My American grandmother used to make spinach balls as a nibble before Thanksgiving dinner, but I think that they work very well as a meatball substitute with tomato sauce and pasta. Leftovers can be fried for a post-lectures snack, or you could put a bunch in the freezer for a last-minute supper option later on in the term.
I’ve included a simple recipe for tomato sauce, but Rosie’s tomate frito would work very well, as would jarred tomato sauce. The best cheese for this recipe is Sainsbury’s basics hard cheese. I’ve had a search on the internet about whether this is strictly vegetarian or not, and it seems that recently it has changed its ingredients so that it is no longer suitable for vegetarians. However, as of spring 2014, it should be veggie-friendly again. If you’re a strict vegetarian, or want to save money, cheddar cheese will work fine as a substitute- equally delicious, but it will stick to the baking tray a bit, so be careful.
Spinach balls and tomato sauce
1 tbsp sunflower oil (if you’re not using a blender)
1 onion, peeled
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
260g bag of spinach, washed
1-2 slices bread, or a generous handful breadcrumbs
A generous handful (about 75-100g) grated Sainsbury’s basics hard cheese
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper
2 tbsp plain flour
For the tomato sauce:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree (optional)
Dried herbs (basil, oregano, etc)
- Preheat the oven to 220°C (or, if you don’t have access to an oven, or are short of time, you can fry them).
- If you have a food processor: halve the onion, and put it in the mixing bowl with the garlic, spinach, and bread. Blend well. Add the cheese, salt, pepper, a pinch of ground nutmeg, and the egg, and blend it, briefly, once more.
- If you don’t have a food processor: Chop the onion finely. Chop up the spinach as finely as possible (you may want to consider buying a bag of frozen spinach if you don’t have a blender, as this will be ready-chopped). Heat 1 tbsp oil in a frying pan over a low-medium heat, and fry the onion and garlic gently. Add the spinach and cook briefly (long enough for it to wilt a little). Remove from the heat. To make the bread crumbs, you can chop up the bread with a bread knife finely by hand, or if your bread is stale you can grate bread crumbs using the largest holes of a cheese grater. Add the bread crumbs to your spinach, and drain any excess liquid. Finally, mix your spinach mixture with the egg, salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg in a bowl.
- Put the plain flour in a plate or bowl. Shape your spinach mixture into small balls (around the size of ping pong balls) with your hands, and roll them in the flour. If you’re freezing some, put them in the freezer after you’ve shaped them but before they’re dusted with flour.
- Grease a baking tray very liberally. Place your floured spinach balls on the baking tray and cook them in the preheated oven for 10-20 minutes, turning them once half way through cooking, until they’re nicely browned. Alternatively, you can fry them, but make sure you don’t put the spinach balls into the pan until the oil is hot.
- Whilst the spinach balls are in the oven, make your tomato sauce. Heat 1-2 tbsp sunflower oil in a small saucepan, and cook the onion and garlic gently over a low-medium heat. Once they are softened, add the tinned tomatoes, tomato puree and dried herbs and bring it to a simmer. Turn the heat down, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the sauce is nicely reduced.
- Enjoy your sauce with pasta or rice. If you love cheese as much as I do, sprinkle more grated cheese on top.