Here we are at the last of the three meals from my Blue Apron trial week: the lengthily titled Chicken Meatballs & Creamy Polenta with Tomato Sugo & Lacinata Kale. I wasn’t really looking forward to this one. The chicken meatballs sounded kind of fussy to make, and I expected them to dry out during cooking. I was wrong.
Despite its long title, this recipe really only has two components: the simple polenta, and the tomato sauce with meatballs and kale. The polenta is super-simple, just cornmeal, water, and butter. I make polenta often, always with milk (or half-and-half) and cheese, and practically had to slap my own hand to keep from adding more ingredients. But I stayed pure, for testing purposes. (You’re welcome.) I used to really dislike both grits and polenta, and thought it was the addition of dairy that made polenta palatable. But I really enjoyed this simpler version, and it was a breeze to cook.
Naturally, the other component was more complicated, but not as much so as I expected. With all the ingredients pre-measured – particularly the “Meatball Spice Blend” (including onion and garlic powders, ground fennel and bay leaf, and cayenne pepper) – putting the mixture together took just a minute. I deviated from the recipe here with a tip I learned from my friend Dianne when she taught me to make her amazing meatballs: I added a couple of tablespoons of water to the mixture, hydrating the bread crumbs and allowing them to contribute moisture to the meat instead of drawing it out.
I also made two small streamlining tweaks to the method. (So much for purity. Oh well.) Instead of forming the meatballs, then heating the oil and adding them to it, I heated the oil while stirring up the mixture, then added the meatballs to the hot oil as I formed them. The recipe also asked me to decant the can of tomatoes into a bowl and crush them with my hands before adding them to the meatball pan. Instead, I crushed the tomatoes in my hand as I poured them into the pan. The tweaks saved me a few minutes and a couple of dirty dishes.
The sauce was cooked directly in the meatball pan, by simply adding tomatoes, garlic, and kale to the browned meatballs and simmering – which is why I consider it all a single component. It was really very simple to do. The recipe called for a short simmer of just 4 to 6 minutes to thicken the sauce. I didn’t think it had cooked down enough for the ingredients to meld at that point, and let it go about another five minutes. The sauce still seemed much thinner than the sugo in the picture, but I didn’t want to dry out the meatballs. It was time to eat.
As I piled the food into bowls, I was quite impressed at the portion size. The servings seemed quite large, to the point that I kind of wished I’d set some aside to have for lunch later. But I’ll tell you, we ate every bite, because this meal was delicious. It reminded me of my beloved Braised Greens with Creamy Polenta – for obvious reasons, I guess. The chicken meatballs were nicely spiced and very moist, the polenta was creamy and comforting, and the sauce had a tangy, garlicky punch. The kale was a bit player, but I appreciated having something green and it added a nice chewy texture to a bowl that might otherwise have been too uniformly soft. I ate more than I intended to, and when it was all gone I wanted more.
This was definitely the most successful of the three dishes from my Blue Apron box. It was quick to prepare, delicious, and very satisfying. I’ll keep this recipe and make it again, which I consider high praise – though I guess I’ll have to figure out my own Meatball Seasoning Blend.
In my next post I’ll look into similar services, cancellation policies, and other odds and ends, and consider the question: Is Blue Apron worth it? For whom?