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Lightened Italian Meatballs would do Grandma proud

By Melissa d'Arabian, Associated Press
Associated Press
Lightened Italian Meatballs call for lean ground beef. Mushrooms and onions add flavor and bulk.

Spaghetti and meatballs was the classic dish I ate at Grandma's house growing up: She had her all-day recipe that filled her creaky house with heady aromas that built anticipation as meatballs simmered in sauce on the stove.

The fact that she was 100 percent first-generation German never stopped me from making her recipe the benchmark by which every other meatball would be judged.

Tweaking her recipe to lighten it up a bit, and make it weekday-friendly, was a task I didn't take lightly. Truth be told, there is a special place in this rush-to-eat food world for the leisurely simmer of small orbs of meat in thick, tangy tomato sauce covered in a fine slick of commingled pork and beef fat that has gently floated to the top. But life is busy, and we need to get a healthy dinner on the table and move on. I get it.

First to change: The fatty mix of pork and beef became simply lean (93 percent) beef. Feel free to mix in turkey. The next tweak: I added a half pound of mushrooms for every pound of beef to stretch the meat out and add in nutrients. I pulsed the mushrooms in a food processor and then cooked them with another healthy meat stretcher: onions. (You could add other veggies too, such as shredded zucchini and chopped spinach.) I added the mushroom and onion mixture right in with the ground beef, and they added flavor, moisture and bulk. I used one egg white and oats pulsed into a coarse flour instead of bread crumbs. Simmer these meatballs directly in a pot of a high-quality jarred marinara sauce (check for no added sugar), and in 20 minutes, they will be succulent, tender and juicy. Almost like Grandma's.

Food Network star Melissa d'Arabian is an expert on healthy eating on a budget. She is the author of the cookbook "Supermarket Healthy."