Active Time
25 MIN
Total Time
55 MIN
Yield
Serves : 8

Like anyone who enjoys cooking for other people, I always want my table to feel inclusive—a happy, safe place for everyone. This means not just making people feel welcome, but acknowledging with respect, never with complaint, any dietary concerns or issues. This might mean whipping up a festive alcohol-free sipper or making a vegan version of a dish that’s on the menu. More often than not, though, I find myself playing around with gluten-free dishes. That’s because my dad, who lives in the same town as I do (Birmingham, Alabama), was diagnosed with celiac disease several years ago.

I love having my parents over as often as possible; I feel lucky that we ended up in the same city, and I like that my children can enjoy a close relationship with their grandparents. I will often make naturally gluten-free meals (roast fish or meat, vegetables), but I absolutely get a thrill from finding a way to deliver a gluten-free version of a typically wheat-based dish, one that will give my dad a taste of something he thought he’d never enjoy again. I don’t mean a sad substitute for the classic (sorry, cauliflower-crust pizza!) but something that truly scratches the itch.

That’s where Gluten-Free Spaghetti and Meatballs comes into play. I’ve known that the gluten-free pasta options have gotten much better in the last few years, and that Dad’s favorite is the kind made from corn and rice. I swear, most people can’t tell the difference between it and traditional pasta. So I’ve had Mom and Dad over for pasta with classic ragù or Bolognese. But I wanted to play around with meatballs, and I remembered a secret ingredient that I thought might work well: instant potato flakes.

That’s right—dehydrated flaked potatoes. For me, they’re a far more versatile pantry item than any packaged gluten-free breadcrumbs. I try to keep them on hand not for making instant mashed potatoes—I just don’t like them—but instead for thickening soups, breading fish or chicken (foodandwine.com noted this years ago), or making my deviled egg filling a little heftier. I figured they might work well in meatballs, and I was right. They bind ground meat particularly well and add a savory richness unlike typical breadcrumbs. In fact, these have now become my “house” meatballs; I like to make a double batch and freeze some for use later on pizza (my favorite), in grain bowls, or in soups. It’s a win-win: Everyone in my family can enjoy a comforting, family-friendly classic.

How to Make It

Step 1    

Preheat oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Grate onion using large holes of a box grater onto a double layer of paper towels (to absorb some of the liquid—no need to squeeze dry). Combine grated onion, potato flakes, cheese, cream, eggs, chopped oregano, grated garlic, 2 teaspoons salt, and black pepper in a large bowl, stirring well to break up any clumps of potato. Add pork and beef to potato mixture. Mix with your hands until well combined. Form mixture into 32 meatballs (about 2 rounded tablespoonfuls each), and arrange on prepared baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven until browned and cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Step 2    

Meanwhile, heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium-low. Add sliced garlic and red pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, 1 minute. Add tomatoes and their juices, and stir, breaking up tomatoes with a wooden spoon (or pull from the can and squish each one through your fingers as I do). Stir in remaining 1 tablespoon salt, oregano sprigs, basil sprigs, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium; reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Gently stir in meatballs.

Step 3    

Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, and drain pasta. Add pasta to sauce; toss gently to coat, adding reserved pasta water as needed to reach desired consistency. (Or serve pasta and sauce separately, if that’s the way your family likes it.) Top servings with additional cheese and, if desired, torn basil.

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