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Beef and Ricotta Meatballs with Braised Spinach

(Serves 6)
Beef and Ricotta Meatballs served with Raviolu Nudi
Beef and Ricotta Meatballs served with Ravioli Nudi

1 pound ground beef chuck
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying

Braised Spinach:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 carrot, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 small onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 celery rib, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt and pepper
3 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
Chicken broth (to thin sauce to desired texture)
1 pound fresh spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving


To make the meatballs:
In a bowl, combine the ground beef, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, parsley, salt and pepper.  Mix the meat mixture well.  Form into eighteen 1-1/2 inch meatballs.  Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large skillet, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the skillet over medium-high heat.  Cook the meatballs, in batches, turning until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes, or until in longer pink inside.  Set the meatballs aside.

To prepare the spinach mixture:
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the carrots, onions, and celery; season with salt and pepper.  Cook the vegetables until tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.  Add the anchovies and tomato paste, stirring until the anchovies are dissolved and the tomato paste is deep red.  Add the spinach in batches; season with salt and pepper.  Cook until the spinach is wilted, about 5 minutes.   Stir in enough chicken broth to thin to a medium-thin sauce.

To serve:
Divide the spinach mixture evenly among 6 shallow soup bowls. Top each with 3 meatballs.  Serve garnished with grated parmesan cheese.
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Instead of being served on a mound of pasta, these delicious meatballs are surrounded with a light tomato sauce and tender spinach greens.  The addition of ricotta to the meat creates a very tender meatball.  Since the meatballs contain no breadcrumbs and they are not served with pasta, this is a fabulous gluten-free dish as well.  You may  substitue Swiss chard, beet greens, kale, or any other greens you prefer for the spinach.
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