While working on my Rachael Ray Roundup lately, I've been seeing several folks trying out Rachael's recipe for Florentine Mac and Cheese and Roast Chicken Sausage Meatballs from her Just in Time. The recipe just doesn't sound that great, but for some reason, it was outstanding.
This recipe is also pretty healthy, since the meatballs are baked not fried. If you use whole wheat pasta, it will also help make the meal a bit more on the healthy side.
I love a meal where the veggies are part of the meal, too. You could serve just the pasta and meatballs and would have a satisfying and fulfilling dinner. It is also easy to make in about 40 minutes, other than the fact that the water seems to take forever to boil.
Here's the recipe with my comments in brackets:
1 pound cavatappi corkscrew shaped hollow pasta [I went for whole wheat fusilli]
1 1/2 pounds ground chicken [They sell it in 1.25 pound packages in my store, and I just use that and follow the recipe as written. A quarter-pound can't make that much of a difference, right?]
2 to 3 sprigs fresh rosemary, leaves stripped and finely chopped
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
3 cloves garlic, grated
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano Reggiano, divided
3/4 cup bread crumbs, plus more, if needed*
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 boxes, 10 ounces, chopped frozen spinach
3 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup whole milk
1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg, eyeball it
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Place a large pot of water on to boil for pasta. When it comes to a boil, salt it and add the pasta to cook to al dente. Strain pasta reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. [I always forget to reserve the 1 cup
While the water is coming to a boil, in a large mixing bowl combine the chicken, salt and pepper, rosemary, fennel seeds, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes, ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano - a rounded handful, egg and bread crumbs. *If the mixture seems too wet, add a handful of bread crumbs and mix together. [Ground chicken is already sorta sticky and weird, so this step was tough for me, but I think they turned out well.]
Form 8 large round balls, about 3 to 4-inches. Coat balls in a couple of tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil and lightly grease a baking sheet with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. Arrange balls on the baking sheet and roast 17 to 18 minutes until juices run clear.
Defrost spinach in microwave 8 to 10 minutes on "defrost" setting depending on the microwave. Place the boxes in a shallow dish to catch any run off.
While the meatballs roast, in a medium sauce pot over medium heat, melt butter, whisk in flour, cook 1 minute then whisk in stock and milk, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and thicken 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the remaining 1 cup grated Parmigiano and reduce heat on lowest setting.
Wring spinach completely dry in clean kitchen towel then separate as you add it to the sauce. [Don't use a towel that you like becuase it can stain it green.] Also add the reserved 1 cup pasta cooking liquid [if, unlike Madeline, you remembered to save it.]
Toss pasta with the spinach-white sauce and adjust seasonings.
Serve Florentine Mac-n-Cheese with 2 meatballs per person along side.