Turkey meatballs in tomato sauce

Baked turkey meatballs are perfect, easy, and tender.

By , In Praise of Leftovers

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    Turkey meatballs in tomato sauce.
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If you’ve been around me at all in the last three weeks, you know I’m engaged in a purge-a-thon around my house. If I don’t absolutely love it or it’s not essential and useful, it’s being unloaded at Goodwill. This has meant (gasp!) several cookbooks, too. Usually ones that had nostalgic value, but hadn’t been cracked open in years.

Jordan and I were wandering through the bookstore while she was home from NYC, and I had just finished pronouncing I was done with books. If I can’t get it at the library or on my Kindle, forget it. Sarah the Minimalist is moving in. Then we came to the cookbook table, and Nigella Kitchen was 50% off. Beautiful, hardbound, full of her witticisms, great photos, and practical recipes. I looked at Jordan and said, “Forget everything I just said.”

This recipe is an example of her accessibility. Granted, I don’t need a recipe for tomato sauce or meatballs, but sometimes the discipline of following one gets me out of my ruts and habits. For instance, I’d never put pureed celery in a sauce. But the way she does it here give the sauce a brightness and sprightliness that I love.

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Mixed with a pound of whole wheat spaghetti, topped with snowy shavings of parmesan, this made enough for two family dinners and a few lunches, besides. Definitely enough to justify the space the cookbook takes up. Right?

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
I’ve changed the recipe significantly in that I bake the meatballs instead of dropping them into the sauce (as called for) or frying them, as many recipes suggest. I’ve never been happy with either method. Frying takes forever, as you need to do it in batches to avoid crowding. And dropping them in is supposed to produce the most tender meatballs, but the last time I did that, Mush Central. So I’m all about this new method. Perfect! Easy! Tender!

For sauce:
1 peeled onion
1 celery stalk
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
3 cups water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Pepper, to taste

For meatballs:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion and celery (from tomato sauce ingredients)
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Put the onion and celery in a food processor and blitz to a mush. Remove 2 tablespoons for the meatball mixture.

Warm the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven and add the onion/celery mixture, garlic, and dried thyme. Cook on moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and water. Season with sugar, salt and pepper, stir and let it come to a bubble, then turn the heat down to simmer gently while you make the meatballs.

Put all the ingredients for the meatballs, including the reserved onion and clergy mixture, into a large bowl and mix together gently. Don’t overmix, or the meatballs will be heavy and dense.

Form the meatball mixture into heaped teaspoon-sized balls and put them onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Put into the preheated oven and cook while sauce simmers – about 25 minutes.

When meatballs are cooked through, drop them into the sauce, let it simmer for a couple more minutes, and serve over whole wheat spaghetti with shaved parmesan.

Sarah Murphy-Kangas blogs at In Praise of Leftovers.

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