Roasted Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti with Veal-Ricotta Meatballs

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This recipe came together the way many of my recipes do: After filling my bike basket to the brim with farmers market loot, I had to figure out how to tie all those ingredients together into something, you know, halfway cohesive.

Some ladies lust after designer heels, while I prefer the first first broccoli of the year. A shopping problem is still a shopping problem.

This weekend, I came home with: fresh ricotta, ground veal, purple spring onions, parsley, garlic, as well as the aforementioned broccoli. I laid it all out on the kitchen table, and got to thinking.

Cooking shouldn’t be a source of stress. Once you master a few basic techniques–sautéing, roasting, braising–you’ll find a freedom to do, pretty much whatever the hell you feel like. Such was the case here. And who doesn’t like spaghetti and meatballs?

This meal is rather green and springy, but also satisfying in a comfort food-light sort of way. It lends itself to feeding a crowd. If you like, substitute regular spaghetti for a whole wheat version.

A Note for Vegetarians: Skip the meatballs, and cook up a jumble of vegetables instead. Introduce white beans or nuts into the pesto, or top the pasta with an egg, for protein.

A Note on Pesto Inspiration: This Amateur Gourmet recipe a little bit changed my life. My pesto takes it one step further.

A Note on Making Ahead: The pesto can be made up to 3 days ahead, or made ahead and then frozen. The meatballs can be prepared and cooked a day ahead, although I think they’re best when fresh–soft, and not at all tough.

A Note on the Veal: As always, I encourage you to buy the best quality meat possible. The veal in this recipe came from Consider Bardwell Farm, a weekly presence at my Sunday farmers market.

Serves 4-6 people

Veal and Ricotta Meatballs:

Makes 20-24 mini meatballs

  • 3/4 cups fresh ricotta
  • 3-4 spring onions
  • 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 pound freshly ground veal
  • freshly ground pepper

1. Drain the ricotta, in cheese cloth if you have it, or in a fine-mesh strainer. Do this for at least 1 hour, so that the ricotta isn’t so wet.

2. Heat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

3. Thinly slice the spring onions, and then saute them over medium heat, with the olive oil. Saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.

sautéed spring onions

4. Wash, dry, and chop the parsley. Grate the Parmesan. Move both to a large mixing bow. Add the salt, the lemon zest, the egg, the drained ricotta, and the ground veal to the bowl. Use your hands (or a spatula) to mix everything together, until all ingredients are evenly incorporated.

parsley, to be choppedmeatball mix

5. Roll the veal mix between your palms, forming balls about the size of a golf ball. Place the meatballs on the baking sheet, spacing them evenly, about 1-inch apart. Cook for 15-17 minutes, until the insides are no longer pink. Take the meatballs out of the oven and let them rest, tented with tin foil, for about 10 minutes.

veal meatballs veal meatballs veal meatballs

Roasted Broccoli Pesto: 

  • 2 heads of broccoli, cut into florets 
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • kosher salt, black pepper
  • the juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1. Heat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with a piece of foil or parchment paper.

2. In a large bowl, toss together the broccoli florets, the garlic cloves, the olive oil, a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper, and about 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice. Spread the contents of the bowl across the baking sheet, and move it to the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the florets turn bright green, and are blackened in spots.

roasted broccoli and garlic cloves

3. When the broccoli comes out of the oven, toss in the remaining lemon juice, lemon zest, and the Parmesan cheese. Remove the garlic cloves from their shells. Move the broccoli and garlic to the bowl of a food processor, and set it aside.

To Finish:

Boil 1 pound of spaghetti in a large pot of well salted, boiling water, until al dente. Drain the pasta, but reserve 1.5 cups of the pasta water. Turn on the food processor, and add the reserved pasta water in a steady stream, until the broccoli pesto reaches desired consistency  Now toss the broccoli pesto with the pasta, to coat. Divide the spaghetti between bowls; top with the veal meatballs. And a sprinkle of lemon zest, fresh Parmesan, and freshly grated black pepper, if you like.

Roasted Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti with Veal-Ricotta Meatballs Roasted Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti with Veal-Ricotta Meatballs Roasted Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti with Veal-Ricotta Meatballs

Roasted Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti with Veal-Ricotta Meatballs, vertical Roasted Broccoli Pesto Spaghetti with Veal-Ricotta Meatballs, vertical

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