Not only is February the month in which that most romantic of holidays appears, it is also American Heart Month. With both in mind, this month I thought I would serve up a tasty sweetheart of a meal with a heart healthy twist. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to sacrifice flavor or make you eat cardboard and twigs. In fact, this just might become one of your go-to favorites.
I use olive oil predominantly in many of my recipes because it is a more healthy option than some other oils, while offering incredible flavor. The monounsaturated fats (MUFAs) in olive oil have been proven to help lower cholesterol levels, and some research also suggests that olive oil may help with insulin levels and blood sugar control, of particular benefit to Type 2 diabetics. Olive oil is also a source of polyphenols, which protect our cells from damage. Still, limiting the amount of oil you eat is the best course of action, as it is high in calories.
Did You Know? Olive oil has been used as a moisturizer in the Mediterranean for centuries. Actress Sophia Loren has used it for years!
For this month’s romantic meal, I took my inspiration from the dramatic, passionate flair of Italian food. For the salad, we will begin with what I consider to be an under appreciated salad green: arugula. Its slightly peppery flavor can be off-putting to some, but in this recipe it is well balanced with the cholesterol-free creaminess of avocado, the sweetness of cherry tomatoes, and the tang of lemon juice. For the main course we will be replacing the usual pork and/or ground beef in traditional meatballs with ground chicken and serving it over egg noodles seasoned with a decadent and deceptively simple garlic parmesan sauce.
If you have the space available in your freezer, I can’t recommend enough how easy it is to double the recipe for meatballs and freeze half of them after they are finished baking. You’ll have another meal that can be ready in minutes and believe me, they taste just as delicious after reheating. You can even add them to a simmering pot of marinara and serve them over spaghetti so that you and your beloved can reenact that sweet romantic scene from Lady and the Tramp.
Arugula Salad with Avocado
A great tasting salad doesn’t need to be a complicated affair. This time I bring together some of my favorite flavors and toss them with the simplest of dressings—oil and lemon juice. When you start with fresh ingredients, you won’t need a heavy dressing to mask flavorless, wilted vegetables. Don’t feel limited to the vegetables I suggest, either. Follow your heart and go with what you love.
Fresh arugula greens
Salt & pepper
1. Rinse arugula and drain well. Place in a large bowl.
2. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise and add them to the bowl.
3. Cut the avocado into bite size cubes and add to the bowl.
4. Thinly slice purple onion and add to the bowl.
5. Lightly drizzle the salad with olive oil. Juice a lemon and add that along with a pinch of salt and pepper.
6. Toss to combine ingredients and thoroughly coat with oil and lemon.
7. Season with salt & pepper to taste and serve.
Chicken Meatballs with Garlic Parmesan Noodles
For this dish I opted to use extra-wide egg noodles for the substance and velvety texture they add, but if you prefer another type of pasta, don’t let me stand in your way. It will work equally well with fettuccine, linguine or even angel hair.
1 pound ground chicken
1 small purple onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup breadcrumbs or 2 slices of white bread
Small handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Extra-wide egg noodles
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & pepper
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and start a large pot of water to boil.
2. Place chicken, egg, onion, breadcrumbs, and parsley in a large bowl, season with salt & pepper and mix thoroughly.
Note: I find that it is much easier and faster to use my hands to mix the meatballs. If you decide to go that route, remember that you’re working with raw poultry. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water after handling raw meat.
3. Form meatballs roughly the size of a golf ball.
4. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or line with a Silpat sheet and place meatballs on the sheet so that they are not touching.
5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.
6. While the meatballs are baking, cook egg noodles according to package instructions, and drain.
7. In a small pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and add the garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes, pour over drained egg noodles and toss to coat. Season lightly with salt & pepper, add Parmesan and parsley, and toss to combine.
8. Plate, garnish with chopped parsley and serve.
Light the candles, turn on some Sinatra and enjoy a quiet, romantic meal tonight. I can help create the ambiance, but the rest is up to you. See you next time!
Michael Nolan is a professional gardener and food writer based in Atlanta. His digital cookbook Food Camp: Kitchen Survival Skills is available on Amazon or through his website, MyEarthGarden.com.
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