Creamy Spinach Pasta & Parmesan Meatballs

Somehow, over the holiday season, my fridge and pantry get stock piled with food that we don’t use on a regular basis. Yes, I know, this has to do with recipes that you make over the holidays that require items that you don’t typically on hand, and guests coming over with goodies galore. We had the honor of hosting Christmas Eve this year with family, and it was such a wonderful time to get everyone together. Even though our home isn’t the typical size for hosting such a dinner, it was warm, cozy, full of laughter and great food. That being said, I have a big ol’ bowl of frozen jello salad in my freezer? You never know what you’ll end up with!

One item in particular seemed to be stock piling in my fridge this year, and that so happened to be half and half. How did I get 4 cartons of it?! Oh well, it was time to use it up. This is how this recipe came to be. I don’t usually have half and half on hand, nor do I usually make a cream based sauce due to it being unhealthy. But, sometimes you just have to. I had fresh spinach on hand that was also reaching its maturity, so I threw it in to brighten it up and add a healthy component to the dish. You can certainly make it with or without the spinach. The sauce by itself is delicious and rich, or you can throw in any other veggie that you may have on hand (broccoli or kale would be great!). This recipe is pretty flexible, and you can customize it to your liking. If you like more of a saucy pasta dish, then hold back on adding in all of the pasta until you get to the ratio that you prefer. I did end up using a whole box of pasta, and would probably set some of the cooked pasta aside before I added it all in.

Let’s talk meatballs. I was originally planning on making Italian Wedding Soup for Christmas Eve, but life happened and I didn’t get everything done that I had planned. That’s ok though because my apple pie came out of the oven perfectly bubbly, my mom and mother-in-law made their delicious minestrone and potato soup and everything came together perfectly. But, that left me with all the fixings to make meatballs. So that’s what I did. I’ve always been raised to use oatmeal as a binding agent in my meatballs along with a couple eggs. If that is too weird for you, or you’ve always been accustomed to bread crumbs, please feel free to substitute them. Another thing that my mom has always done, is she tops the meatballs with a couple squirts of ketchup. I love it! The ketchup bakes down and gets nice and rich and molasses-like. I use the ketchup in place of a traditional red sauce, but you could definitely bake the meatballs with a red sauce if you would prefer.

For the Parmesan Meatballs: 

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground hamburger (I used 80/20)
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1 Tablespoon Worschestershire sauce
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon seasoned salt mix
  • Ketchup (or red sauce if you would prefer)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, until well mixed (your hands work best for this). Roll out the meatballs into appoximately golf ball sized balls. Place on a sprayed baking sheet or 13×9 pan. Continue until there is no meat mixture left. Top each meatball with a couple squirts of ketchup, or if you are using a red sauce instead then you would do so with that. Bake covered with foil for 20 minutes. Remove the foil, and bake another 15-20 minutes until the meatballs are cooked through.

For the Creamy Spinach Pasta:

  • 1 box Cellentani pasta, or any other small shaped pasta
  • 1 quart half and half
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons garlic
  • 1 Tablespoon flour, plus 1 teaspoon if needed for thickening
  • 1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon oregano (dried or fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon basil (dried or fresh)
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 cups spinach, chopped

Heat the oil in a large sauce pan over medium heat. Sauté the garlic until fragrant, do not burn. Add in the 1 Tablespoon of flour and mix until a rue is formed. It will be thick and light brown. Whisk in the half and half. After the rue and the half and half are combined, add in both of the cheeses, seasonings, and herbs. Stir until combined. Bring to a slight boil and then reduce the heat to a very low simmer. Whisk during this process to prevent clumping. Stir in the spinach. If the sauce is not to the thickness that you desire, whisk in the 1/2 teaspoon of extra flour to help with that process. Likewise, if it is too thick, you can thin it out with a little extra half and half, or milk if you have that on hand.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add in the pasta and cook until al dente, or still slightly firm. Drain the pasta, and slowly add into the cream sauce until all the pasta is covered evenly. Plate and serve the pasta and meatballs however you desire.