Broken Vermicelli & Meatballs

One of the best ways to make a meatball moist and juicy without using ground meat that is high in fat, is to cut the amount of meat used and replace it, as here, with spinach, bread crumbs and Parmesan. This mixture is seasoned with basil and black pepper, and then baked to produce an extraordinary flavorful and tender meatball.

1/2 pound lean beef top round, cut into chunks
Half a 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
2 egg whites
1/3 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 teaspoons dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large red bell peppers, cut lengthwise into slivers and halved
1/4 cup water
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes
8 ounces vermicelli, broken in half

1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray a jelly-roll pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. In a food processor, finely grind the beef. Add the spinach, egg whites, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, 3/4 teaspoon of the basil, and 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper, and pulse until blended. Shape into 20 meatballs.
3. Place the meatballs on the jelly-roll pan and bake, turning once, 12 to 15 minutes, or until no longer pink in the center.
4. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven or flameproof casserole, heat the oil over high heat. Add the bell peppers and garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
5. Reduce the heat to medium, add the water, the remaining 3/4 teaspoon basil and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, and sauté until the peppers are tender, about 5 minutes.
6. Stir the tomatoes into the casserole. Bring to a boil. Add the meatballs, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes to blend flavors.
7. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Pour meatballs and sauce over pasta and serve hot.

Makes 4 servings.
Per serving: 474 calories, 8.8g total fat (2.4g saturated), 34mg cholesterol, 8.5g dietary fiber, 72g carbohydrate, 30g protein, 475mg sodium.