The first thing I ever cooked for my wife, Grace, were these meatballs. I made the mixture at my apartment, then packed it up with a box of pasta, ingredients for sauce, and a pot (she told me she had only a skillet) and took it all to her apartment . . . which soon became my apartment, too. A small victory here is not only about getting someone to marry you (!), but also about making meatballs that are incredibly light and tender by incorporating a generous amount of ricotta cheese in the mixture. In fact, I’ve found that by adding ricotta, you can skip the usual bread crumbs and eggs (which also makes this recipe gluten-free, if that’s important to you)—I love any addition that allows you to let go of a few things. Another small victory is baking the meatballs instead of frying them. It’s much less messy and so easy—win-win. Please note that while most of the recipes in this book serve four, I’ve made this one a bit larger because whenever I make meatballs, I like to make a ton so that I can freeze some. That way, I can have meatballs on the spur of the moment. I thought you might like that too, but feel free to cut the recipe in half if you prefer.
Excerpted from Small Victories by Julia Turshen. Published by Chronicle Books. Text ©2016 Julia Turshen. Photograph ©2016 Gentl + Hyers.
ON-DEMAND: Listen to Faith and Julia discuss this recipe and others from Small Victories on The Faith Middleton Food Schmooze®.
|8 OR 4 with lots of leftovers (Makes about 30 meatballs)|
Serve the meatballs with pasta, polenta, rice, garlic bread, or just on their own! Whichever way you choose, be sure to sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.
- Two 28-oz [794-g] Cans whole peeled tomatoes
- 7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 7 garlic cloves 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced
- kosher salt
- 1 cup [40 g] fresh basil leaves finely chopped
- 1 cup [40 g] fresh Italian parsley leaves finely chopped
- 1-1/2 cups [300 g] fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup [50 g] finely grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 pounds [900 g] ground turkey (preferably dark meat) at room temperature
- Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children). Rinse one of the cans with about ¼ cup [60 ml] water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans, and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.
- In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey, and 1 Tbsp salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.
- Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve.
FOR SAUSAGE AND RICOTTA MEATBALLS, instead of ground turkey, use 2 lb [910 g] of your favorite sausage meat. Just take it out of its casings and proceed as directed. I like using half sweet and half spicy Italian sausage.
FOR A SLIGHTLY MOROCCAN RIFF, use ground lamb instead of turkey and finely crumbled feta instead of Parmesan. Leave out the ricotta. Add a handful each of toasted pine nuts and raisins to the mixture, and use mint instead of basil. Add a cinnamon stick to the tomato sauce (remove it before serving the meatballs).
The turkey meatballs were incredibly tasty, but I wasn’t prepared for the toughness or chewiness.
Robyn Doyon-Aitken says
Hi Ronda. I’m glad you liked the flavor. I made them too, but didn’t find them tough or chewy. Worth a second batch, I think. 🙂
Donna B. says
Absolutely delicious! My husband who is a huge skeptic about anything with ground turkey listened to me recite the ingredients and said “they are going to be dry”. Ha! And then during dinner he said, that’s the best spaghetti sauce and meatballs I’ve ever had. The meatballs were moist and so flavorful. O, I did add some turkey sausage too, to spice them up a bit.
Could you use ground chicken for this recipe?
Robyn Doyon-Aitken says
I’d think so. If you do, report back.
Patressa Kearns says
I’ve made these turkey-ricotta meatballs twice now, and have found them fabulous both times. The first time, I made them with 93% lean turkey — not the leanest of the lean, but probably a little leaner than I should have used. The second time I made them with a darker ground turkey — 89% lean, I believe. They were delicious the first time, but much more tender (and flavorful) the second time. Note that Ms. Turshen says to use dark meat if possible. Also, be sure not to overbake the meatballs, whatever kind of ground turkey you use.
The sauce recipe in this recipe is fantastic, too — simple, yet flavorful out the wazoo. I added a nice pinch of sugar, a couple pinches of Aleppo pepper flake, and a good grinding of fresh black pepper to my sauce. Use good San Marzano tomatoes if you can; that will make a big difference.
Over al dente spaghetti these turkey-ricotta meatballs in sauce is a heavenly meal. Serve with a glass of good Chianti, a nice salad, and some garlic bread, and it’s like being 25 again.
We we’re disappointed. I made almost exactly as indicated, just couldn’t find fresh basil in January. This wasn’t a bad meal per se — it was edible, but the sauce was very bland and the meatballs were more bland ricotta balls. They didn’t resemble any meatball I’ve ever had. It was just a strange, bland concoction. Now I have a ton of leftovers and not sure what to do with them. I’ll probably add sausage to what’s left of the sauce to spice it up, and serve on a GF grinder as a sandwich.
Here are my adjustments:
Cooked most meatballs for only 15 minutes.
Pulled out several meatballs at 10 minute mark and cooked in sauce for last 5 minutes.
Garlic powder for meatballs
When sautéing garlic for sauce, threw in a little dried mint. Threw in a few of the fresh basil leaves when sauce was almost finished. Also used immersion blender to purée sauce.
Also added pinch of sugar to sauce
If freezing leftover meatballs, what’s the best way to get them ready to serve—thaw in fridge and then reheat in oven? Or straight from freezer to oven?
Robyn Doyon-Aitken says
Julia Turshen answered this very question on the “Cup of Jo” blog. She said, “I would recommend freezing them after roasting them (let them cool to room temp first) and then defrost in the fridge and warm in the sauce….”
K Lewis says
Good recipe, and here are a few suggestions:
1. For the sauce, make sure you use good quality canned tomatoes, such as San Marzano tomatoes. Use a good amount of fresh basil and some fresh oregano, if you have it. Also, season to taste with salt and pepper.
2. Add about 1/2 cup finely chopped onion to the meatball mixture along with about 1 cup very coarse bread crumbs and a beaten egg or two.
3. Rather than first baking the meatballs, you can also just put them raw into the sauce and let them simmer on low heat for about 45 min to 1 hour. They will surely be moist.
Robyn Doyon-Aitken says
Thank you for the suggestions. Your second suggestion makes for a very traditional meatball; gluten-free eaters should use crumbs from a gluten-free loaf, of course. Oh. . .and who doesn’t love a meatball long-simmered in a fragrant sauce? Makes me want to make these again!