Show me someone who doesn’t love meatballs and I’ll show you a liar! Okay, maybe that was a bit harsh but common, who doesn’t love meatballs! Every time I make a batch it’s like instant happiness! Plus, I can’t help but think of that scene from Lady and the Tramp. Ya, you know the one so I’ll spare you the trip down nostalgia lane!.
Most Italian and American-Italian meatball recipes call for some sort of filler: bread, breadcrumbs, bread soaked in milk, breadcrumbs seasoned with herbs and chemicals, I mean spices! The reality is that you can make delicious meatballs that are grain-free, dairy-free and guilt-free. So good in fact that your Nona won’t know what hit her! The secret is in 1) seasoning with plenty of fresh herbs and garlic, 2) NOT overworking/over-mixing the meat mixture and 3) browning the meatballs in some EVOO before you braise them. I’ve made these without browning the meatballs first and they just don’t taste as good.
I’ve also found that seasoning the meat with a pesto, rather than individually chopped ingredients, results in a juicier and more flavourful meatball. It definitely has something to do with the fact that that the puréed pesto can be more evenly dispersed throughout the meat, which means that each bite is full of flavour! Yes, I realize pesto does not call for onion (as you will read below)! However, the meat will need the onion for the moisture and the sweetness it will produce during the cooking process. Without it, the meatballs will be dry.
As for the pasta part, most of you already know about the amazing things going on in the spiralizer world. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend a dollar-store variety if you want to win any noodle-styling awards. For the purposes of this recipe, any spiralizer will do just fine. However, if you’re curious as to which model I use (and am quite happy with) I have shared the link for it here (OXO Spiralizer on Amazon). It’s not too expensive and gets the job done! (Full disclosure: this is an affiliate link and I receive a small commission should you choose to purchase this product. This is one of the ways you can help support Primal Gourmet).
If you are curious about the benefits of incorporating Zoodles into your diet, I recommend you read this article entitled “The Complete Guide to Zoodles (and 10 Delicious Recipes)”. I’m proud to say that my recipe for Zpaghetti with Pesto Meatballs is featured there alongside other great recipes and a wealth of information.
Pay particular attention to the beautiful browned meatballs above! It makes a huge difference in flavour.
The Secret to Perfect Zoodles
The trick with Zoodles, as mentioned in this recipe for Paleo Zoodles with Shrimp and Bacon, is too season them with a small pinch of salt and let them drain of all excess moisture. Otherwise you will end up with a pool of bitter zucchini liquid at the bottom of your dish and we don’t want that, do we!
Lastly, I recommend (very carefully) grating a few raw pine nuts over top of your finished dish. It looks just like Parmigianno-Regianno cheese and no one will ever know the difference. Unfortunately, I only thought of this after I snapped the above pictures. Fortunately, I am working on a different meatball recipe and will be sure to photograph the grated pine-igianno ‘cheese’ so that you know what I’m talking about!
Give this recipe a go and let me know what you think in the comments section below,
Paleo Pesto Meatballs with Zucchini Noodles
- 2lbs grass-fed hormone and antibiotic free ground beef (ideally medium fat)
- 1 cup loosely packed parsley (sub basil for a more traditional pesto or coriander for something out of the ordinary)
- ¼ cup pine nuts (sub walnuts if unavailable) – plus a few tbsp extra for garnish
- 2 small white onions
- 8-9 cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 2 whole eggs (organic, free-range)
- 4 zucchinis – spiralized
- 1.5 L passata
- 2 scallions – finely sliced for garnish
For the pesto:
- In a food processor or blender, combine 1 cup loosely packed parsley, ¼ cup pine nuts, 1 small onion, 3-4 cloves garlic, tbsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper. Blitz until it reaches a smooth yet thick consistency.
For the Meatballs:
- To a large mixing bowl, add 2lbs ground beef, 2 whole eggs, 2 tbsp garlic powder, and the all of the parsley pesto.
- Using your hands, gently mix the beef with the seasonings until it is evenly combined. Do not over-mix the beef or it will cause it to toughen during cooking.
- To avoid the mixture from sticking to your hands, rub a few drops of evoo onto your hands and begin to form large balls – approx. 4oz each (the size is entirely optional – smaller meatballs make great appetizers.) I personally prefer large meatballs for this recipe. Regardless of what size you prefer make sure that each meatball is uniform so as to keep cooking times consistent.
- In a large Dutch oven or heavy bottomed stockpot, heat 1 tbsp evoo over medium heat. Working in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan, brown each side of the meatballs (approx. 15-20 minutes total). Transfer the browned meatballs to a baking sheet and set aside.
- Lowering the heat to a Med-Low, add 1 samll diced onion, 4 cloves smashed garlic and a pinch of salt to the same Dutch Oven. Sweat the onions and garlic until they have softened and the onions have turned translucent – be sure to scrape any brown pits leftover from the meatballs off the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon (this is flavor!!!)
- Once the onions and garlic have softened, but have not turned brown, add in 1.5L tomato passata. Stir to combine the passata with the oil and to disperse the onions and garlic throughout.
- Carefully add the meatballs back to the Dutch Oven making sure each meatball is fully submerged in the tomato sauce. At this point, you can add a few sprigs of parsley (stems included) to the sauce for extra flavour.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover with a lid and cook for at least one hour, stirring occasionally to avoid the tomato sauce from burning on the bottom of the pot. The sauce should be at a low simmer.
For the Zpaghetti
- While the meatballs cook, spiralize the zucchini and transfer to a colander. Very gently, massage the zpaghetti with 1/2 tsp sea salt. Place the colander over a bowl or your sink and allow to drain of excess moisture for at least one hour – or the time it takes for the meatballs to cook.
- Add the zoodles to individual bowls and ladle in 1-2 meatballs with some extra sauce per person. Garnish with some sliced scallion and finely grated pine nuts to give the illusion of parmesan cheese – they’ll never know the difference!!! (Careful not to cut your fingers when grating the pine nuts – they are tiny!)