Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Quinoa "Meatballs" in Zucchini Boats

I'm pretty sure I spotted this recipe for quinoa "meatballs" via Pinterest, but I don't remember precisely. But in any case I could not wait to give it a go. Which is funny because I'm often found to be going on about how I think it's silly for vegetarians to eat "fake meat" products. But this is different. Don't ask me how...

I had intended to make these for meatball subs with some simple, sauteed zucchini on the side, but ler me tell you a true story about Oregon: the bread molds much faster here than it did in Utah. Since I typically shop for groceries on Monday, there are lots of opportunities for ingredients needed later in the week to find their way to spoiling. Such was the sad end of the sub rolls I was saving for meatball subs the fateful day I made these. And without rolls, all we had were quinoa meatballs and zucchini.

Little did we know how heavenly this combination was going to be!

My husband took a bite of "meatball" and pronounced them "quite good". And they were yummy but they didn't really taste like meatballs UNTIL you eat a bit of zucchini WITH a bite of quinoa meatball. That's when the magic happens.

So when I made the quinoa meatballs again, I knew for sure that zucchini was going to be in the picture again. One of my favorite things to do with large zucchini from the garden is to slice them down the center, hollow them out a bit, and stuff them with yummy fillings. I love to do meatballs with marinara sauce or barbeque sauce, which brought me back around to the quinoa meatballs.

And that, in shell of nut, is how this dinner was born.

The Perfect Bite
My husband says, "It's the perfect summer dinner!", and I tend to agree. (Even though it does require you to turn on the oven... sorry.) It is light yet filling, and so satisfying. It will probably please everyone, carnivore and herbivore alike. If you want to make it even easier on yourself for a weeknight, you can easily make the "meatballs" in advance and freeze them. Just bake them off according to the directions given, then freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet before transferring to a zip-top baggie. Then all you have to do is toss with some sauce, and bake them with the zucchini until warmed through (since they're already cooked). Easy peasy!

Quinoa "Meatballs" in Zucchini Boats

For the "meatballs"
adapted from Aida Mollenkamp

3/4 c. uncooked quinoa, rinsed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. cremini mushrooms, stems discarded and caps finely diced
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 c. Panko breadcrumbs
1/3 c. grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish sprinkling
1/4 c. finely chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish if desired

marinara sauce of your choice
zucchini boats (instructions follow)

Bring 1 1/2 cups of water and a few big pinches of salt to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Stir in the quinoa, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until you can see the curlicue in each grain, and it is tender and the water is entirely absorbed, about 15 minutes. If the water is not entirely absorbed, drain any excess.

Remove from heat and turn the quinoa into a mixing bowl. (Can be made up to 4 days in advance. Store refrigerated until ready to use.)

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and coat with the oil. When oil shimmers, add the onion, salt and pepper, and cook until soft. Stir in the garlic, thyme, and some additional salt and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook until lightly brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat and scrape into the quinoa. Set aside to cool, at least 5 minutes.

Add the eggs, bread crumbs, cheese, and parsley and mix thoroughly. If you find the mixture isn't holding together, add some more panko breadcrumbs until it does. Dampen hands with water and then measure out 1 tablespoon portions and roll into 30 to 32 (1-inch) balls. I use my small cookie scoop, which portions perfectly with way less mess.

Arrange “meatballs” on a rimmed baking sheet sprayed with oil, and bake at 350º until golden -- about 15 to 20 minutes. (Can be done up to 4 days in advance and refrigerated, or frozen for a couple of months.)

For the zucchini boats
2 large (but not monstrous) zucchini, sliced in half lengthwise
cooking spray or oil
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350º. Run a spoon along the insides of the zucchini halves to remove seeds and make a trench for the filling. Spray with cooking spray or brush with oil, and season the inside with salt and pepper. Place in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until it begins to soften.

At this point, gently toss some of your "meatballs" with marinara sauce and scoop them into the hollows of the zucchini. Sprinkle with parmesan and bake 10 or 15 minutes more, or until zucchini is fork tender but not mushy.

Serves 4 -- half of a large zucchini will be plenty for one serving. Particularly if you add a salad. :)

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