The Question of Meatballs

Sicilian meatball

My Sicilian friend Katia first introduced me to this easy method of cooking meatballs.  I stood in her kitchen watching her form and drop meatballs into simmering sauce, and wondered if perhaps it was an Italian secret.  But after interrogating the wait staff at a variety of North End Italian restaurants, I found that the majority go for frying, touting the browned edges as flavor boosters.  But I must admit, these meatballs, simmered in wonderfully flavorful sauce, impart their flavor and become meltingly tender, unlike their fried counterparts.   I then thought that maybe this simmer method was specifically Sicilian, but in chatting with a colleague at work, discovered that his Sicilian wife bakes her meatballs. A mystery.

When it’s so cold outside that my eyes tear up as soon as I leave house, all I want is warm comforting food.  Hearty food. But given the abundance of holiday treats and frequency of holiday parties this month, I’m trying my best to eat lightly in between the festivities.  So healthy comfort food is the name of the game in December. And of course, with all those parties to attend, and cookies to bake, this is not the time of year for lengthy dinner recipes.

Which brings me back to these meatballs.  Is there anything better than a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs?  But ground lean turkey and egg whites make these lighter.  And if you choose, whole wheat spaghetti is a great alternative for a bit more fiber.  But what I love most about these meatballs is how they are cooked.  Simply form the meatballs and drop them into the simmering sauce, no need for added fat.  

How do you cook meatballs? Bake? Fry? Simmer?

If you have never tried the simmer method, I urge you to give it a shot.  Tender meatballs, extra flavorful sauce, and no added fat from frying.  I found this particular recipe in an old issue of Bon Appetit Magazine.  I love the use of pesto to flavor the meatballs.  You can use store-bought pesto or homemade, whichever you prefer.  And good quality store-bought chunky tomato pasta sauce is just fine here.  The meatballs will flavor the sauce itself anyway. But I like my quick-fix tomato sauce, so I have included that recipe for you below as well.

pasta with meatballs

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

adapted from Bon Appetit

Serves 6

4 cups chunky tomato pasta sauce  (store-bought or ee recipe below)

1 pound ground turkey

1 cup whole wheat breadcrumbs

1/3 cup pesto (store-bought or homemade) 

2 egg whites

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound spaghetti

Bring the sauce to a simmer in a large pot. Mix together the turkey, breadcrumbs, pesto, egg whites, and salt. Form into 11/2 inch meatballs. Drop the meatballs gently into the sauce. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente.  Serve the meatballs and sauce over the spaghetti.

Quick Fix Chunky Tomato Pasta Sauce

4 garlic cloves, sliced

1/3 cup chopped onion

2 tablespoon olive oil

1 26 oz package of Pomi brand chopped tomatoes

1/4 cup red wine

1 cup water

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1 teaspoon dried parsley

salt and pepper

In a large pot, saute the garlic and onion in oil over medium low until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, wine, and water along with the herbs, and simmer on low 15 minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Published in: on December 11, 2010 at 5:13 pm  Comments (24)  
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24 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful meatball and pasta recipe. Great that it comes from a Sicilian. It must be authentic!

  2. I use this method when making meatball soup but have never tried it with sauce. I kind of like the way the outside browns when you fry or bake them – but will definitely give it a try! I’ve met very few meatballs that I didn’t like – I love the pesto in these!

    • Oooh, yes, that makes sense. I must admit that I have had an Italian Wedding Soup recipe on my ‘to make’ list for years and just haven’t gotten to it. But I’m sure the meatballs give soup broth fantastic flavor.

  3. lovely recipe I think I cook them the same way and your right great comfort food
    enjoy the weekend Rebecca

  4. I love pasta and meatballs for the heartiness and delicious flavor; however I appreciate your recipe as it is leaner and healthier than most. Thank you.

  5. I like the idea of cooking the meatballs in the sauce rather than frying. I will bet they don’t get tough as they can when they are fried. Delicious!

  6. This is going to be on my table within the week!

  7. In later years, my mom also started putting her meatballs directly in the sauce, skipping the frying part. She also uses the meatballs to make her lasagna, by mashing them and adding them between the layers of homemade pasta dough. I still use her original recipe but bake mine. We’ve never used beef in the mixture, preferring a veal and pork combination. I love having extra in the freezer, they make a great last minute meal with some pasta.

  8. These meatballs look wonderful, wish we had some over here for dinner tonight!

  9. I love turkey meatballs and the comforting meal they make 🙂 I always bake my meatballs, but this simmering method definitely looks awesome!

  10. Great recipe! I love turkey meatballs. They are very delicious and healhthy. I sure will make this soon!

    Have a great week ahead.

  11. Ohhh, I have had such the craving for meatballs lately!! These look so amazing.

  12. wow this looks so yummy right now…totally craving for some:)

  13. I cant imagine a more delicious thing to eat on a cold winters day than those yummy meatballs! THey look super.
    *kisses* HH

  14. In recent years, I have taken to oven-roasting the meatballs to get that nice caramelization, before plunging them into the sauce. But, I can see how this direct method would make for a very tender meatball. I really like your healthy version here.

  15. wow, thanks for sharing this! I love meatballs, and this recipe is fantastic!

  16. Hi Katie – I use the simmer & bake method all the time especially when making koftas (indian style meatballs) and the ones I do with my marinara sauce. These look wonderful and so clever of you to do these with pesto…they will be bursting with flavor. Brava!

    Ciao, Devaki @ weavethousandlfavors

  17. This is my ultimate winter comfort food. My butcher does amazing tasting saussage meat and it’s so cheap that we have meatballs often. Personally, I’ve always been a fryer but I will definitely try this method next time.

  18. How scrumptious and homey, Katie. 🙂 I love meatballs any way they come! Fried with crispy bits, baked until they’re nice and firm and perfect for dipping. Now I must try them simmered in sauce. Delicious! 🙂

  19. I want to try both the simmering meatball technique and the recipe above! I’ve always fried. There’s a great recipe for “Military Meatballs” from the 40’s in a chapter of the Sterns’ book “Square Meals” that is lightyears from authentic Italian, but is nonetheless delicious. Thanks for sharing!

  20. I love the idea of pesto in meatballs, have to try this recipe, it sure looks delicious 🙂

  21. My Sicilian grandmother fried her meatballs and Italian sausage and then simmered both in her sauce, but this could have been something she began in America. I’m not sure. Simmering from the beginning is an interesting idea I’d like to try. Thanks.

  22. We make something called kofta curry, which is basically meatballs cooked in spicy tangy tomato curry. And I totally agree,though many people fry them, I just add them to the simmering sauce, makes them so much succulent and soft. I think a big reason people opt for frying and baking is
    1. The fear of the meatball falling apart
    2. The fear of uncooked meat

    Ofcourse, others just like the browning 😉

    Meatballs and pasta, what is more comfort food!

  23. Interesting debate! I was talking with someone about the same thing. I think it depends on what your parents taught you, my mom and grandparents swear on frying. I think it gives the sauce more flavor. Plus the inside stays nice and soft. I was eyeing your popcorn balls too.

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