Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs

With a hint of fall now in the air, we’re looking forward to cozy, home-cooked dinners. So, for the next few weeks we’re featuring easy pastas — delicious recipes you can throw together when you want something comforting. First up, these turkey and ricotta meatballs from Julia Turshen’s new cookbook. Here’s how to make them…

Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs
From Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

The first thing I ever cooked for my wife, Grace, were these meatballs. I made the mixture at my apartment, then packed it up with a box of pasta, ingredients for sauce and a pot (she told me she had only a skillet) and took it all to her apartment… which soon became my apartment, too. The not-so-small victories here are getting someone to marry me (!), and also making meatballs that are a cinch, as well as light and tender. I’ve found that by adding a generous amount of ricotta cheese in the mixture you can skip the usual bread crumbs and eggs, which also makes this recipe gluten-free. Yet another (small) victory is baking the meatballs instead of frying them. It’s much less messy and so easy — a win-win. Serve the meatballs with pasta or just on their own! Whichever way you choose, be sure to sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Recipe: Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs
Serves 8, or 4 with lots of leftovers (makes about 30 meatballs)

You’ll need:

2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves; 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced
Kosher salt
1 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 lb ground turkey (preferably dark meat), at room temperature

Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children). Rinse one of the cans with about 1/4 cup water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.

In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey and 1 tablespoon of salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve over prepared pasta.

Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs

Thank you so much, Julia! Your new cookbook is lovely.

P.S. More recipes, including delicious chicken parm meatballs and Boursin pasta.

(Recipe excerpted from Small Victories, by Julia Turshen, with permission of Chronicle Books. Photos by Gentl & Hyers. This series is edited by Stella Blackmon.)