Homemade Spaghetti O's with Meatballs

I’ll admit it, I’ve eaten my fair share of the canned version of this meal. It was never all that satisfying, it was really all about the quick and easy factor. Now that I’m older (and hopefully a little wiser) and actually read product labels, I understand why it’s not exactly the best choice. But a homemade version – one that can be on the table in not much more than 30 minutes AND is also pretty healthy? Well that’s a recipe I just had to try.

Homemade Spaghetti O's with Meatballs

This recipe comes from the America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook, which is one I’ve really been loving since I bought it last year. I probably wouldn’t have been terribly intrigued by this recipe had it not also included the mini meatballs – I always went for the Spaghetti-O’s with meatballs, never just the plain ones. These meatballs are made with ground chicken, and just two other ingredients – pesto and breadcrumbs – so they’re simple to throw together, but they also pack a lot of flavor. They’re poached in the thick tomato sauce right alongside the pasta which keeps them moist too. I wasn’t able to find ring shaped pasta for my homemade Spaghetti-O’s but ditalini was a good substitute. I was slightly nervous about serving this meal to Shane (I wasn’t sure the tomato-based sauce would go over well), but he seemed to enjoy it just as much as I did. Not surprisingly, it’s light years better than anything that comes from a can! It’s great comfort food too, and comfort food I don’t feel at all guilty about enjoying :)

Homemade Spaghetti-O’s with Meatballs
from America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook

6 oz ground chicken
3 tablespoons pesto (homemade or store-bought)
3 tablespoons plain breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped medium
1 small celery rib, coarsely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-oz) can diced tomatoes
4 oz (about 1 cup) ditalini pasta (or other small shape)
Parmesan cheese (for garnish, optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the ground chicken, pesto, breadcrumbs, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper. Use your hands to gently mix until well combined. Form the mixture into small meatballs (each about 3/4-inch round) using a heaping teaspoon measure. You’ll get about 28 meatballs – set them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Set a large Dutch oven over medium heat and add the olive oil. When it shimmers, add the onion, carrot and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and cook just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix in the chicken broth and tomatoes (with their juice), scraping any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Bring the mixture to a simmer, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue cooking for 15-20 minutes, or until the carrot is softened.

Turn off the heat under the pot and puree the soup with an immersion blender until very smooth (or, if you don’t have one, in a traditional blender – you’ll probably want to do it in 2 batches).

Set the soup back over medium heat and return to a simmer. Add the pasta and meatballs and continue simmering for 12-15 minutes, or until the pasta and meatballs are cooked. Season to taste with salt and pepper before serving.

(You can make the soup ahead and refrigerate for 3 days or freeze for 2 months. Gently reheat over medium-low heat.)