Well, I do exaggerate. These turkey meatballs are not particularly spicy, but they do fit into a holiday eating plan--a more or less healthy option squeezed between festive meals.
Braised in a simple tomato sauce, these meatballs offer a big bowl of winter comfort along with a welcome break from rich holiday food. We think of spaghetti and meatballs as an Italian dish, but on an Italian table you would rarely find meatballs subjected to long simmering in tomato sauce and served over a mountain of spaghetti. Italian polpette (meatballs) are made with anything from beef to fish and often are served as a separate course, in soup or with tomato sauce. These meatballs make a satisfying meal simply served in a bowl with only a dusting of Parmesan.
Start with dark meat turkey, which has more flavor than white meat. If possible, buy it freshly ground from the meat counter in your market, since pre-packaged ground turkey is often compressed. Bread soaked in milk adds both moisture and tender texture, preventing the meat from becoming compact and tough while onions, parsley, Parmesan, and lemon rind add flavor. A beaten egg binds the mixture and adds even more richness and flavor. Mix it all together lightly with your hands to keep the meat from compacting for light and tender meatballs.
To defy the usual notion of meatball making as a laborious project, try this: Use a 1 1/2 tablespoon cookie scoop (number 40) or a spoon to scoop the meat into twenty even nuggets and place them assembly-line style on a baking sheet. Wet your hands and gently roll them into 1 1/2 inch balls. Place them in an oiled skillet and broil them for a few minutes to brown them. Set them aside and use the same skillet to make a quick sauce. Slip the meatballs back into the sauce and finally, finish them in the oven until cooked through.
Serve them in shallows bowls with some sauce and a little grated Parmesan. You and your waistline won’t miss the pasta.
1 slice bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup milk, at room temperature
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon
3/8 teaspoon salt
2 pinches pepper
1 pound ground dark meat turkey
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 (28-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes with juice, crushed in a bowl
Grated Parmesan, for serving
1. Have on hand a baking sheet and a large skillet with an ovenproof handle.
2. In a large bowl, stir the bread pieces and milk together. Let stand for 5 minutes. With a fork, mash to a pulp. Add the egg, Parmesan, onion, parsley, lemon rind, salt, and pepper. Stir until well mixed. Add the ground turkey. Mix lightly with your hands until combined. With a medium cookie scoop (number 40) or a spoon, divide the meat into 20 portions and set on the cookie sheet. Wet your hands, and without squeezing, shape into 20 (1 1/4-inch) meatballs.
3. Turn on the broiler. In the skillet over medium heat, heat the oil. Take the pan off the heat and place the meatballs in it. Set the pan under the broiler and broil for 5 to 6 minutes, or until brown. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the meatballs to a plate. Set the oven temperature at 350 degrees.
4. Return the pan to medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook for 20 seconds, or until it sizzles. Add the tomatoes, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Taste and add more salt and pepper, if you like. Add the meatballs to the pan and return the sauce to a simmer.
5. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the meatballs are no longer pink inside. Serve in shallow bowls with sauce and grated Parmesan.