“That’s-a one spicy meat ball-a!” Well, not quite spicy, but this turkey meatball is remarkably moist and flavorful. I am not hard pressed to say that Spaghetti and Meatballs is included on most top 5 lists of favorite foods, or at least among the most comforting. Adding to the enjoyment and fun of “spag and ‘balls” are the various eating techniques to which people prescribe: from twirling noodles with a fork for somewhat manageable bites (my preference) to cutting noodles for a kid – and often adult – friendly approach to employing a “fork and shovel” method that throws dining etiquette out the window. The dish can transcend elegant to ultra-casual dining according to the environment and chosen eating technique.
A favored meal since childhood? Yes. A healthy option? …not always, wherein lays the dilemma. Making meatballs with lean white turkey rather than a traditional beef-veal-pork combination gives it a nutritional upgrade so to enjoy more frequently. With this substitution, however, the recipe and/or preparation may need tweaked as white meat tends to easily and quickly dry out because of its lower fat content compared to red meat. Bake, fry, simmer or slow cook – there are many ways to prepare a meatball. To avoid a displeasing texture or cardboard taste I consulted Cook’s Illustrated for their tried and tested advice: roast until browned, then add meatballs to sauce. Here, “America’s Test Kitchen” advises to cover pot, and place in oven, cooking until meatballs are firm and sauce has thickened, about 1 hour. I kept it simmering on the stove with an occasional stir for about the same amount of time.
The spices in the meatball recipe can be tweaked to your preference – or with what ingredients you have on hand. This fairly basic version mirrors spices used in the accompanying tomato sauce. For meatballs, make sure there is a binding agent that will hold everything together and keep the meat moist through cooking. Two eggs work very well for 1 – 1 1/2 lb of meat. For sauce, I made this basic fresh tomato sauce using simple ingredients. There can never be enough garlic; in my opinion it is the one ingredient needed for a complete flavor profile in savory dishes. The red wine adds another noticeable and pleasing layer of depth that is well complimented by just a hint of red pepper flake heat. Jarred tomato sauce can most certainly be used for a quick fix instead of homemaking sauce. Serving recommendation: over spaghetti, spaghetti squash or simply on own with shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese alongside lightly dressed greens.
Turkey Meatballs in Fresh Tomato Sauce
Makes 4-6 servings
1 lb ground turkey, white meat
1/4 c plain dried bread crumbs
1/4 c fresh basil, finely chopped
2 TBSP dried parsley
2 TBSP dried oregano
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 c Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 TBSP fat free milk
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp ground pepper
Fresh Tomato Sauce
4 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c red wine*
28 oz diced tomato
28 oz crushed tomato
1/2 c fresh basil, finely chopped
2 TBSP dried parsley
2 TBSP parsley
*I usually use whatever red wine is on hand. A good rule of thumb is to cook with a wine that you also want to drink; it will most always turn out well and you know what to do with the rest of the bottle. Chianti or Cabernet Sauvignon is an easily found wine and favorable choice.
For the meatballs:
1. Preheat oven to 450˚ F.
2. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl being careful not to overwork the meat
3. Roll meat into uniform balls – I like using an ice cream scoop – and line on baking sheets. Roast until browned, about 25-30 minutes, rotating trays from front to back and top to bottom halfway through.
4. Add meatballs to the tomato sauce. Let simmer on medium-low heat another 40 minutes, until meatballs are fully cooked through and tender.
For the tomato sauce:
1. Heat oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook about 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes.
2. Add the red wine to deglaze the pan of any bits of onion or garlic. Add the remaining ingredients. Simmer on medium-low heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally.