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At first, I didn’t know what to call this. It’s a veritable mash-up of three other meals I like a lot: soup with tomatoes and Swiss chard, spaghetti and meatballs, and gnudi with greens. When I thought about how I could best explain what the ideas were that spurred me to make it, I keep coming back to the word stew. Essentially composed of a jar of home-canned tomatoes, braised chard, delicious pork meatballs and delicate ricotta gnudi, I think ‘Italian meatball stew’ is the simplest, best description. I wanted the impression of comforting, all-day-simmer goodness and a ratio of chunky ingredients that was equal to or greater than the broth component. I also wanted a meal that could be simplified enough to make even on the busiest night. I got everything I wanted, and created a dish so good we spent most of dinner discussing what else we could add (mushrooms! leftover rice in place of pasta? artichoke hearts!) and how many times a week we could justify having this for dinner.

I happened to have some gnudi dough ready to go, but this could be made with store bought gnudi or gnocchi or any other noodles you enjoy. I think tortellini would be especially good. The meatballs are tender and so easy to put together; I used ground pork and would also recommend turkey, ground beef or a mix. Swiss chard is always in my refrigerator, and I love how it tastes with tomatoes and how it holds up in soup, but any dark greens would be at home here: spinach, kale, even broccolini or rapini. I am so jazzed about this stew and foresee many bowls on my dinner table this winter. It is even better left over! With time for the ingredients to meld, the stew takes on a new depth. With elements that are easy to make ahead or buy premade, this can plausibly be a 15-minute dinner, but it tastes like you stirred and chopped for hours. Impress your family today.

Italian meatball stew

Italian Meatball Stew (serves 4)

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb. ground pork (or beef, or turkey)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 scallions, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • generous pinch of kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 c. fine breadcrumbs

For the stew:

  • 1 large bunch of Swiss chard, stems diced, leaves roughly chopped
  • 1 pint (16 oz.) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • fresh ground black pepper
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 1 T. red wine vinegar
  • 6 – 8 oz. pasta (gnudi, gnocchi, tortellini, etc.), cooked and drained

Start by making the meatballs: in a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix (preferably by hand). Don’t overmix; you’re done when the dry ingredients are incorporated and the mixture looks uniform. You should be able to form a ball that holds its shape; if your mixture is too wet, add more breadcrumbs a few tablespoons at a time, but be careful not to go too dry. Form 14-16 uniform meatballs with a scoop or your hands. Heat 1 T. olive oil over medium heat (you can use the pot you plan to make the stew in so all the flavor stay put) and brown the meatballs in two batches, turning at least once, for about 8 mins. per batch. They *will not* be cooked through but will finish in the stew. Set aside.

The meatballs can be made a day ahead and kept in the refrigerator or several days ahead and frozen. (Defrost in the refrigerator before continuing with the stew.)

To make the stew, heat 1 T. olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. (You can continue with the same pan you used for the meatballs, and may not need to add more oil.) Saute the Swiss chard stems for 1-2 mins. Add the chopped leaves and stir, then cover and allow to wilt for about 3 mins. Stir in the tomatoes, broth, pepper and salt; cover again and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 8-10 mins. Stir in the vinegar and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Place the meatballs in a single layer in the stew and gently stir so they are coated in sauce but remain whole. Cover again and cook for 8-12 mins. to ensure the meatballs cook through. Gently stir in the cooked pasta, heat for just a minute to make sure everything is warmed through, and serve.

Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

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