The Return of the Fungi and Chicken Pesto Meatballs!

Bray Road Buckland, MA

March 28th– Walking through our land in Buckland, Massachusetts, the snow has all melted away and I am amazed to see a colorful show of fungi that seems to have reappeared like magic!

Fountain Pond State Park: Great Barrington, MA

Many years ago our land was originally a sheep farm, then it was logged; a good deal of brush was left behind. As the wood decayed, a moist fertile environment for mushrooms and fungi was created. I love walking through the land; although I have to be careful stepping over the brush so I don’t fall! Moving slowly this way, my attention is drawn towards the ground and I discover strange, colorful and intricate fungi!

Bray Road Buckland, MA

An interesting fact from an article written from bountea.com: “Life in the Winter Soil.”

 “With soil rich in humus, bacteria can hibernate through the cold weather well protected within their carbon habitats. Soil that drains well and has humus content around 10% is an ideal environment for overwintering microbes.

Spring arrives slowly in the Northeast.

Sheffield, MA

The other day on a walk at Hunger Mountain in Monterey, MA, the blue grey sky was spitting snowflakes. We were treated to views of the distant misty mountains peeking through the still bare trees.

Hunger Mountain: Monterey, MA

As I get ready to publish this blog, it is greening up rapidly outside, but there are still weeks of cool weather left to make hearty dishes that simmer for hours on the stove!

For many years, I watched my late mother- in-law Dolores DePaolo make her legendary meatballs and tomato sauce. As she cooked, she regaled me with stories from her rich Italian American family history, always complete with a demonstration of a rude hand signal; a dismissive fleck of the hand in the air to use if someone was being disrespectful. I listened carefully as she showed me her techniques to coax the most flavor out of a sauce and to make the meatballs tender. As she aged, others in the family started to cook more; then at one holiday meal, the ultimate compliment was made; a smile and a look of approval! To mix up cultural references a bit here; in her eyes, I had become a true balabusta (a Yiddish expression for a good homemaker.)

I remember clearly a few tips: 1. mix the ingredients for the meatballs thoroughly and when you form them into balls handle the mixture gently, don’t over pack them. 2. Heat the olive oil in the pan to a high temperature then and brown the meatballs all over. 3. Place the meatballs into the sauce, add water to the pan and stir up all of the browned bits in the pan. Add this to the sauce. 4. Simmer the sauce and meatballs gently for hours.

I have experimented making meatballs with ground beef, ground turkey and adding other ingredients like chopped kale. I have made vegetarian meatballs with ground nuts, onions, garlic, egg and breadcrumbs. My latest rendition is with ground chicken, pesto, garlic, egg, bread crumbs and kale. I hope you enjoy Chicken Pesto Meatballs!

Chicken Pesto Meatballs

Ingredients for Sauce:

1 large can organic crushed tomatoes

1 small can organic tomato paste

1/2 onion finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves finely chopped

1 bay leaf

1 teaspoon dried thyme

2 teaspoons dried basil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

a good glug of red wine

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

water

To make sauce:

Heat olive oil in a large heavy pot, add onion and saute for about 5 minutes until onions are soft and translucent. Add garlic and cook briefly.

Add all other ingredients except wine and bring to a boil. Add wine, let it cook down for a minute and then reduce to a simmer. Cover pot and cook over a low heat while you prepare the meatballs.

Ingredients for Chicken Pesto Meatballs:

1 pound ground chicken

1 egg

1/2 cup whole wheat bread crumbs

2 cloves garlic finely chopped

2-3 tablespoons basil pesto

1/4 cup finely chopped lacinato kale ( you can also Italian parsley, I used dandelion greens one time!)

1 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

pinch of red pepper flakes

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried oregano

To make meatballs:

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well together.

In a large non stick pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Wet hands and add loosely formed meatballs to hot oil. Saute on all sides until nicely browned.

Place meatballs into sauce.

Place about 1/2 water into pan where the meatballs were browned and stir up any loose bits. Add this to the sauce.

Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover. Cook about 2 hours.

I like to serve the meatballs with whole wheat spaghetti and a side of steamed broccoli with lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Serve with either freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese and a good Italian red wine!

ENJOY! Or, as my mother-in-law would say MANGIA!

AND, Here is the Tree of the Week!

“So you say!!”

HAPPY SPRING AND STAY SAFE!!

Author: Judith Dansker

Professional oboist and chamber musician- member of Hevreh Ensemble and Winds in the Wilderness, Professor of Oboe Hofstra University; observer of people, art and nature; passionate food and travel explorer.

2 thoughts on “The Return of the Fungi and Chicken Pesto Meatballs!”

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