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updated: 9/20/2017 6:15 AM

Sorry, Grandma, I'm tweaking your spaghetti and meatballs

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  • Lightened Italian meatballs as made by Melissa d'Arabian. She takes her grandmother's old-school recipe and gives it a lighter touch. See the recipe on Page 4.

    Lightened Italian meatballs as made by Melissa d'Arabian. She takes her grandmother's old-school recipe and gives it a lighter touch. See the recipe on Page 4.
    Melissa D'arabian for Associated Press

 
By Melissa D'arabian
Associated Press

Spaghetti and meatballs was the classic dish I ate at Grandma's house growing up: She had her all-day recipe that filled her creaky house with heady aromas that built anticipation as meatballs simmered in sauce on the stove.

The fact that she was 100 percent first-generation German -- she emigrated at the age of 6 -- never stopped me from making her recipe the benchmark by which every other meatball would be judged.

Tweaking her recipe to lighten it up a bit, and make it weekday-friendly by shortening the cook time, was a task I didn't take lightly. And truth to be told: There is a special place in this rush-to-eat food world for the leisurely simmer of small orbs of meat in thick, tangy tomato sauce covered in a fine slick of co-mingled pork and beef fat that has gently floated to the top. But life is busy, and we need to get a healthy dinner on the table and move on. I get it. These meatballs are for those nights.

First to change: The fatty mix of pork and beef became simply lean (93 percent) beef. Feel free to mix in turkey, but our family preferred the beef. The next tweak: I added a half pound of mushrooms for every pound of beef to stretch the meat out and add in nutrients. I pulsed the mushrooms in a food processor, and then cooked them with another healthy meat stretcher -- onions. (Here, you could add other veggies too: shredded zucchini, carrot, and chopped spinach work great.) I added the mushroom and onion mixture right in with the ground beef, and they added flavor, moisture and bulk, with nary an added calorie (nor a suspicious eye from any of my four kids). I used one egg white (no yolk), and used oats pulsed into a coarse flour instead of bread crumbs. Simmer these meatballs directly in a pot of a high-quality jarred marinara sauce (check for no added sugar), and in 20 minutes, they will be succulent, tender, and juicy.

Almost like Grandma's.

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