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Posts Tagged ‘Pasta

Turkey meatballs and spaghetti

I don’t mean to offend anyone when I say this, but I don’t think I could ever live a meatless life. Sure, I could go days and even weeks without having a sliver of chicken or a bite of pork, but in the end I will always have cravings and go back to those things. As much as I like tofu and beans, sometimes they simply will not do.

I often joke with friends that I could never date, much less marry, a vegetarian. With a life partner, I’d want to share all my experiences all the way down to how amazing what I am eating is. If I can’t get my guy to understand why I am so obsessed with my favorite noodles or dessert, what else could he understand? What would an omnivore’s life be without knowing the taste of phở, a rich and complex Vietnamese noodle soup flavored by beef and oxtail bones, or a humble roast chicken, beautifully browned and seasoned?

I don’t want to know. Please excuse my desire for ignorance.

Meatball ingredients Meatball ingredients incorporated

Everyone has their own comfort foods depending on the culture in which they were brought up. For me, it’s a mix of Chinese, Vietnamese, and American foods — some of them include jook, a rice porridge often made with homemade chicken stock and cuts of chicken, among other toppings; phở, the beef noodle soup I just mentioned, and meatloaf, especially the ones that my dad always made when I was growing up. He often made them with a mix of different meat — sometimes it would be turkey and beef; other times it would be turkey, pork, and beef. It was constantly changing depending on what we had available in the fridge.

Mixing meatball ingredients

So I think my dad would be excited to hear that we recently made our own turkey meatballs and spaghetti. Making meatballs is much like making a meatloaf or a burger patty; the only real difference is the shape. The first time we used Ina Garten’s Real Meatballs and Spaghetti recipe, we used a mix of beef, pork, and lamb ground meat (one pound, half pound, and half pound, respectively), but since we wanted to reduce our red meat intake for last week, we opted to do all-turkey meatballs.

Yes, these didn’t have the same “wow!” factor as the tri-meat meatballs did, but these offered their own deliciousness, one that puts frozen or store-bought meatballs to shame. There’s simply no comparison. These turkey babies are lighter than light, almost airy. Each bite is soft and almost sponge-like. The addition of the chopped parsley as well as the freshly grated parmesan cheese also adds a complexity and freshness to the meatballs that you wouldn’t find in a package of meatballs you’d pick up at the local supermarket.

Tomato sauce ingredients

Some tips for making these meatballs: make sure to use the full amount of seasoning – NO skimping on the salt or pepper! The purpose of adding seasonings is to enhance the natural flavor of the meat, and two teaspoons of salt does just that for two pounds of turkey meat. We used white turkey meat, but you could easily use fattier ground turkey meat if you’d like. I bought two pounds of white ground turkey from the local Trader Joe’s, and it seems that every time when I am stir-frying it or shaping the ground meat into something, it tends to be a lot gooey-er and sticky than other ground turkey that I’ve worked with. Has anyone had the same experience with TJ’s white ground turkey?

Meatballs before frying

We had no store-bought bread at home, just the homemade challah (poor us, right?) I had made the day before, so we threw some slices of that into the food processor for our bread crumbs. We also used whole grain spaghetti because we like our whole grains and wheat. We nixed Ina’s tomato sauce recipe because we preferred Mario Batali’s basic sauce recipe; his recipe is a lot lighter in texture, not too thick, and seemed to go better with the turkey meatballs.

frying meatballs

stirring the turkey meatballs in sauce

Turkey Meatballs and Spaghetti
Meatballs adapted from Ina Garten; Tomato sauce adapted from Mario Batali.
Serves 5-6.


  • 2 pounds ground turkey
  • 1 1/4 cup fresh white bread crumbs (about 4.5 slices, crusts removed)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 extra-large egg, beaten
  • Vegetable oil
  • Olive oil

Tomato Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, 1/4-inch dice
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, or 1 tablespoon dried
  • 1/2 medium carrot, finely grated
  • 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, crushed by hand and juices reserved
  • Salt
  • Red pepper flakes (optional)


  • 1 1/2 pounds spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
  • Freshly grated Parmesan

Place the ground meat, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg, and 3/4 cup warm water in a bowl. Combine very lightly with a fork. Using your hands, lightly form the mixture into 2-inch meatballs. You should have 14 to 16 meatballs.

Pour equal amounts of vegetable oil and olive oil into a large (12-inch) skillet to a depth of 1/4-inch. Heat the oil. Very carefully, in batches, place the meatballs in the oil and brown them well on all sides over medium-low heat, turning carefully with a spatula or a fork. This should take about 10 minutes for each batch. Don’t crowd the meatballs. Remove the meatballs to a plate covered with paper towels. Discard the oil but don’t clean the pan.

In the same skillet as above, heat the olive oil for the sauce over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the thyme and carrot, and cook 5 minutes more, until the carrot is quite soft. Add the tomatoes and juice and bring to a boil, stirring often. Lower the heat and simmer for 30 minutes until as thick as hot cereal. Season with salt. Add a sprinkling of red pepper flakes if desired.

Return the meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 25 to 30 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through. Serve hot on cooked spaghetti and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.



  • itsgrant: I want to goooo! Me next vacation, hopefully
  • Jesslyn: Thank you so much for posting this! My husband (who spent several years in Korea) and I have been searching for a good recipe that will produce Ho Duc
  • Didi: I have been searching everywhere for a recipe for this dish and this was spot on!! Thanks for making me and my boyfriend VERY happy :)