Make Turkey Kale Meatballs! (and other Good Ideas)

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Here we go with my favorite spiritual teacher again. (Richard Rohr, of course. I'm trying to figure out where I can buy a large poster of him and maybe get him to autograph it. He would be horrified since that goes against everything he's trying to teach. Sigh.)

But today I read, "Mystics [or lovers] do not love concepts. They love the concrete and the particular." For me, I immediately think of how settled, how grounded I feel in the kitchen. Yesterday, after a frustrating day of doing lots of work without much to show for it (Why does sitting the computer feel that way? I do not love coordinating sometimes.), I put on my apron at 5:30 and immediately felt better. I was going to produce something! There would be something to show for my 60 minutes of work! And it would make me and my family full and happy.

Yancey got some incredible organic meat from his co-worker and ground turkey was part of our package. I asked him to get more since I can think of about one zillion uses for it--meatloaf (drool), spaghetti sauce, burgers, taco salad (drool squared), breakfast sausage patties. It might not be sexy, but it's deliciously lean protein, especially these turkeys who were loved all their waddling little lives. 

But it was meatballs last night, this time dropped into a simple tomato sauce, served over linguine with chives from the garden and some Asiago on top. The kids have stalwartly put up with a lot of salads lately (LOVE that), so I enjoyed hearing Wyatt slurp and moan. The concrete and particular.

Here's a few other things that I do or have seen others do lately that help with this business of loving the concrete and particular:

  • I keep a tea tray ready all the time for myself or guests--teapot, tin of loose tea, sugar, small pitcher, spoon, and spoon rest. I love the ease of making myself tea when I'm overwhelmed or feeling low or being able to bring a tray out to someone sitting in my kitchen.
  • Turning phones off when going to the park with kids, being with friends, or exercising outside. Increasingly, we are so busy documenting that we're not living and noticing anymore. I recently read about Digital Burnout and how folks are now going to retreats to detox and come back to their lives.
  • I have a "gift stash" in my office, a shelf that's full of little things that most people (especially women) would like--candles, soap, chocolate, vases for flowers. I pick these things up while I'm doing other things (shopping for toiletries at Target or browsing Goodwill) and look for chances to give them away with a little card telling folks that I love or appreciate them. 
  • My friend Molly declared August "Corn Dog Month." She's got 4 boys (four!) and was tired of all the cooking and snack prep she was doing this summer and wanted to give everyone a break. She bought some huge bags of prepared food--burritos, mini corn dogs, pizza pockets--and didn't cook all month. Her kids now think she is Christ Jesus, they had a lot of fun, and she's already planning on doing it next August. (Do you see why Molly is one of my favorite people?)
  • Sending mail. Real mail. Emily and I both have boxes full of the things we've sent one another over the last dozen years. Boxes, plural. Someday we'll make a beautiful book, I hope. When I open my mailbox and see Emily's writing on an envelope, it almost doesn't matter what else has happened that day.

Happy Meatball-Making, friends! Put on that apron! (And if you don't have an apron you love? You've got to fix that.)

Turkey Kale Meatballs
You can put these in tomato sauce or do so many other things with them, and they'll freeze beautifully or keep in the fridge for a few days. Put them in pita pockets with veggies and a yogurt sauce, slice and fry them up with eggs in the morning, break them up and put them in burritos or on top of nachos, use them atop a salad with feta, pita chips, cucumbers, and tomatoes. 

2 lbs. ground turkey
2 Tb. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch kale, washed and finely chopped
1/4 lb. mushrooms, washed and finely chopped 
handful chopped fresh herbs--parsley, basil, oregano, thyme or just parsley if that's what you have
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1/2 c. bread crumbs (I just keep a bag of them in the freezer for things like this)
1 egg, slightly beaten
lots of salt and pepper

Heat oven to 425 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat 1 Tb. of the olive oil in a large skillet or wok. When shimmering, add garlic, kale, and mushrooms. Saute with a little salt until it's wilted down to practically nothing and all the water has evaporated. Set aside to cool a bit.

Dump the ground turkey into a large bowl. Add herbs, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, pepper, parmesan, and cooled veggies and mix with your hands very, very gently.

Form small balls (about 2 Tb.) and space out on the two cookies sheets. Drizzle with remaining 1 Tb. of olive oil and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they're golden and cooked through.

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

turkey meatballs
If you've been around me at all in the last three weeks, you know I'm engaged in a purge-a-thon around my house. If I don't absolutely love it or it's not essential and useful, it's being unloaded at Goodwill. This has meant (gasp!) several cookbooks, too. Usually ones that had nostalgic value, but hadn't been cracked open in years.

Jordan and I were wandering through the bookstore while she was home from NYC, and I had just finished pronouncing I was done with books. If I can't get it at the library or on my Kindle, forget it. Sarah the Minimalist is moving in. Then we came to the cookbook table, and Nigella Kitchen was 50% off. Beautiful, hardbound, full of her witticisms, great photos, and practical recipes. I looked at Jordan and said, "Forget everything I just said."

This recipe is an example of her accessibility. Granted, I don't need a recipe for tomato sauce or meatballs, but sometimes the discipline of following one gets me out of my ruts and habits. For instance, I'd never put pureed celery in a sauce. But the way she does it here give the sauce a brightness and sprightliness that I love.

Mixed with a pound of whole wheat spaghetti, topped with snowy shavings of parmesan, this made enough for two family dinners and a few lunches, besides. Definitely enough to justify the space the cookbook takes up. Right?

Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
I've changed the recipe significantly in that I bake the meatballs instead of dropping them into the sauce (as called for) or frying them, as many recipes suggest. I've never been happy with either method. Frying takes forever, as you need to do it in batches to avoid crowding. And dropping them in is supposed to produce the most tender meatballs, but the last time I did that, Mush Central. So I'm all about this new method. Perfect! Easy! Tender!


For sauce:
1 peeled onion
1 celery stalk
2 Tb. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 14 oz. cans diced tomatoes
3 c. water
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. kosher salt
pepper, to taste

For meatballs:
1 lb. ground turkey
1 egg
3 Tb. breadcrumbs
3 Tb. grated Parmesan
2 Tb. finely chopped onion and celery (from tomato sauce ingredients)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp. dried thyme

Preheat oven to 350.

Put the onion and celery in a food processor and blitz to a mush. Remove 2 Tb. for the meatball mixture.

Warm the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven and add the onion/celery mixture, garlic, and dried thyme. Cook on moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and water.  Season with sugar, salt and pepper, stir and let it come to a bubble, then turn the heat down to simmer gently while you make the meatballs.

Put all the ingredients for the meatballs, including the reserved onion and clergy mixture, into a large bowl and mix together gently. Don't overmix, or the meatballs will be heavy and dense.

Form the meatball mixture into heaped teaspoon-sized balls and put them onto a parchment lined cookie sheet. Put into the preheated oven and cook while sauce simmers--about 25 minutes.

When meatballs are cooked through, drop them into the sauce, let it simmer for a couple more minutes, and serve over whole wheat spaghetti with shaved parmesan.