I have this weird mental meal planning rule. Because my Irishman loves cooking steak on the weekends (and because he is very good at it) I generally don’t plan steak during the week.
But recently I was reminded of one of my favourite early Stonesoup recipes – thinly sliced steak seared in a hot pan, seasoned with balsamic vinegar and served on a bed of ricotta cheese. It’s a simple dish but packs the biggest flavour and textural explosion that it’s hard to believe it’s only 5 ingredients.
There’s the hot deeply savoury meat, the sharp sweet dressing mingling with the meat juices and then the cool creamy contrast of ricotta with some rocket (arugula) leaves for freshness and levity.
It’s so good.
So I was inspired to create another version using meatballs (which I don’t have any rules around). To be honest I like this even more than the steak version because I can just pop it in the oven instead of attentively wrestling with a frying pan.
Of course if ricotta isn’t your thing, I’ve got you covered with the dairy-free variations below.
Baby spinach works well as a pantry ingredient – just pop it in the freezer and then allow to defrost before using – yes it will be wilted but it’s still super fresh and will add that lovely green contrast.
Balsamic Meatballs with Ricotta
- 300-500 g meatballs see variations to make your own
- 250 g ricotta
- 1/4 cup balsamic to serve
- 25 g pine nuts
- 1 bag baby spinach
Turn your oven on to its highest setting. Don't worry the meatballs won't be in there long enough to burn.
Place meatballs in a roasting tray and pop in the oven (don't wait for it to come up to temperature). Set your timer for 13 minutes.
When the timer goes, check the meatballs. If they're not ready give them longer in the oven. When they are browned and cooked through (no longer pink inside), pour over the balsamic vinegar.
Divide ricotta between 2 plates - spreading it over the base. Top with hot meatballs. Drizzle over the gorgeous dressing.
Sprinkle over pine nuts and baby spinach. If using defrosted baby spinach you can warm it but I quite like it cold.
Variations & Substitutions for Balsamic Meatballs with Ricotta
make your own meatballs – combine 500g (1lb) ground (minced) meat with 100g (3.5oz) almond meal, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon onion powder. Form into balls.
short on time / no oven – you could pan fry the meatballs – but then you risk them falling apart.
vegetarian – use these zucchini falafels or these lentil balls. Or replace the meat with cooked lentils or chickpeas – and just warm them in a frying pan.
different protein – any meatball will work, also fantastic roasting whole salmon fillets. Or pan fry thinly sliced steak, chicken breast or thigh fillets.
dairy-free – replace ricotta with regular hummus, smashed avocado, eggplant dip or avocado ‘hummus’ or even mashed potato (warmed up and made with olive oil of course).
more substantial (carb lovers) – serve with rice or bread.
more substantial (low carb) – avocado, more nuts, more meat.
different vegetables – feel free to roast veg with the meatballs like thinly sliced zucchini, mushrooms, onion, chilli peppers, red bell peppers (capsicum). And replace the baby spinach with any other salad leaf or cooked green veg.
different cheese – greek yoghurt, soft goats cheese, cream cheese or even crumbled feta or halloumi.
nut-free – just skip it or replace with shaved parmesan or crunchy bread crumbs or roasted sunflower seeds.
different nuts – any roast nuts or seeds will work.
Waste Avoidance Strategy
meatballs – freeze them.
ricotta – in a sealed tub it usually has a shelf life of a few weeks in the fridge. If in an opened container, will only keep for a few days so use for another meal or freeze.
balsamic / pine nuts – keep them in the panty.
baby spinach – either freeze or wilt down in a pan with a little oil and then keep in the fridge for weeks.
Problem Solving Guide
bland – more salt! More balsamic. Or add in a flavour bomb.
too dry – overcooked meatballs. Next time get them out earlier. For now a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil will help.
no oven – pan fry the meatballs in a little oil on a medium high heat until well browned and cooked through.
taking too long – different ovens vary in heating speed. And once you open the door to check it takes time to come back to temperature. So be patient!
Yes! Just cook as per the recipe but keep the ricotta and spinach separately. Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or can be frozen.
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