Who Are You Calling a Turkey, Meatball?
I consider myself quite fortunate that I grew up in a home where cooking was a second language served up alongside Neapolitan dialect. I only ever learned the curses and catch phrases of my culture, while every part of my being took to the language of food.
Summers spent jarring tomatoes did not go without learning, and days of double dinners did not go without the same education. I watched. I ate. I observed. I took in every move my grandmother made - the woman who trained my aunt and my mother. I recorded their movements in my mind and the moment I cooked for myself I was able to understand where my love came from. I understood what I’d been missing out on by simply sneaking cold meatballs and not taking the time to make them on my own; to experience their beauty. Cooking was at the heart of our home; mealtime was when we talked, fought, laughed, loved and stuffed ourselves full. Sure, I grew up using food as a vehicle to soothe myself, numb, distract and not feel all of the other feelings I felt and experienced outside of that precious 30 minutes of mealtime - but this gift of tradition changed my life. This gift of tradition that I took to the weight of 320 lbs also taught me how to lose 150 lbs on my own and keep it off for two decades. Evolving with my family food traditions has been a blessing that I share, now, with others. Grocery shopping, cooking, prioritizing time, moving slowly enough to think but fast enough to get the meal done … the continued curiosity that surrounds my life and love of food. The key is to never stop learning and doing … Even as I do it for myself, without a family, most nights cooking and plating for one.
For those without a tradition of food and cooking, I always imagine it’s hard to get into a kitchen groove. When I cook side by side with clients, what I’m asking them to do - in essence - is to start their own new traditions. I consider myself the cooking support bra they may not have ever had. I love being at the heart of what I know will make people feel more whole and closer to themselves. Many of my clients were told by their mothers to get out of the kitchen, while others have not been able to identify what flavors and foods they truly enjoy for themselves. I’m now reinventing those moments for them in their own homes. I’m giving people a tradition. For those sworn off from the kitchen, I remind them that my mother tried to put me on paper towel duty, but I refused. And if she wouldn’t let me near the stove - well - I would dip a piece of bagel in sauce, my favorite Sunday past time, watch ice skating with my side eye and zero in on her grace in the kitchen. A grace I knew I wanted have. I was young, I was growing in size with no one to understand why I used food - but I sat there always knowing I wanted to conquer my simultaneous love and fear of it.
While my parents took my bother in for surgeries and I begged to avoid free public school camp, chafing thighs and concrete knee scrapes - I was off to Riverhead. Riverhead weekends meant cable tv, my older cousins, sundaes at Friendly’s and embracing my aunts cooking. I was always a little afraid of my aunt. Aunt Jo was bossy, ok, maybe more direct. Particular, methodical - had and still has a certain way of cooking that is strictly hers. There’s order in her chaos, love in her food and fury if you dare cook the stem of a vegetable at the same time as a leaf OR if you trim too much from the tip of a string bean. There is no waste. She’s a brilliant cook, brilliant like my grandmother. My mother is brilliant, but strategic. Mom taught me what I need to learn about organization and building cooking into a hectic schedule. That woman cooked night after night even when she came home from the hospital with my brother and after 8 hour shifts on her feet at the bakery. I always imagined if my mom could come home and cook after working on her feet or hauling my brother around NYC hospitals all day; there’s no excuse for me. She’d come home exhausted, still answering the phone - hello, Bread Box - edging the phone between her ear and shoulder while she cooked and my grandmother called from downstairs to tell her tomorrow she’d be leaving dinner on our stairs so mom need not worry for a night.
While I write this from a place of cooking as skill, organization, support, learning, and an ever evolving love - I also cannot write without paying homage to a family meatball recipe. I think I’ve made you wait long enough. My Aunt Jo, mentioned above, was and still is an innovator in the kitchen. For as long as I can remember she’s been making meatballs with turkey chop meat and a sauce that harkens the angels of my childhood - a slowly cooked and caramelized carrot and onion song of simplicity and flavor. These meatballs - what I always took as her spin on our family Genovese Sauce of slow cooked caramelized onions with minimal carrots in a bath of wine, lamb bones and meat - this is a classic favorite she has taught me to make ahead, share and freeze if I need to. As I stand in my kitchen I can see her rolling and frying, although I’ve chosen to bake this batch for less mess and in an effort to veer on the side of being health conscious. This recipe has been shared amongst texts with girlfriends, my mom and now with you. I’ve remade them countless times for group dinners and had a chance to make them yet again a few weeks ago when my friend Julie came to supper. I’ve yet to introduce them into client work because most have wanted quick solutions to quell weeknight hunger spells and these are to be made slowly, with care and with time to spare.
These meatballs are ideal for spring and summer suppers, lighter than your average three meat ball. If you’re not making your standard meatball with pork, veal and beef - you’re missing out on flavor and my family would be very sad. But, we’ll get to those and our Sunday sauce some other time.
Don’t be scared by the cutting of onions and carrots, the process is light years faster if you have a food processor fit with a slicing blade, use it as an opportunity to zen out in your kitchen. And, since this recipe requires a hefty pour of wine - I recommend sipping as you perform the chore of loving your vegetables up - it’ll be more fun that way anyway. Eat this meal on a Sunday - Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday … anytime of the week and anytime of day, they’re the best. Yes, I’ve stood at my butcher block eating one of these cold for breakfast. You’re also allowed to.
I hope you will make these in your home and start building a new tradition of your own. You won’t regret this time spent in the kitchen. Do it for the love.
For the Turkey Meatballs
1 lb of ground turkey
1/2 cup of Italian seasoned bread crumbs
1/2 cup of grated pecorino
2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1 egg and 1 yolk
1/4 cup of mince flat leaf parsley
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for brushing the meatballs upon baking in the oven *This will help with browning and give them a little more color
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees
Line a roasting sheet with a Silpat or leave as is *I use a Silpat for roasting and baking food because it’s less mess and cleanup on the tray
Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix well until combined
Begin rolling into balls *I use medium sized ice cream scoop so they’re all the same size and cook evenly
Place meatballs on the roasting tray as you finish rolling
Once complete, brush with a little olive oil, and bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes until light brown and put aside
Turkey Meatball Tips
Turkey meat can dry out quickly when baked, so don’t skimp on the olive oil brushing - be generous
A good way to tell if these meatballs are cooked is to take them out of the oven, place on a counter and touch them with your finger - you need to interact with your food - and if they’re just soft to the touch, take them out before they’re over baked
I skip frying because it’s messy, I don’t generally fry and baking gets the job done at once while keeping a neat kitchen and then I can do other tasks on the stove while these bad boys cook themselves in the oven
Pro-tip: double this recipe and make extra meatballs so you can freeze them for future use on other sauce nights, pizza toppings, on the go lunches and sliced into soups
For the Carrot + Onion Sauce
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 x 2lb bag of carrots, sliced *I use the slicing blade on my food processor
1 x 2lb bag of onions, sliced *I use the slicing blade on my food processor
1 cup of white wine *A good wine you would use for drinking
Salt or Chicken Bullion to taste *I like Organic Better Than Bullion or Trader Joes Version
Slice all onions and put aside in their own bowl
Slice carrots and put aside in their own bowl
Add oil to a large pot or dutch oven and heat for 2 minutes on a medium high flame
Add onions and toss in oil to coat, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and allow to continue cooking until onions begin to become translucent, fragrant and melting down about halfway - 15-20 minutes
Once onions have melted down, add carrots and toss to coat *If anything is sticking at any point, add water 1 tablespoon at a time, moving your onions and carrots so they’re not sticking
Continue to cook carrots with onions for an additional 15-20 minutes on a medium low flame
Add wine, add meatballs to the pot, cover and allow to cook for an additional 35-45 minutes until carrots and onions are caramelized and wine has soaked into every last bit of bites in that beautiful pot