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It’s My Pantry and I’ll Spice If I Want To

By Bonnie Fishman

An important part of preparing a pandemic pantry is looking ahead to making life easier and to be ready for a satisfying and delicious meal at the drop of a hat.

One of my favorite recipes for this is my Spicy Meatballs Marinara over polenta. You may be wondering how this could be a “prepared pantry” item.


You will always have ground meats on hand. (If not, put them at the top of your grocery list.) Marinara sauce is made with pantry-stocked diced tomatoes and crushed tomatoes in puree. And the polenta is a staple–yellow cornmeal. I know this sounds kind of pedestrian, but my favorite go-to yellow cornmeal is Quaker Oats. It has the perfect consistency for all my needs: polenta, cornbread, and for sprinkling on the pans of my homemade bread or pizza before they go in the oven. It can be found in almost every grocery store in America. .

So, now that you have your ingredients, how do we make this into a pantry item? It will, of course, become a freezer pantry item. You will make the meatballs and freeze them in dinner portions; you will make the marinara sauce and freeze it in pint containers. Actually, marinara sauce is always one of my freezer pantry items as it has many applications. For example, you can sauté a bunch of veggies or brown some ground meat in a large skillet to bring out its wonderful flavor. Pour on a splash of wine and reduce it. Add in your defrosted marinara sauce and presto! You can pour it over any kind of pasta.

Before cooking the meatballs and marinara from the freezer, defrost them in the fridge overnight. Reheat the meatballs in a covered casserole dish at 350° for 20-25 minutes. Heat the marinara in a sauce pan until it comes to a boil.

Assembly: Make the polenta according to the recipe below. Then, put a mound of polenta in the bottom of each pasta bowl. Top with 2 meatballs. Cover with marinara. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and a sprinkle of chopped parsley. Pass the Parmesan and a black pepper mill.

Spicy Meatballs with Marinara Sauce

Yield: 8-12 servings (24 meatballs)

Spicy Meatballs with Marinara Sauce over Polenta
Spicy Meatballs with Marinara Sauce over Polenta


1 c. fresh bread crumbs

3/4 c. grated Parmesan

1/2 c. fresh chopped parsley

1/2 c. low-fat milk or rice milk

1/2 c. chicken stock

5 egg whites

2 Tbs. dried oregano

1 Tbs. minced fresh garlic

1 Tbs. coarse salt

2 tsp. dried basil

1 1/2 tsp. black pepper

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

2 lb. ground veal, ground turkey, ground beef or any combination

Marinara Sauce:

3-4 Tbs. olive oil

1 lg. onion, medium dice

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp. dried oregano

2 tsp. dried thyme

2 tsp. dried basil

1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes, more if want spicier

1 28 oz. can diced tomato in juice

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree

salt and black pepper

1-2 tsp. sugar to taste

Meatballs: In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the ground meat. Beat together. Add the meat, working with your hands; combine mixture until just blended. Using a 2 oz. ice cream scoop, measure out the meatballs onto a cookie sheet. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment or foil. Roll the balls briefly and place on the pan. Pour in 1 cup stock. Bake uncovered in oven at 350° for about 25-30 minutes or until cooked throughout.

Marinara sauce: In a 4 qt. Dutch oven over medium high heat, sauté the onions and garlic in the olive oil until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the herbs, crushed pepper flakes, canned tomatoes and crushed tomatoes. Bring to a boil; turn down to a simmer. Cook uncovered for at least 1 hour. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender. Season with salt, pepper and sugar to taste. The sugar makes for a sweeter sauce if desired.


Yield: 4-6 servings

4 1/2 c. water

1 c. yellow cornmeal

1 1/2 tsp. salt

3 Tbs. butter

fresh ground black pepper

1/2 c. grated Parmesan (optional)

Polenta: Bring 4 cups water and the salt to a boil in a 3 quart heavy bottom saucepan. In a small bowl, whisk together the cornmeal and 1/2 cup water. Slowly whisk the cornmeal into the boiling water. Turn down to medium high heat. Cook the polenta, whisking often. When it gets too thick for the whisk, switch to a wooden spoon. Turn down to medium heat. Stir often. Cook the polenta for 25 minutes or until the cornmeal is fully cooked and doesn’t feel grainy. Blend in the butter, season with black pepper and add Parmesan if desired.

Pureeing the sauce with an immersion blender
Pureeing the sauce with an immersion blender

Whisking the moistened polenta into boiling water
Whisking the moistened polenta into boiling water

Thickened polenta
Thickened polenta

Switch to a wooden spoon near the end
Switch to a wooden spoon near the end

Polenta in serving bowl topped with meatballs
Polenta in serving bowl topped with meatballs


Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.



Bonnie Fishman
Bonnie Fishman

Carmela, These meatballs and polenta are right up your alley. I personally make my marinara spicier than this recipe. I want to know if my dear Italian relative approves!


Carmela Aliffi
Carmela Aliffi

Oh Bonnie, my mouth is watering and I’m ready to try your recipe!

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