So here it is…my braggart-worthy meatball recipe! I’ve turned ground-turkey haters into lovers with these bad boys and successfully tricked my dad into eating a food that technically has more than his threshold of “3 colors.”
The trick is the veggies mixed in—it adds so many layers of flavor and keeps the meatballs from drying out. I started cooking them this way after lots of research into what make meatballs the ‘best’ or ‘delicious’ or ‘flavorful’ (all Google search words).
You will need:
- 1lb sweet Italian sausage
- 1 lb ground turkey
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1 egg
- 3-5 cloves of garlic, depending on how big they are and how garlicky you like your Italian foods :)
- 1 small/mediumish yellow onion (I have done this with red onion from the farm share before and found the sweeter onions add a superior flavor; same is true of leeks)
- dash of red pepper flakes
- 1 generous tbsp of Italian herbs (this is a popular blend, but I have an extra special bottle of the local, organic variety from a ‘treat’ one farm share pick up a few months ago)
- salt & pepper—maybe 1tbsp of each? I don’t measure.
- 1/3 cup of Parmesan (or a combo of Italian cheeses, but really you just need the Parmesan—I used the sprinkle variety or the ‘Off the Block’ shredded kind)
- 1/3 cup of the sauce you’re going to simmer/serve the meatballs in later (I cheat here and usually buy two jars of the Newman’s Own Marinara which is the perfect amount)
And your choice of any 3 of the following (my favorites are *starred*):
- *1 cup of spinach (fresh or frozen that’s been thawed and drained—you do not need the extra water in this!!)
- *1 carrot, peeled and chopped
- small pepper, cleaned and diced (any color)
- *1 large or 2 smaller stalks of celery, chopped
Start by getting a blender or large food processor set up to help you with the breaking down of the veggies. I try to rough chop everything up before I throw it in to help with the even distribution in the blender/processor. Put the onion, garlic, veggies of choice, and sauce in and let it rip. Once it’s good and blended, I usually throw the egg in and pulse a few more times.
Preheat the oven to 350*F and get a large cookie sheet (I have two smaller ones that I typically need both of) out and ready to go for when you start rollin’. I cover mine in tinfoil for easier clean-up, but if it’s a non-stick surface you don’t really need it.
In a big mixing bowl, get all the other ingredients together (minus the extra sauce, which you’re reserving for simmering later). I start with the cheese, panko, and spices (including S&P), mixing a bit to ensure that everything is co-mingling nicely. Add the meat and the veggie mixture you’ve prepped and fold together. Make sure you mix this really, really well—folding the meats with a spatula helps tremendously, but so does mashing everything up with your hands…see why we got the tray ready first??
Here’s where you can make this your own and pick the size—I seem to default to about 1.5” balls because that’s the size my two palms naturally make when cupping the meat mixture together and rolling. You can go smaller or larger, but if you go really big, you’ll have to leave them in the oven longer.
Place the meatballs on the tray as you roll, giving them a bit of space in between—some of the excess fat from the sausage will seep out as you cook and you want to leave room for that to happen.
Cook in the over for 35 minutes. Once they’re done, remove from the oven and place either in a stove top pot with the sauce or a slow cooker (depending on how far ahead you’re making them). I’ve had dinner guests coming but made these at lunch time and left them in the crockpot on ‘keep warm’ for hours. My one word of caution—if you leave them in the sauce for too long at a higher temperature, they will fall apart and you’ll be having pasta bolognese instead of meatballs!
If I’m cooking for immediate consumption, I opt for stove-top. I use tongs to remove the meatballs from the cookie sheet so I can scrape the bits of fat off and nestle them in the sauce. I put the burner on medium-low and leave them simmering, covered, while I cook whatever pasta I’m going to serve them with.
Once the pasta is ready, place a few meatballs on top and ladle some extra sauce. I garnish with fresh parsley and a little additional cheese!