Saturday, December 3, 2011

Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti

In last week’s article, I called fresh-baked pie a “white shirt” dish because, like a white shirt, it’s a good choice for almost any situation. Today I’m happy to share another can’t-go-wrong meal choice: Meatballs and Spaghetti made, in this case, with lower-fat turkey meatballs (and other reduced fat ingredients) and an easy-to-prepare no-cook tomato sauce.

Meatballs, in particular, are worth a close look. Getting the taste right isn’t all that difficult: adjust the seasonings to your taste, and remember to brown the meatballs before cooking them through in the sauce. I’ve always thought the catch to meatballs is their texture. Well-seasoned and properly cooked meat too easily becomes overly tough if not made properly. This recipe avoids that.

As shown in the photo, I served this with a simple Caesar salad and an easy, fresh-baked Italian bread. (I’ll be posting the bread recipe next week as a follow-up!)

This recipe makes four servings as determined by the amount of pasta. You’ll actually end up with enough leftover meatballs for another meal. (Spoiler alert: The last time we had leftover meatballs my wife used them to make a wonderful deconstructed stuffed pepper dinner; I’m hoping to convince her to let me post it here the next time she makes it.)

Prepare 4 cups of tomato sauce using the Easy, No-Cook Tomato Sauce recipe posted here previously. (Click here for the recipe.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut five slices of stale bread (crusts removed) into small cubes to make about 1-1/4 cups. Put these in a bowl and let them rehydrate in ¾ cup of fat-free half-and-half.

Brush 2 ounces (2 – 4 slices, depending on the brand) of turkey bacon strips with abou a tablespoon of maple syrup and bake in the 400 degree oven till cooked, about 15 minutes. When the bacon is done, set it aside to cool. (Hint: If you don’t have the stale bread called for in the steps below, you can crisp up five slices of bread in the oven at the same time to simulate it becoming stale. Just watch it carefully so it doesn’t burn, and turn it over to do both sides.)

While the oven is preheating and the bacon is cooking, add a little olive oil to a sauté pan and, when warmed, cook 2 cloves of chopped garlic till aromatic, about 1 minute. Add ½ cup of chopped onions and sauté till cooked but not browned. When the onions have almost finished cooking, add 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley (or 2 teaspoons of dried parsley. When done, set the onion mixture aside to cool.

After the bacon and the onion mixture have cooled, combine them in a bowl with the other meatball ingredients: 1-1/2 pounds ground turkey; the turkey bacon (chopped into small pieces); ½ tablespoon fresh thyme (or ½ teaspoon dried thyme); 1/3 cup grated parmesan (fresh grated instead of canned if possible); 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt; ½ tsp fresh-ground pepper; a pinch of red pepper flakes; a pinch of nutmeg; 2 egg-substitute eggs; and the rehydrated bread cubes. Mix gently by hand, being careful not to press hard or overwork the mixture; we want to keep the texture of the meatballs light. This handling, although easy, is a critical step to getting the meatball texture right. (You can mix the ingredients with a spatula if you prefer, but if you don't mix it by hand you're missing one of life's great experiences.)
You can test the seasonings by taking a small bit of the meat mixture and cooking it in the pan you used to cook the onions and tasting it. 

Gently form meatballs, each about 2” diameter.

Warm a little olive oil in the pan you used to sauté the onions. Working in batches, sauté the meatballs till browned. While the meatballs are browning, begin heating the pasta water (salted).

When the meatballs have all browned, drain any excess oil from the pan, and add the sauce. Let the meatballs simmer in the sauce till cooked through, about 25 minutes.

When the meatballs have almost finished cooking, drop 1 pound of long pasta into the boiling water (I used fettucine, but any long pasta you like will work) and cook one minute less than indicated on the package.

When the meatballs have finished cooking, set them aside in a bowl and top with some of the sauce. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the starchy pasta water, and add the pasta and the water to the sauce remaining in the pan. Finish cooking the pasta through in the sauce.

Serve the pasta and the meatballs in separate serving bowls. (Meatballs are a very personal thing, you know!)

Hope to see you here next week for Part II: easy, fresh baked Italian bread to serve with this or any other Italian meal you make! Till then, stay well, keep it about the food, and always remember to kiss the cook. ;-)


  1. This dish looks and sounds delicious! I shall be back next week for the bread.


  2. Thank you, Bonnie! I started thinking about meatballs a few weeks ago when I was served some that were just perfect, not just the taste but the all-important texture. (I actually felt a bit envious!) It got me wanting to put something good together, and this recipe was the result. Glad you like it!

    Looking forward to seeing you again next week. :-)

  3. How's my buddy, Ben! I love that you use the broken up bread in your recipe... this is the way my mom made meatballs too! She used beef and pork. That's the secret, the ground pork, I think. :)
    Of course, THAT'S for a high-calorie meatball! Yours looks delicious, but I am so afraid of ground turkey, Ben! I once made a meatloaf with ground turkey and it was HORRIBLE. I have shy-ed away every since. Never bought ground turkey again. If I ever get brave, maybe I should try your recipe. It has a lot of other ingredients that might make it great and my son and I would eat it! Lord knows I can stand to lose a few pounds. ;)
    I look forward to seeing your bread recipe on your next post, AND I hope your wifey will let you post her stuffed peppers recipe next time you have it! Please tell her Gloria asked. LOL!)
    P.S. Would love to see you and your wife and the rest of your family in pics... I know sometimes people are shy for "blog photos" though... Try to convince them for the Holidays. I'm sure you have a nice Italian Christmas Eve dinner... please post pics! Of family and FOOD! And if you want to see my son, please visit a recent post of mine. I know I like to see families, maybe you and your wife will enjoy seeing my post on my son's bday. ;)
    (Especially since you guys are in Jersey and my son and I are born and bred Brooklyners!)

  4. Thanks, Melissa! I completely agree: there really is something about the comfort of meatballs and spaghetti that works on a Sunday.

    And thank you, Gloria! Doing well here, happy to say. Along with the light-touch handling, the meat-bread proportion is such an important part of getting the texture right, and I found the broken-up (or, in this case, cut-up) bread really made a difference. (I used potato bread in mine, but any should work.) Ground turkey can work well; the key is adding the seasonings it needs to give it a flavor that makes its presence known. I hope you won't give up on it! As for a picture...let me see what I can do. :-)