Saturday, February 5, 2011

Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs

Recipe modified by Gretchen Wilson – June 9, 2010
For a commentary-free and printer-friendly version of it, please click here.

Recipe originally published in Real Simple, May 2010.

I love Italian food.  The sauces, pasta, cheese – I could go on forever.  What attracted me to this recipe was the fact that it slimmed down (at least a little) my favorite spaghetti and meatball recipe.  Of course, I didn’t jump into this without some apprehension and the calorie and fat content aren’t all that impressive for this dish.  Ground beef doesn’t need much seasoning to make a flavorful meatball (thank you fat), but turkey isn’t that easy.  I was surprised to see minimal seasoning going into the meatballs and crossed my fingers as they were cooking.

My finished product:

Picture published with recipe:

© Real Simple

I don’t know if I could get much closer than this.  On top of that, it was FANTASTIC!  Each meatball was like a little turkey parmesan ball.  Absolutely delicious!

for more details about what my ratings mean, go to Gretchen’s Rating System

MessEH – I almost gave this a SIGH rating because it has two things I absolutely hate having to do: crushing crackers and mixing meat.  The crackers get everywhere – I don’t care how tightly sealed the bag is – and the best way to mix meat is with your hands, and it just gets everywhere.

Start-to-Finish Time: Over an hour – The prep work, assembling the sauce and making the pasta doesn’t take long, but you have to shape each meatball and then cook them on all sides.  That adds some time.  Then add on the hour simmer time for the sauce and meatballs.

Prep Work: SLIGHT BLOOD LOSS – A little chopping, a little crushing and that’s about it.

Ease of Recipe: COOK IT IN MY SLEEP – Heck, you probably made a version of this for home economics in the seventh grade.

Overall:  SORRY HONEY, NO LEFTOVERS – I’m a sucker for pasta and love spaghetti and meatballs.  This beats any recipe I’ve made.

Recipe Information:
Hands-on Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 4

Nutritional Information
  • Calories 956
  • Total Fat 37g (Saturated Fat 9g)
  • Cholesterol 184mg
  • Sodium 1879mg
  • Total Carbohydrate 107g
  • Fiber 11g
  • Protein 53g
  • Iron 11mg

In terms of time, I’d say this will probably take you closer to an hour and a half.  The sauce has to cook for an hour (30 before meatballs added and 30 after meatballs are added).  Therefore, 10 minutes in prep and cooking of the meatballs is almost impossible.

I cannot for the life of me figure out where the calories and fat content come from.  I have an idea where the sodium count comes into play – canned tomatoes and saltines – but the rest baffles me.  So I cut out the regular pasta, swapping in wheat instead.  Also, I used fat-free reduced-sodium saltines to help lower the sodium and fat content.

Honestly, you can probably stretch this to six servings, especially if you serve it with a large salad – I’d go with a low-fat balsamic – and a crusty wheat bread.

Changes denoted by red text

4 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can (28 ounce) tomato puree
1 can (6 ounce) tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
½ cup shredded Parmesan, plus more for serving (2 ounces)
2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 large egg
1¼ pounds ground turkey
16 low-fat reduced-sodium saltine crackers, finely crushed (about ¾ cup)
12 ounces whole wheat spaghetti (¾ box)

Ingredient Notes:
Olive Oil – should you use your really expensive extra-virgin olive oil or not.  Since it is not the focus of the dish and is used as a cooking medium (mixed with butter), don’t waste your good olive oil stash.  The cheap(er) stuff works just fine.

Garlic – save yourself some time and buy the pre-minced garlic.  Since it isn’t the focus of the dish, the pre-minced you find in the vegetable section of your grocery store works fine.

Tomato Puree and Tomato Paste – Although this is the focus of the dish, I didn’t worry about getting a specific brand.  I have found generic tomatoes – diced, crushed, puree, etc – are very good and just as delicious as brand specific tomatoes.

Shredded Parmesan – the recipe calls for grated, but I found I used less when I used the shredded variety.  It looked prettier too.

Oregano – I used dried oregano instead of the fresh because (a) it is pretty expensive and (b) I had it on hand, and (c) I can’t use it fast enough and a lot goes to waste.  So when you are using dried herbs instead of fresh, it is a 4:1 ratio or 1 teaspoon = 1 tablespoon.  The original recipe calls for 2 tablespoons fresh oregano and I use 2 teaspoons dried oregano.

Kosher Salt
Kosher salt has larger grains than regular table salt, so if you don’t have it, can’t find it or don’t want to try it, use half as much regular table salt in your recipes.  P.S.  It isn’t ideal for baking so this rule only applies to cooking.
The amounts of Kosher salt are scattered throughout the recipe, so I just added it up for you so you knew how much total salt you’ll need.

Black Pepper – another ingredient that had hidden amounts throughout the recipe.

Ground Turkey – for some reason, most recipes call for 1¼ pounds of turkey which is an odd amount.  Fortunately, Jennie-O sells their packaged ground turkey in this exact amount… and it tastes good too.

Low-fat Reduced-Sodium Saltine Crackers – yes, these are out there.  I actually like them better than the regular saltines too.  Don’t worry that it is going to affect the taste of the dish.  There is plenty of flavor to go around.

Wheat Spaghetti
Spaghetti is pretty much the easiest pasta to find.  I’ve found the wheat version in almost every single store I’ve gone into as well.
Many an Italian has told me that wheat pasta is blasphemy.  Personally?  I can’t tell the difference.  However, the original recipe does call for traditional pasta, so feel free to use it in the event (a) you can’t find wheat penne or (b) you can’t bring yourself to eat the wheat.

Equipment Needed:
Cutting board
Sharp knife
Large Ziploc bag
Dutch oven with lid
Large spoon
Large bowl
Pasta pot or large pot
Wooden Spoon

Equipment Notes:
Large Ziploc bag – You can crush the Saltines any way you like.  I just find it easier placing them in a sealable bag and smacking them around with a rolling pin.

(1)  Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.  The recipe said you could also use a large saucepan, but unless it is over 3-quarts I would stick with a Dutch oven.  Between the sauce and meatballs, there is a lot of volume.

(2)  Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is tender, 6 to 8 minutes.

(3)  When the onion begins to get tender, add half the garlic and cook 2 more minutes, stirring often.  The garlic was originally added to the pan with the onion, but it cooks quickly and burns.

(4)  Add the tomato puree and paste, sugar, half the Parmesan, 1 teaspoon of the oregano, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1½ cups water.  Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes.

(5)  Meanwhile, in a large bowl, lightly beat the egg.

(6)  Add the turkey, crackers, the remaining Parmesan, garlic, oregano, and ½ teaspoon salt, and pepper.

(7)  Shape the mixture into 12 meatballs (about 1½ inches each).

(8)  Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the meatballs, turning occasionally, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes.  The skillet should be large AND deep to accommodate all of the meatballs at once.  If you don’t have one that is deep, cook them in batches.

(9)  Add meatballs to the sauce and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, 25 to 30 minutes.

(10)  Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions. Serve with the meatballs and sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan before serving.

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