Pork and Fennel Meatballs with Garlic Sautéed Spinach
These gluten-free, paleo-friendly pork and fennel meatballs will have you going back for seconds. They’re flavorful, savory and delicious.
This weekend I was scrolling through the recipes on my website and realized that my appetizer section is a little, well, bare. I have lots of breakfasts (umm, my favorite meal of the day) and tons of delicious salads, but not so much in the way of munchies and appetizers.
But with more holidays right around the corner (only 24 days until Christmas!) – the need for finger food is at it’s highest. Hello, family gatherings and large group functions! Thus, an appetizer became my mission. I needed a new, savory and utterly satisfying nibble. And for those of you wondering about my detailed strategy and thought-process on recipe development, there you have it (read: it’s not very strategic after all – ha!).
Truth be told, these pork and fennel meatballs could also easily be a main course. Just add them to a much bigger mound of greens or bed of zucchini noodles with a basil pesto or tomato sauce for a crazy good dinner. In fact, I think I’m gonna do that with my leftover meatballs tomorrow!
But let’s dig in to this recipe, shall we? Most of the flavor of these meatballs comes from the fennel – both the bulb and seeds, which impart a savory, licorice flavor. Do you love fennel as much as I love fennel?! The fennel bulb, when sautéed, is similar in texture to the bulb of bok choi (another fave). That means it’s kinda crunchy yet still soft. The flavor of chopped fennel becomes milder when cooked, so here I’m using it more so for added crunch and texture (along with the sautéed onions). The real fennel flavor comes from ground fennel seeds, which kicks these meatballs up a notch and delivers the pow factor.
Now, if you’re dishing these meatballs up appetizer style, just poke them with toothpicks and serve plain or with a dipping sauce. Voila! And if you’re cooking them for yourself as a meal, just sauté the remaining fennel with garlic and baby spinach for an easy side of greens. One thing to remember is that baby spinach wilts down significantly – and you never end up with as much as you think you’ll have. “Where did all my spinach go?!” Yep, an entire 6 ounce bag of organic baby spinach (approx 4 packed cups) only serves two once sautéed. So if you’re serving more than two folks, you can opt for a larger quantity of frozen spinach (which is already wilted) or substitute kale or chard (which tend to not wilt quite as much). Or, as mentioned previously, spiralize a zucchini or two.
When you’re done with this recipe you’ll have about 35 delicious (and highly addictive) pork and fennel meatballs. If you’re a party of one, like me, that means it’s batch cooking at it’s finest and you’ll have amazing leftovers. Yessss! And if you’re a larger family or serving for a group, you may not have leftovers but you will have super happy folks. So it’s a win there too.
- ½ medium onion, finely chopped
- ½ fennel bulb, finely chopped
- 4 tbsp olive oil (divided)
- 2 lbs ground pork
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tsp ground fennel seed
- 1 tsp sea salt
- pepper, to taste
- 4 cups (packed), baby spinach
- ½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1-2 tbsp olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in large saute pan on medium heat. Add the chopped onions and fennel and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until slightly translucent. Remove from the heat to cool.
- In a large mixing bowl add the pork, eggs, parsley, fennel seed, salt and pepper. Once the chopped onions and fennel have cooled slightly add them to the mixing bowl and use your hands to mix all ingredients together.
- Shape the pork mixture into small meatballs, approximately 1.5 inches in diameter. Make all the meatballs and place on a sheet of parchment paper.
- Heat your previously used large saute pan with 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat. Place the first batch of meatballs in the pan, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook the meatballs 2-3 minutes on one side, then rotate them, so that all sides are browned. The meatballs should cook for 15 minutes total or until the inside is no longer pink. When the first batch is done, remove to a paper towel and start the next batch.
- As the meatballs are cooking heat a separate saute pan on medium heat with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the sliced fennel and cook for 4-5 minutes or until softened. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Lastly, add the spinach and stir together until the spinach begins to wilt.
- Serve immediately by plating a portion of the spinach with 3-4 meatballs.
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