If you have been clever enough to stash a container of meatballs in the fridge or freezer, this fully-loaded stew can be assembled and cooked in about half an hour. Otherwise, plan an extra half hour or so to roll and brown the meatballs.
500 g lean ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup very finely chopped onion
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp vegetable oil, or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cups beef broth, (preferably sodium-reduced)
2 cups canned diced tomatoes, (with juice)
1 540-mL can kidney beans, or chickpeas (with liquid)
1 tsp dried oregano, crumbled
2 medium carrots, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
350 g fresh cheese tortellini, (not the dried kind)
1 284-g pkg fresh spinach, rinsed and coarsely chopped
salt, to taste
black pepper, to taste
Meatballs: In a medium bowl, combine the ground beef, egg, bread crumbs, onion, salt and pepper. Squish together with a fork or (clean) bare hands until well mixed (no tasting until it’s cooked, kids!). Form into 1 in. (2 cm) meatballs, rolling them between your hands so they’re nice and round.
Place meatballs in one layer on a cookie sheet and bake at 375°F (190°C) for 15 to 20 minutes, turning them over halfway through baking. Remove from cookie sheet and use, immediately, in your favourite recipe, or pack into a container and refrigerate or freeze to use at another time.
The stew: In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook the onion in the oil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened – about 5 minutes. Add the broth, tomatoes, beans and oregano. Bring to a boil over high heat. Dump in the browned meatballs, lower the heat to medium, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, for 10 minutes.
Add the carrots and celery and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Throw in the tortellini and cook for 5 to 8 minutes, or until tender. Finally, add all the spinach, pushing it down into the pot and cook just until the spinach has wilted into the stew – about 2 minutes.
Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if desired. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling at the table.