Okay, so I was just trying to create a catchy title, there’s no real fire, or heat, in these meatballs – which isn’t to say that you couldn’t grind up some fresh cayenne peppers and add a little heat, it’s just that I didn’t.
Second, this recipe is the first in my Food Stamp Challenge, Eating Well on a Budget series. I hope to fill this space up with yummy, affordable recipes all month long.
As part of this series, I’m going to try to not only give you the recipe, but also the cost of the ingredients and the final cost per serving at the end of the post so that you can see if this meal fits into your budget.
I came to this recipe because I had some leftover ricotta cheese that needed to be used up. I really wanted to be frivolous and make cupcakes, but with Halloween having just happened we already have so much sugar in our house that I just couldn’t bring myself to add more.
I dug through my cookbooks and recipe stacks looking for something else to do with ricotta and found a recipe for Pork Ricotta Meat Balls and thought – YES, with spaghetti! And garlic bread! And salad!
I forgot to take pictures yesterday when I was making it, so here it is reserved as lunch today, minus the garlic bread and salad.
Home made meatballs over angel hair pasta.
It’s a simple recipe – BUT, it does take a long time. If time is something you are also budgeting tightly, you could absolutely crockpot this recipe if you had 45 minutes in the morning (or the night before) to get it to that stage.
Here’s what you need:
1 lb ground pork
4 slices of bread – with the crusts cut off
2 eggs – beaten
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
(If you want to add fire to your meatballs, add 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of powdered cayenne or crushed hot red chilis)
Two 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I prefer fire roasted, but it’s your call)
5 cloves of garlic, smashed (or 2 teaspoons of powdered garlic, or one tablespoon of Christopher Ranch fresh garlic in the jar – whatever your garlic groove is)
1 tablespoon dried basil
Next – the hands on time consuming part:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Get out a large bowl, add the pork, ricotta, egg, and seasonings. In a food processor, pulse the bread into fine crumbs and add them to the mix.
Mash everything together (I prefer to use my clean hands for this, other people prefer to use a fork. Just make sure everything gets evenly distributed around.)
Then, start scooping meatballs – about the size of a large cookie and put them in a large roasting pan. This recipe should make about 24 meatballs.
Keep them nice and round as you drop them into the pan. They won’t spread out as you bake them, so it’s okay to put them pretty close together.
Pop your full pan into the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the meatballs are firm and just beginning to brown.
While they are roasting, mix up the crushed tomatoes with the garlic and basil (I only had whole canned tomatoes on hand when I made this, so I threw them into the food processor and pulsed it a few times with the garlic and basil, that seemed to work.)
When the meatballs are done cooking you have a choice -
Add the tomato mixture to the pan, reduce the oven temperature to 325 and bake, uncovered, for 2 hours (I told you this recipe took a long time) until the tomato sauce thickens, turning the meatballs a couple of times during the cooking.
Put the meatballs into a large crockpot, add the tomato mix making sure it gets all around them and put the crock pot on low, covered but with a chopstick keeping the lid open just a little for steam to escape (We want the sauce to thicken, remember) and go about your other business for 4-8 hours.
Add the sauce to the meatballs, put it all in the fridge and then pull it out and bake it next time you’re going to be home for 2 hours.
But wait! We aren’t done yet, because meatballs and tomatoes do not make a balanced meal! (Even though technically we’re representing almost all of the major food groups in these.)
So, 30 minutes before you plan to sit down and eat dinner, get a pot of water boiling and cook up your favorite pasta. I ended up serving our meatballs over angel hair pasta (Which is great if you’re budgeting time and using the crockpot method because once the water is boiling the noodles cook in 3 minutes!) But I LOVE rainbow rotini too!
If you’re a fan of garlic bread (Who isn’t?) whip some of that up too. We usually use whatever whole grain bread we’ve got laying around (I think garlic bread is the best use of the heels from our loaves) spread a little butter over it, sprinkle on some garlic powder and a little more Italian seasoning if you like it that way, maybe a sprinkle of cheese and pop it into the oven.
While you’re waiting for everything to finish up, put together a salad.
Start with a big handful of chopped lettuce per person. Add some shredded carrots, or sliced cucumber, or baby corn or bell peppers or tomatoes or broccoli or mushrooms or whatever other veggies you and your family likes and that you have on hand. (On of my favorite salads is romaine lettuce, a handful of craisins, a handful of sliced almonds and some sliced cucumber. So yummy!)
When everything is hot and ready, put a scoop of pasta on the plate, top it with 1-3 meatballs (our kids could only eat one, the hubby and I each had 3) and some sauce. Sprinkle on a little parmasan cheese, serve with the garlic bread and the salad and voila!
So, here’s the thing about this meal – it’s really more like 2 or 3 meals.
I made 24 meatballs and my family only managed to eat 8 of them, so we still have 16 left, or two full meal’s worth!
The pasta and bread are both super cheap, especially if you’re using the heels of your bread loaves to make the garlic bread, so you can make those fresh another night or two.
And the salad, well, right now lettuce is on sale for a buck a head and we usually get two meals worth of salads out of each head.
Another alternative, if your family, like mine, is not super excited about eating leftovers night after night – make meatball sandwiches with the leftovers one night! You’ll have to go buy a loaf of (whole wheat) french bread, but that’s only $1.50. And I’d still want to serve it with a salad, to create a good, balanced meal.
You could also turn the leftovers into an Italian Meatball Soup by tossing them into some chicken (or veggie) broth and adding a can of drained red beans, and a mix of whatever veggies you have on hand – some chopped green beans (fresh, frozen or canned & drained), some sliced carrots, celery, onion, chopped fresh or frozen spinach, bell pepper, diced zucchini… Oh man, just typing this makes me want to get out another crock pot and start simmering! So, look for that recipe later this week!!
And last, you could always freeze the leftover meatballs to have available for an emergency meal later in the month when you’re short on both time and money!
So – what does this meal cost:
Pork – $3
Ricotta – $3
Bread crumbs – $0.50
Eggs – $0.5
Herbs – $1
Tomatoes – $4
Parmesan – $1
Salad – $5
Pasta – $2
Garlic Bread – $2
$22 for the whole shebang, and that’s for 8-12 servings of awesome, or $2.75 to $1.85 per serving. (Which, for the record, is still almost twice as much as I’m allowed to spend per serving on the Food Stamp Challenge!! Think about that – seriously! I thought I had a total winner here, but this is twice as much as a family my size is allowed, even if we turn this into three meals!)
So, where could I cut corners? Well, I could skip the garlic bread, certainly. We’re already getting grains in the pasta. I could cut out the parmesan cheese, skimp on the salad and just chop up a $1 head of lettuce without adding any other veggies or toppings aside from a splash of cheap dressing.
That would bring it down to $16 for 8-12 servings, or $2 – $1.33 per serving, which if I made sure this was 3 meals, or 12 servings, would be cheap enough to qualify. And remember, the only reason I can even make it be 12 servings is because my kids are young and they don’t eat as much as me and my husband. Once our kids reach their teen years, this is 8 servings, not 12, and we are priced out of having this meal!!
So, since we made, and ate, this meal this week – that means we’ll have to cut corners somewhere else to keep up (down) with the Food Stamp Challenge!
Tomorrow’s meal – curried pumpkin soup! It’s another meal that’s guaranteed to produce leftovers, let’s see if I can bring it in under budget!