Thanksgiving came and went, which means only one thing. Christmas is just around the corner. But it’s not truly Christmas until the tree goes up, am I right? The tree-trimming event is the first in a long line of holiday festivities, so it’s important to make it special. And special events require good food. That’s what I’m sharing today; the recipe for the delicious “meatballs” that accompanied my vegan fettuccine alfredo on tree-trimming night. I’m thinking that pasta with veggie balls on tree-trimming night is the newest tradition in Matt and my newfound household.
So Matt and I spent Saturday shopping for some new decorations, and groceries for the feast, and of course, a Christmas tree. Finally, back at home, with Christmas songs playing and intoxicating aromas coming from the kitchen, we decked our halls with holiday cheer. And now, we can officially start the countdown to Christmas.
So, why, might you ask, choose something as casual, and seemingly random, as pasta with “meatballs?” I guess I’m just a simple and casual type of person. And classic comfort foods, like pasta, are the foods I often crave. So when I’m treating myself and others, these are the foods I gravitate to. These are the foods that I find special.
This recipe for veggie balls calls for white beans as the base. White beans are packed with protein and fiber, making them filling and hearty. Sautéed leeks, garlic, fresh spinach, basil and dried herbs add loads of Italian flavor, while a bit of cornmeal and potato flour hold the balls together. No dairy, no gluten, just delicious. This is the cleanest and simplest of veggie burger/ball recipes, making them my new go-to whenever a recipe calls for meatballs. Which just may be every tree-trimming feast from now on. Because these balls are so sturdy, you can simmer them in tomato sauce or do anything else you would with classic Italian meatballs.
It’s funny though, on Sunday morning after Saturday’s tree-trimming dinner, I was sipping coffee with coconut milk while switching between CNN and Food Network. I started watching Pioneer Woman’s Christmas special, in which she was cooking the meal for her family’s tree-trimming party. While Pioneer Woman (aka Ree Drummond) rarely keeps health in mind, she also served her family meatballs and pasta, only with real meat of course. Although we don’t quite see eye to eye on the power of healthful, whole, meat-free and clean eating, Ree is definitely a role model of mine in terms of her family-oriented lifestyle living simply on a secluded ranch. So I was particularly giddy to see that we had the same idea when it comes to a tree-trimming meal to satisfy the whole family.
Finally, to end my first Christmas post of the year, I will share an appropriate quote from a classic holiday movie, that really captures what the tree-trimming tradition is about… creating a place for loved ones to gather and make memories together.
“It’s not what’s under the Christmas tree that matters. It’s who’s around it.” -Linus, in A Charlie Brown Christmas
Vegan White Bean & Spinach Balls
Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 1 hr 15 min
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (+ more for baking)
2 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
1 leek, trimmed, cut in 4 length-wise, slice, clean
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
1 10-ounce bag fresh baby spinach (or 3-4 handfuls)
2 cans organic white beans, drained and rinsed
8 leaves fresh basil, chiffonaded
8 sun dried tomatoes, reconstituted in 1/3 cup warm water, drained, diced (approx. 1/3 cup diced)
2 tablespoons gluten-free flour (I used potato flour)
2 tablespoons organic corn meal
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a half sheet tray with parchment. Set aside.
Heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and leeks. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt, parsley, fennel and oregano. Continue cooking for 3 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of water and spinach. Continue cooking until spinach is wilted, about more 2 minutes.
Add mixture to a food processor. Add beans and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Pulse until smooth, keeping a little bit of texture. Transfer to a bowl. Fold in sun dried tomatoes and basil. Season to taste.
Form mixture into 12 balls (or more depending on desired size). Place on prepared sheet tray. Brush balls with olive oil (about 1 tbs). Bake for 30 minutes, flipping half way through cooking. Or you can shallow fry in a frying pan for a few minutes per side, and then transfer to the oven for 20 minutes. Be careful not to overcook, remove from oven when the outside has browned and the balls hold together easily.
Serve solo with dipping sauce or as an addition to pastas and sandwiches.