My daughter and I have weekly “Girls’ Night” as she likes to call them. My husband, her Dad, is a fireman so he is away from home a couple of times a week for the typical 24-hour shift. It’s not always easy but it’s a schedule to which we’ve grown accustomed. On a typical weekday (read: school night) Girls’ Night, I generally prepare a meal I know she loves, we play games and sometimes watch a movie after we’re done with her homework and reading assignments. I happened across this recipe on Pinterest from Jen at Carlsbad Cravings and was just drooling over it. I mean, it literally made my stomach growl. My daughter, however, is not a fan of Orzo. She loves pasta but I just cannot get her to try orzo (yet). So I had to work hard to present it to her in a new way — one she would love. Parmesan Meatball Mac-n-Cheese. This simple variation was an instant success!
My daughter has always liked to help me in the kitchen and she is always excited when it’s something that’s going to go “on the blog” but as she’s getting older, I’m finding that she’s really becoming more vested in each recipe we prepare. This vested interest during the preparation translates into her trying more new foods and flavor combinations. She already has a palate a little more sophisticated than the typical 6-year old and we attribute that to the fact that we made all of her baby food from scratch starting from the moment when she could start consuming “real” food. We started with fresh or frozen organic, fruits and vegetables and organic, hormone and antibiotic-free meats. From these, we created flavorful meals she really enjoyed. Her absolute favorite was what we called “Baby Chicken Soup.” That being said, all human beings have foods we just do not enjoy — even as babies. Hers are and always have been oatmeal, mushrooms, sweet potatoes and peas. She’s getting more of a taste for peas lately so I try to incorporate them in as often as possible to keep her on this upward trend.
Meanwhile, after rolling the meatballs and getting them into the oven, we started on the cheese sauce. We altered the recipe slightly just to incorporate the flavors she enjoys and overall the dish was a success. I mentioned her aversion to peas so I would be lying if I didn’t say that some were left behind on her plate. But I will say that she’s eaten this dish two days in a row now (her Dad and I were having a meal she would not love because of the jalapenos) and aside from a few leftover peas, has cleaned her plate. I think for any kid, that really speaks volumes about a dish.
I like mine with a little shaving of lemon zest for added pop and brightness. My daughter wanted just a little extra cheese for the stretchy, stringiness kids love. Both are wonderful in this tasty and flavorful Parmesan Meatball Mac-n-Cheese. Give this dish a try. I’m sure it’s a dish your whole family will enjoy it. Mine sure does.
She also likes spinach, so I didn’t even have to “sneak” that in on her. I usually roll it into our meatballs too for an extra serving of vegetables. 🙂
Recipe adapted from Parmesan Meatballs & Orzo in Mozzarella Basil Cream Sauce
Source: Jen at Carlsbad Cravings
Yields Serves 4-6
- 12 oz pasta
- 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
- 1/4 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/3 cup chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 tablespoon dried parsley
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 4-6 cloves garlic, minced (about 2-3 teaspoons)
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken stock or chicken bone broth
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 tsp dry mustard powder
- 1 cup shredded 6-cheese Italian blend or a blend of mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses
- 1 cup frozen chopped spinach
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- 1/4 teaspoon paprika
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, more or less to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
- freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh parsley
- fresh basil
- lemon zest or a squeeze of fresh lemon
- Bring a large stockpot filled with generously salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta per the package directions or until it reaches your desired consistency. Once the pasta is cooked, drain and return it to the pot. Reserve one cup of pasta water to thin sauce, if needed.
- Preheat oven to 350°F degrees and lightly oil or line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.
- While the pasta is cooking and the oven is pre-heating, start mixing the Parmesan Meatballs by adding all of the Meatball ingredients to a large bowl and mixing until evenly combined. Do this by just using your fingertips to evenly mix the ingredients but being careful not to over mix or compact the meat with your palms. This results in a dense meatball.
- Next, form the meat mixture into about 1 tablespoon balls (a little larger than a walnut) and place on the baking sheet.Bake the meatballs for about 20-25 minutes or until cooked through and tender.
- Now, while the meatballs are cooking in the oven, start on the cream sauce.
- Whisk the cornstarch with the milk in a small bowl and set aside.
- Melt butter over medium-low heat in a large sauce pan. Add the minced onions and garlic and saute together for about 1-minute. Sprinkle in flour and cook while stirring for 3 minutes then turn heat to low. Slowly whisk in chicken broth and then milk, stirring constantly until smooth. Turn heat to medium high and bring the sauce to a simmer while stirring constantly. Stir in ground mustard and the other dry spices and continue to simmer until almost thickened, stirring occasionally. Add peas and continue to simmer until thickened and peas are cooked through.
- Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese blend until melted. Stir in spinach and fresh parsley.
- Pour the sauce into the pasta pot, adding a tablespoon of reserved pasta water at a time to thin the sauce, if needed to reach your desired consistency. Add in the meatballs and after combining everything together with the sauce, taste and re-season with some additional salt, pepper and/or red pepper flakes, if necessary.
- Garnish with freshly grated Parmesan Cheese, and fresh parsley/basil and lemon (optional).