Game day food is an important subject at our house. My husband is a huge football fan and most weekends during the season there are multiple games that must be watched. As for me? I preoccupy myself with the food. That’s my favorite part of football season.
The Super Bowl is just around the corner, yet this is also that time of the year when I’m still craving healthier foods after all the madness of the holidays. These eggplant spinach meatballs are the perfect compromise. Fun and football appropriate, yet packed with ingredients that won’t throw your goals for the new year off track.
Don’t like football? Don’t worry! These meatballs also make a delicious dinner - served over spaghetti, zucchini noodles, or even with some crusty bread!
These meatballs do have a few steps, but each is simple. First, you’ll roast some eggplant to get it nice and tender. The eggplant is then added to a food processor, where you’ll pulse it a few times to break it down and make it easier to form into balls later. In my food processor, this takes about 4 to 5 pulses -- you want to pulse enough to chop it, but not go so far that it turns into a puree - so there is still some texture.
The eggplant is then mixed together in a large bowl with a few more ingredients, like ricotta, spinach, ground walnuts, and bread crumbs. The mixture will be on the wet side, but you should be able to form it into balls. If it seems too wet, you can add in a little bit of flour at a time (about 1 tablespoon) to get it to a point where you can form it into the balls -- but don’t add too much extra or the meatballs will be dry after baking! A cookie scoop really is your best friend here. It makes the process much easier and you’ll also wind up with meatballs that are all the same size.
One final note -- if your ricotta is liquidy, you may want to strain it before using. Excess moisture and liquid will make it difficult to form the mixture into the meatballs.
- 1 ¼ pounds eggplant about 1 medium, cut into ¾-inch chunks
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ cup raw walnut halves
- ¾ cup panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons minced shallot
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley
- ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon dried basil
- ½ cup ricotta cheese
- 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- Marinara sauce for serving
- Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
- Add the eggplant to a large rimmed baking sheet, then drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with the salt, red pepper and garlic. Toss to combine, then spread in an even layer. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring once halfway through, until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
- Decrease the oven temperature to 350ºF.
- Meanwhile, add the walnuts to the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground--but don’t go so far that it turns into a paste--then add them to a large bowl. Fold in the breadcrumbs, flour, shallot, parsley, oregano, basil, ricotta and spinach; set aside.
- Add the roasted eggplant to the bowl of the food processor. Pulse until the eggplant is chopped well, but there is still some texture. You don’t want to completely puree the mixture.
- Transfer the eggplant to the large bowl and mix until well-combined. Add additional salt and red pepper to taste, then stir in the egg. Form the mixture into balls about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Place the meatballs on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake the meatballs for about 25 to 30 minutes, until firm and lightly browned. Serve with marinara sauce.