Thursday, October 29, 2009

Turkey Meatballs with Tomato-Basil Sauce and Spaghetti Squash

Lest we get too far and I lose pasta aficionados altogether, we DO have these meatballs on pasta quite often and they are super yummy. That being said, we also really enjoy them over spaghetti squash as a lighter, more autumnal alternative. So...go with what you know, or give this a try.

And, while some naysayers may be inclined to think that a "meatball" must be either beef- or pork-based...think again! These easy-to-make Turkey Meatballs can stand up quite well to their beef or pork brethren. It's all in the seasoning. Onion, garlic, green pepper, basil, parsley, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper offer great flavor, ensuring that the turkey is more than adequately enhanced to take on the role of an "Italian meatball." (Who knew the role could so easily be re-cast?!!) Plus, you brown up the meatballs before dropping them into any sauce which guarantees that they get a beautiful, golden layer on them first. Once browned, you remove them to a plate while you get your sauce simmering in the drippings they left behind...yum!

While you can certainly use a favorite bottled spaghetti sauce, this easy Tomato-Basil sauce comes together so quickly, and tastes so fresh, that it's almost as easy as popping open a jar. You start with really good, canned tomatoes (like Muir Glen Organic Whole Plum Tomatoes) and blend them up with a few fresh herbs.

Then you pop the pureed tomatoes into a skillet with some sauteed onions, garlic, tomato paste and seasonings, and let the whole lot simmer for awhile before adding your meatballs back in the mix.

The spaghetti squash practically handles itself. Once prepped and popped into the oven, it does its thing and comes out perfectly baked. In the meantime, you can get the sauce and meatballs started. By the time you're finished with that...the squash is ready. I'm always somewhat fascinated (easily amused, I suppose) by the "spaghetti/vermicelli-like texture" you get when you fork over the flesh of this squash and end up with these beautiful, yellow strands of "pasta." Our girls used to love handling this task when they were little...kind of a magic trick of sorts...squash to pasta, voila!

Turkey Meatballs with Tomato-Basil Sauce and Spaghetti Squash
serves 4 to 6 (makes approximately 15 meatballs)

1 to 1-1/2 pounds of ground turkey (I use a 3:1 ratio of white to dark meat, respectively)
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
1/3 cup green pepper, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3/4 cup bread crumbs (see note)
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil

Tomato-Basil Sauce:
1 28-ounce can whole plum tomatoes
fresh basil leaves (approximately 10-15 leaves)
fresh Italian parsley (approximately 5-7 leaf clusters)
(use herb portions to your liking...I just kind of drop in a handful of each)
1/2 cup onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, worked into a paste with some kosher salt
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper, to taste (approximately 1/2 teaspoon and 1/4 teaspoon, respectively)
water or chicken broth to thin sauce, if necessary (depends on how thick you like your sauce)

Spaghetti Squash:
1 medium size spaghetti squash

Spaghetti Squash:
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Prick entire skin of squash, using a strong skewer, to ensure that steam will escape while baking (you don't want a squash explosion!). I find that a skewer allows you to easily poke holes in the squash without having to apply any (risky) driving pressure or stabs to the a knife or fork might require. (Placing the squash on a dish towel, or such, also helps keep it a bit more stable.)

Once out of the oven, just let it cool a bit before cutting it in half, lengthwise...

Then, using some tongs or a spoon, remove seeds and inner strands from squash to expose flesh...

Then, using a fork, gently scrap inner flesh of squash to easily shred it into pasta-like strands...

Place readied squash onto a plate and cover with foil to keep warm OR wait until your meatballs and sauce are ready before you cut and prep the squash.

Turkey Meatballs
1. Mix ground turkey and next 8 ingredients (through pepper). Form mixture into balls (approximately 1-2 inch in diameter...kind of like a golf-ball size).
note: while you can you panko or bread crumbs, I have to say that I used left-over pita chips for my crumbs this time around. We love the Stacy's brand of whole wheat pita chips but always end up with at least a quarter bag of crumbs. Rather than throwing them out, I just whisk them up in my food processor to a crumb-texture. My attempt at being thrifty!

2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add meatballs. Brown meatballs, turning to evenly brown all sides. Remove to platter but don't wash out your skillet (you'll use this same skillet -- with drippings -- for your sauce!)

Tomato-Basil Sauce:
1. Empty canned tomatoes into blender. Add basil and parsley and puree.

2. In the same skillet you browned your meatballs in, add onion, garlic and tomato paste and stir to remove drippings from pan. Saute until onion is just tender. Add tomato puree and mix in thoroughly. Add Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, to taste. Let simmer for approximately 30 minutes. Return meatballs to tomato sauce in skillet and continue simmering for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat.

Plate squash "pasta" and top with meatballs with sauce. Add a sprinkle of grated parmigiano reggiano cheese and serve.

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