Baked Turkey Meatballs with Homemade Sauce
My husband and I are always looking for healthier alternatives to our favorite red-meat based meals. Lean cuts of pork, like chops and tenderloins, are often a go-to on our menu, as well as chicken breasts and turkey. Each Sunday, he will typically make his grandparent's recipe* for red sauce. It's a Southern Italian classic that's smooth and vibrant, and was handed down to him by his mother**. I recall family dinners in his Grandpa Traino's home when we first began dating; always generous portions of spaghetti with sausage and meatballs, smothered in this delicious sauce.
Browning mild Italian sausages and a pork steak in the pan before adding the tomato products helps to develop the deep flavor. They are added back into the sauce after it starts to boil, then it simmers over low heat for the next few hours. (Contrary to popular belief, cooking sauce all day can really bring out the acidity in the tomatoes, giving it a bitter after taste.) It's still on the stove top long enough to fill your home with the most nostalgic and intoxicating aroma! If I am looking for a quick marinara, I'll sometime skip the meat process and just go right to the sauce! I love to serve it with my turkey meatballs and since the sauce is already so full of bright and robust flavors, the fat from a ground beef based meatball is not missed! Baking them in the oven not only saves on the added calories you would incur from frying, but it saves on TIME! Just scoop them onto a foil-lined cookie sheet with an ice cream scoop, pop them into the oven and 20 minutes later you have a homemade, healthy alternative to the traditional calorie-laden spaghetti & meatballs of your childhood.
- 1/4 cup dried breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 2 Tablespoons whole milk or half-n-half
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1-2 Tablespoons fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, thyme) chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a large bowl, mix together everything except the turkey, until it's fully incorporated. Next, gently mix in the ground turkey until all ingredients are combined. Don't overmix or the meatballs become very dense. Scoop out the mixture (approximately 2 Tablespoons) with an ice cream scooper or roll into balls and place on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Serve with the marinara sauce, or over pasta. Makes approximately 24-30 meatballs.
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pork steak
- 4 mild Italian sausages
- 1 (28 ounce) can good quality tomato sauce
- 1 (12 ounce) can tomato paste
- 4 1/2 cups cold water (fill the empty paste can 3 times)
- 1 Tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- pinch of red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium high. Brown the sausages and transfer to a plate, repeat with the pork steak. To the stockpot, pour in the tomato sauce and paste. Slowly whisk in the cold water. Add the sugar, seasonings and cheese, adjusting more or less as you prefer. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and add the meats and any collected juices back into the sauce. Partially cover with a lid and reduce heat to low, simmering for another 2-3 hours. Taste with a piece of bread during cooking time to see if seasonings need to be adjusted. Ladle over meatballs or paste. This sauce freezes well...let it cool and pour into a zip-top freezer bag; seal and lay it flat in the freezer. Thaw (in the sealed bag) under a stream of running lukewarm water in the sink.
*Matt has always proclaimed this recipe as a beloved family secret, but it has already been morphed several times and published over the years, so hopefully he won't be heartbroken to read it here!
**Although I may tweak the sauce to my own taste, this is the exact recipe as it was given to my husband by his mother, Judy. As with so many heirloom recipes, I'm sure this one has been adapted along the way by each family member, to reflect the social and economic climate of that particular time (ie: were dried ingredients substituted instead of fresh due to lack of availability or affordability?) Guessing the generational history of a passed-along recipe is something that brings me great joy as I busy about in the kitchen!