Spinach and cottage cheese meatballs: a super food which is super good!
Time: prep. 15 mins
cooking 10-15 mins
Yields: 2 portions
A healthy diet cannot be contemplated if it is not based on regular consumption of vegetables (see here the food pyramid of CHE Food Revolution). And definitely dark green leafy veggies such as spinach are among the queens of this category, definable in all respects SUPER FOOD.
But there are some little annoyances that impede us Consumers with limited time available, to use them at will.
The detested washing practices, in winter, make us get our hands of “that typical purple color”; in summer, even if we no longer risk freezing our limbs, spending in a hot kitchen a moment more than necessary, puts a strain on our existence.
Perhaps this is why so many people opt for packaged fruit and vegetables.
Considering that they cost about five times as much as the product in its original state, in my opinion it clashes with what people normally say in consumer surveys: “we would eat more fruit and vegetables if they were cheaper”.
But the reason why I do not buy these products is not only budget-related: they must be rinsed at least once; even if they do not present pathogens dangerous for human health, it is not uncommon to find mold, yeast and excessive loads of bacteria inside them(1); in order to increase their durability for as long as possible, they have been treated with some procedures that use substances as biocides and/or sanitizing agents that I would avoid; last but not least, they use too much plastic (with which our world is already full to the brim).
So in my opinion the right thing to do is to roll up our sleeves and wash our vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber proposed by nature in the form of colorful and tasty vegetables!
Spinach, the object of the recipe, is in fact very rich in protein (about 3.5 grams per 100 grams), but also in vitamins A, B, C, E and K; together with minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium; fatty acids such as omega-3 and antioxidants: carotenoids (beta-carotene, luteins, violaxanthene, neoxanthene) and phenolic acids (cumaric acid and ferulic acid).
Some experts recommend eating raw spinach; although this practice allows us to have all the vitamins present (without deteriorating them), but it could create problems for those who suffer from disorders such as renal stones: because of spinach’s oxalate content. Unfortunately, oxalates (oxalic acid) act as an inhibitor for iron absorption, making the very rich iron content ineffective (if you want to know how to improve your iron absorption, you can read my last work).
Therefore it is preferable to cook them, but with little water and briefly. By doing so, in addition to reducing oxalate concentration, we will have an additional advantage: squeeze the highest amount of ferulic acid from spinach; it would be a pity not to be able to benefit from their specific antioxidant action(2).
for spinach and cottage cheese meatballs
350 g of spinach
200 g of cottage cheese (better if drained a few hours before)
4-5 tablespoons of wholemeal breadcrumbs
1 egg (if vegan use 1 tbsp of chia seeds and 1 tbsp of corn starch)
1/2 clove of garlic (or 1 shallot)
2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese (if vegan skip it or add any vegan cheese)
nutmeg, one pinch
salt, pepper to taste
for tomato sauce
500 g of tomato puree (4 tbsp of concentrated tomato and 350 ml of water)
1 tablespoon extravergin olive oil
1/2 clove of garlic (or 1 shallot)
1 tablespoon of Parmesan cheese grated or flaked (if vegan skip it or add any vegan cheese)
1 tablespoon of raw extra virgin olive oil
5-6 basil leaves (optional)
To make these spinach and cottage cheese meatballs, wash the spinach well, changing water at least 3 times. Then rinse them leaf by leaf under running water: since they are grown practically inside the soil, washing them is the only good rule to remove any pesticide residues.
Normally you should not wash leafy vegetables if you don’t have to cook them soon; this in order not to deteriorate them quickly and increase the already monstrous volumes of food waste (if you want to know what I’m referring to, here you can find an interesting article). But if you have washed them but cannot consume during the day; don’t worry! Just don’t leave them wet, you can cook them briefly and wait for them to cool down; then divide into portions and put them immediately in the freezer.
The tomato sauce that we will use for the spinach and cottage cheese meatballs is better to be well cooked: besides improving the bioavailability of the lycopene present – which is a powerful antioxidant -, in this way it increases even more its natural umami taste.
“Women and men who do not have time to cook, prepare sauces in quantity!”: divide them and use them as needed during the week.
In the absence of a ready sauce, to optimize your time, before you start washing the spinach, start preparing it. Slowly heat a tablespoon of oil in a saucepan, add garlic or onion cut into slices as you prefer, add the tomato puree and let it cook over low heat for at least 15 minutes, while those who use the pressure cooker will be sufficient 7-8 minutes.
After washing the spinach well, blanch it in a pot with a little water: 2 minutes after hissing if using a pressure model; 5 minutes in other cases. Then remove the spinach by moving it into a container where it will cool to room temperature.
I recommend that you use the spinach integrally not only the leaves, possibly you would like to cut the stalks finely: to avoid that they are hard on the tongue.
Once cooled, squeeze them very well and cut spinach finely (if you want, you can also use a grinder for this purpose) then, in a large bowl, add them to the other ingredients. Mix well. If the mixture is too loose, add more breadcrumbs and start forming the meatballs; I use my hands to create them quickly; no bigger than a walnut to facilitate cooking.
Put 1 tablespoon of oil in a non-stick pan and turn on the heat; when hot, add the meatballs and start cooking them for about 3 minutes on one side and 3 on the other.
An alternative is to cook them in the oven at 180 degrees for about 15 minutes.
The greediest can also bread the spinach and cottage cheese meatballs first in flour, then in beaten egg and breadcrumbs, but I think all this extra (time and calories) is useless, they are already very good so.
Once the crust is generated on both sides, pour the sauce on the meatballs; or on the contrary drown the meatballs inside the sauce, the delicious result does not change. And don’t forget to add the remaining Parmesan cheese, garnishing it with basil (recommended); for those who are not on a diet, adding raw oil is never a bad thing.
Enjoy your dinner and good revolution to everyone
1) Becker, Biserka & Stoll, Dominic & Schulz, Patrick & Kulling, Sabine & Huch, Melanie. (2018). Microbial Contamination of Organically and Conventionally Produced Fresh Vegetable Salads and Herbs from Retail Markets in Southwest Germany. Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. 16. 10.1089/fpd.2018.2541.
2) Bunea A, et. al Total and individual carotenoids and phenolic acids content in fresh, refrigerated and processed spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.). Food Chem. 2008 May 15;108(2):649-56. doi: 10.1016/j.foodchem.2007.11.056. Epub 2007 Nov 29. PMID: 26059144