Dear Readers,

The coronavirus pandemic has caused widespread disruption to the lives of everyone in Tampa Bay and to so many businesses in our community. Here at the Tampa Bay Times, we continue to provide free, up-to-date information at as a public service. But we need your help. Please consider supporting us by subscribing or donating, and by sharing our work. Thank you.

  1. Arts & Entertainment
  2. /
  3. Food

Stressed in the kitchen? Take the pressure off with this one-pan meal

Sometimes, I make things harder than they need to be. This time, I’m keeping it simple.
Meatballs with fennel and lentils [MICHELLE STARK | Times]

I tend to put a lot of pressure on myself in the kitchen.

Even when I’m cooking at home on a regular weeknight, there are certain things I consider lazy, or unhealthy, or not up to my imagined standards.

I’m sure this is tied to deeply ingrained perfectionist tendencies that I should explore in therapy another time, but the result is that sometimes I make things harder than they need to be.

Like when I insist on making a cracker from scratch for the brunch I’m hosting, a homemade touch hardly anyone has ever noticed. Or when I grate cheese and mince garlic and get out the food processor to make pesto on a Wednesday night.

Everyone sets a different standard in their own kitchen, and there is certainly no one right or way wrong to do anything. But in today’s culture, when authenticity is everything and even major snack brands are attempting to convey their products as wholesome and handcrafted, it is easy to feel like the only way to be a great cook is to do the very most.

Generally, I really enjoy it. I get joy from creating something delicious out of nothing, from throwing together a salad dressing that’s more in line with my savory palate than the ones in the store that contain added sugars.

But sometimes, after I’ve washed my microplaner for the third time in one night and I have to pull it out again to grate the lime zest for a from-scratch cashew sauce, it’s exhausting. And it becomes hard to balance my love of cooking with my need to make sure I am eating the most homemade meal I can.

I was thinking about all of this when I came across a recent recipe in the New York Times for baked meatballs made out of sausage links. Get the preseasoned, preformed sausage, they said. You can roll them and bake them and everything will be just fine, they said.

So I did, and it was, and it was a good reminder that sometimes I just need to set down the microplaner and breathe.

Sausage Meatballs With Fennel

Meatballs with fennel and lentils [MICHELLE STARK | Tampa Bay Times]

1 fennel bulb, cored, cut into ½-inch wedges through the root

2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

Kosher salt

Black pepper

1 ½ pounds hot Italian sausage (casings removed)

1 egg

4 cups chicken stock

2 cups lentils, brown or red

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon sherry vinegar, optional

½ cup fresh parsley leaves, for serving

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. In a 9- by 13-inch baking pan or baking dish, gently toss the fennel wedges with the olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper. Roast until golden brown underneath, about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, use your hands or a spoon to mix the sausage with the egg until combined. Roll the mixture into 12 (1 ½-inch) meatballs.

Add the chicken stock, lentils and garlic to the roasted fennel. Stir to combine, then season with ¾ teaspoon salt. Place the meatballs in the lentil mixture, drizzle the meatballs with olive oil, then roast until the meatballs are browned on top and lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

Transfer the meatballs to a plate. Stir in the vinegar, if using. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with fresh parsley. Spoon the lentils and any braising liquid into shallow bowls and top with the meatballs.

Serves 4 to 6.

Source: Adapted from the New York Times