So I am planning to make stuffed zucchini boats for dinner tonight, I cooked a fresh vegetable marinara all day low and slow yesterday and it should be perfect by dinner time. So this morning I assembled and partially cooked the spicy meatballs that will stuff the zucchini boats. When I say I partially cooked them, I mean I did half the bake time as they will finish cooking in the boats later. I love a good spicy meatball, but I prefer not to add bread crumbs and hence gluten to mine. Instead I deploy a gluten free and low carbohydrate crumb strategy. Curious? Keep reading!
Getting started requires assembling all the ingredients and tools needed for the job because you are about to become a one person meatball factory! I asked my husband to pick up mild and spicy Italian sausage but somehow, all he heard was sausage. Jimmy Dean Country Sausage it is then, okay, I can do this! The basics of any meat loaf or ball is meat, egg, crumb and your preferred flavor profiles. For a nice spicy Italian meatball, the flavor profiles I prefer are garlic, Italian herbs and of course CHEESE! So I assembled my meat, egg, cheese (I selected fresh shaved Parmesan and a Fiesta blend of cheddar and white cheeses plus the added fiber of mushrooms to help bind it together. But that is not the secret ingredient!
The secret to my gluten-free low carbohydrate crumbs? Pork Rinds!! Yes, the humble pork rind makes a perfect salty crumb mixture, no need to add any salt to this recipe! It only takes a few to make a nice batch of crumbs. Just a few pieces, roughly a cups worth pulsed a few times in the Ninja and VIOLA! Perfect crumbs! I set those aside and add my chosen spices: Dried Onions, Onion Powder, Oregano, Smoked Paprika, Basil and Rubbed Sage. There is no need to add salt or pepper as the pork rinds provide the salt and I am using a spicy sausage in my meat mix so the pepper is already present.
Next up is to make my Mushroom and garlic “filler”. Garlic for flavor, lots of yummy garlic. Mushrooms for texture and fiber content. One of my favorite vegan crumbles is mushrooms, onions and walnuts; so it stands to reason that mushrooms will also make an excellent crumble in a meat recipe. Just a few ounces, roughly four and an equal number of garlic cloves. After a few pulses they form a great crumbly foundation that will blend in perfectly with the meat.
Now it is time to incorporate the meat. I used one pound of mild country style sausage and one pound of spicy country sausage. I would have preferred working with Italian Sausages but, I already ranted about that. I divided each tube of sausage into chunks to fit it into the processor bowl with my mushroom-garlic crumble. Next I added the prerequisite egg binder, this egg was purchased from a local farmer at the Jacksonville Farmer’s Market. After a few pulses and about 30 seconds on the blend setting the egg and mushrooms are incorporated completely into the two meats.
Now to bring the magic. I dump in the contents of my Pork Rind spice bowl. Top that with fresh shaved Parmesan and about a quarter cup shredded Cheddar, Monterey Jack, Queso Quesadilla and Asadero cheeses. Seal it up and set the processor on blend for about a minute. We do not want to overwork the meat, just blend all the ingredients together.
Once it is all incorporated, allow the meat mixture to rest a few minutes. This gives the pork rinds time to swell and absorb the moisture, just like a bread crumb would. Use an ice cream scoop to measure up equal portions of the meat mixture. Wet your hands to help the meat not stick to you as you shape the balls. I spritzed the baking pan with a little coconut oil cooking spray, in hind sight I probably should have done this on one of my baking sheets with some parchment paper. As it was I ended up only fitting 15 balls in this pan, you don’t want to crowd them. So I used a small baking pan for the other five. This recipe makes 20 large meatballs. Once all are assembled they go into a preheated 350º oven for a mere 20 minutes. If you are making these ahead as I was, I was not planning to use them until supper time and I made them right after breakfast; just cover them with foil, allow them to cool and store in the fridge or freezer for longer term.
So after only twenty minutes of cook time, my meatballs will require at least another twenty minutes in the oven to be fully done. I am planning to use them in Zucchini Boats. While these were baking I scooped out the centers of my zucchinis with a melon baller and minced the center parts up and tossed in my marinara pot to simmer until supper time and the boats got packaged up in the fridge. When it came time to get dinner together all I had to do was spread a little sauce in the bottom of my baking dish, place my zucchini boats, enough for four people, in the pan and fill the boats with meat balls. I cut some in half as the were too big to fit in the smaller ends of the boats. I guess I needed bigger zucchini.
Once my boats were stuffed, I covered the dish with foil and baked in a 350º oven for 40 minutes. I served the boats with a ladle of my all day marinara and some fresh shredded Parmesan. Just look at the beautiful texture inside these meatballs. Moist, flavorful and they hold together perfectly. No one would ever know I exchanged bread crumbs for pork rinds! My sauce loves them and so do I! It turns out I have four meatballs left over, so sad, I will be forced to have meatballs for lunch this week. 😉
- 1 lb Mild Sausage
- 1 lb Spicy Sausage
- 1 Egg
- 1 C Pork Rinds
- 4 oz Mushrooms
- 1/4 C Shredded Fiesta Cheese
- 1/4 C Shaved Parmesan Cheese
- 4 Garlic Cloves
- 1 T Dried Basil
- 2 T Dried Onions
- 1 T Onion Powder
- 1 T Smoked Paprika
- 1/2 tsp Sage
- 1 T Oregano
- Coconut oil cooking spray
- Put the pork rinds into the processor bowl and pulse a few times into crumbs, remove to a mixing bowl and season with Basil, Oregano, Sage, Paprika, Onion Powder and Dried Onion flakes and set aside.
- Place the garlic and mushrooms in the processor bowl and pulse several times until you have a crumble.
- Chop the sausage into chunks and add it to the processor bowl with the mushrooms and garlic. Blend for 45 seconds or so, scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary.
- Add 1 egg along with the crumbs and seasonings and blend until incorporated.
- Add the cheeses and pulse to mix thoroughly.
- Allow the meat mixture to rest a few minutes to allow the crumbs time to swell. Use an ice cream scoop to measure out the meatballs to keep them uniform. Wet your hands to form the meatballs and keep them from sticking to you too much.
- Spray a 13×9 glass baking pan with coconut cooking oil and place the balls in the pan allowing space around each. (If you have more than the pan will hold set up an extra pan to do the remainder. You can also use a large baking sheet lined in parchment to do them)
- Bake in a 350º oven for 20 minutes. Remove and cover with foil until you are ready to use. You can make these ahead and chill or freeze them until you need them. These will need an additional 20 minutes of cook time to be finished — if you are planning to use them immediately, turn each one and return the pan to the oven for 20 more minutes. Recipe makes 20 large meatballs.