated mozzarella
- 4 oz mascarpone cheese
- olive oil a drizzle
- fresh oregano a few leaves (optional)
- crusty bread or pasta or rice
- salad with organic salad dressings
- organic wine
Put the onions and 2 tbsp oil in your biggest frying pan, and fry gently until softened. Add the garlic, then increase the heat and fry for a few minutes. Scoop half the softened onions from the pan into a large mixing bowl.
Add the bay leaves, frozen vegetables* reserve 1/2 of the spinach for the meatballs, tomatoes, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, brown sugar and red wine vinegar to the frying pan, and bring to a simmer. Bubble for 20 minutes until the sauce has reduced and thickened, and the surface is glistening. Season. When the reserved onions have cooled, add the reserved spinach, beef, breadcrumbs, fennel seeds, oregano and egg with plenty of seasoning. Mix everything with your hands really well, then shape into 24 meatballs.
- Heat 1tbsp oil in a cast iron frying pan and brown the meatballs in batches, adding more oil as you need – the meatballs should be almost cooked through. Cool.
- Mix half of the grated mozzarella with the mascarpone and a little salt.
When everything has cooled to room temperature, combine the meatballs and tomato sauce in a big baking dish. Spoon over the cheesy mascarpone, and top with the remaining mozzarella.
Freeze now if desired. Heat the oven to 325°F Cover the dish tightly with an extra layer of foil and bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for a further 20-35 minutes cook until the meatballs are piping hot and cooked through, and the cheesy top is golden and bubbling.
- Let the dish cool for 5 minutes, then add a drizzle of olive oil and a scatter of fresh oregano before spooning straight from the dish. Serve with crusty bread, pasta or rice.
*Freezing notes: Open-freeze in the baking dish until solid, but don’t leave it for too long, then cover with a layer of foil, then plastic wrap to keep airtight or freeze in individual baking dishes in the same way.
The day before you want to bake them, transfer the frozen dish to the fridge. When defrosted, finish the dish as above.
- * If you are cooking for kiddos who will spy the green and orange veggie pieces in the sauce and push their plate away. Do what good moms do, hide it. Simply take one can of the crushed tomatoes and all the frozen vegetables and puree it in a blender before adding it to the sauce. The carrots make the sauce a bit sweeter which the kids usually enjoy.
Organic food: Is it safer or more nutritious?
According to the Mayo Clinic, there is a growing body of evidence that shows some potential health benefits of organic foods when compared with conventionally grown foods.
The only drawback to Organic food documented by the Mayo Clinic is the higher price. Organic foods typically cost more than their conventional counterparts. Higher prices are due, in part, to more expensive farming practices.
As a mother of four the additional cost seems justified when stacked against the better farming practices making food more beneficial for my family.
Potential benefits include the following:
Nutrients. Studies have shown small to moderate increases in some nutrients in organic produce. The best evidence of a significant increase is in certain types of flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties.
Omega-3 fatty acids. The feeding requirements for organic livestock farming, such as the primary use of grass and alfalfa for cattle, result in generally higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, a kind of fat that is more heart healthy than other fats. These higher omega-3 fatty acids are found in organic meats, dairy and eggs.
Toxic metal. Cadmium is a toxic chemical naturally found in soils and absorbed by plants. Studies have shown significantly lower cadmium levels in organic grains, but not fruits and vegetables, when compared with conventionally grown crops. The lower cadmium levels in organic grains may be related to the ban on synthetic fertilizers in organic farming.
Pesticide residue. Compared with conventionally grown produce, organically grown produce has lower detectable levels of pesticide residue. Organic produce may have residue because of pesticides approved for organic farming or because of airborne pesticides from conventional farms.
Bacteria. Meats produced conventionally may have a higher occurrence of bacteria resistant to antibiotic treatment.
The “Dirty Dozen” is a list put out by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The list, published each year since 2004, ranks popular fruits and vegetables based on pesticide contamination.
The full list of the EWG’s “Dirty Dozen” includes:
Sweet Bell Peppers
The group found that one third of all conventional, or non-organic, strawberry samples contained 10 or more pesticides. One sample of strawberries was found to have an “astounding” 22 pesticide residues, EWG said.
Spinach, the second produce item on the list, contained pesticide residues in 97 percent of conventional, or non-organic, samples. Additionally, more than 98 percent of samples of strawberries, peaches, potatoes, nectarines, cherries and apples tested positive for residue of at least one pesticide.
The Environmental Working Group also released a companion list of 15 foods with the lowest levels of pesticide residues detected in federal testing.
The full list of the EWG’s “Clean Fifteen”:
Sweet peas (frozen)