Slow-Cooker Italian Meatballs and Marinara

Serves 8 generously; enough sauce for 1 1/2 lb. pasta.

Note: This flavorful big-batch recipe is easy to put together and results in ultra-tender meatballs in a deeply flavorful sauce. It makes enough to feed a crowd, or a small family with leftovers enough for one or two more meals, and it freezes beautifully. Serve the meatballs with pasta, in a sub sandwich, or on their own, as a hearty appetizer. From Meredith Deeds.

• 1 tbsp. olive oil

• 1 medium onion, chopped

• 1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste

• 6 garlic cloves, finely chopped, divided

• 1 1/2 tsp. salt, divided

• 3/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper, divided

• 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, divided

• 2 (28-oz.) cans crushed tomatoes

• 2 slices whole-wheat bread, crusts removed

• 1/3 c. milk

• 3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese

• 2 eggs

• 1/4 c. finely chopped Italian parsley

• 1 1/4 lb. 90%-lean ground beef

• 1 lb. ground pork

Directions

In a 10-inch nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for 4 to 5 minutes, until softened and just beginning to brown. Add the tomato paste, 3 chopped garlic cloves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook, stirring, for 5 to 6 minutes, until the tomato paste turns a rusty color.

Transfer to the slow cooker. Add the crushed tomatoes and whisk to combine well with the tomato paste mixture.

Place the bread in a large bowl and pour the milk over the top. Let the bread soak for 5 minutes. Using your fingers, mash the bread up until there are no more big pieces. Add the remaining 3 cloves chopped garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, Parmesan, eggs and parsley. Whisk together with the bread mixture until all the ingredients are combined well. Add the beef and pork and gently mix together.

Divide the meat mixture into golf ball-sized meatballs (about 26) and nestle into the sauce in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 7 to 9 hours, until the meatballs are fully cooked and tender and the sauce is slightly thickened. Skim off any fat that has accumulated on top of the sauce and use as desired (see Note).

If prepared in advance: Uncooked meatballs and sauce can be prepared and kept separately, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 24 hours. When ready to cook, combine in the slow cooker and cook as directed.

Store cooked meatballs and sauce in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost in the refrigerator and use as desired.

Nutrition information per serving:

Calories 410 Fat 21 g Sodium 1,050 mg

Carbohydrates 22 g Saturated fat 8 g Added sugars 0 g

Protein 35 g Cholesterol 140 mg Dietary fiber 6 g

Exchanges per serving: 4 vegetable, ½ carb, 4 fat.