Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs

Spaghetti and meatballs in a white bowl, topped parsley and parmesan cheese.

[Welcome to Even Better on American Home Cook, where I update AHC oldies with new knowledge, better techniques, and extra focus on weeknight time constraints. Enjoy this story from March 2018, with an Even Better recipe.]

3/28/18

I wasn’t ready to admit that I love spaghetti and meatballs until I (recently) recovered from adolescent insecurities.

I was afraid to accept my penchant for this kid-friendly classic because of it’s obvious, universal appeal. It’s like saying you think Brad Pitt is attractive (I do) or that Christmas is your favorite holiday (I mean, duh).

Spaghetti and meatballs is the simplest, most beloved of American dinners. It’s hardly anything to write about.

Side view of a skillet with cooked tomato sauce and meatballs in it.

Plus, the stakes are high when recreating anyone’s favorite dish.

I’ll just say this: a classic meal is meant to be riffed on, torn apart, reimagined, then destroyed again.

Think of how many versions of the Mona Lisa there are. Some people prefer the original, some prefer Mona with a mustache.

Trigger warning: the following recipe may offend you.

Overhead shot of turkey meatball ingredients in a glass bowl.

I’ll get the worst part out in the open: I use ground turkey for my meatballs.

I do this because I am more excited by the sauce than the meat, and beef outshines everything that tries to compete with it.

This is not a recipe for great meatballs, it’s a recipe for great spaghetti-and-meatballs. The dish is more cohesive if meat does not play the main role.

Overhead shot of uncooked turkey meatballs on a white plate.

Next bombshell: I do not bake or fry the meatballs before introducing them to the sauce.

I find this step unnecessary, and the meatballs almost always dry out (especially if you’re using turkey) if you bake or fry them first.

Overhead shot of marinara sauce ingredients including canned tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and parsley.

Finally, just to really piss you off, might I suggest serving the turkey meatballs over spaghetti squash instead of pasta?

Roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper, spaghetti squash turns from lemon-yellow to bright golden in the oven. Shred the inside of the vegetable with a fork, and it comes out in thin strands like angel hair pasta. Perfectly al-dente.

I don’t suggest making this swap all the time, but I want you to know the option is out there, and it’s delicious.

Spaghetti and meatballs in a white bowl, topped parsley and parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti and meatballs is iconic; it’s a cultural phenomenon that belongs to everyone in their own way. And I’m finally ready to admit- this is the way I like it.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

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Serves: 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cooking Time: 30 minutes

Lightened-up turkey meatballs baked in simple homemade marinara sauce and served over spaghetti squash or pasta. An American dinner classic, my way.

Ingredients

  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • For the sauce:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 28 oz can whole or crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Fresh torn basil or chopped parsley, for topping
  • 1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, or 1 roasted spaghetti squash, for serving
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, optional, for serving

Instructions

1

Place the turkey, breadcrumbs, egg, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley and red pepper flakes in a large bowl. Mix lightly with clean hands or a fork. Using a greased tablespoon measure, divide the mixture into rounded tablespoons and place on a parchment lined sheet pan. With greased or wet hands (to prevent sticking), lightly form the mixture into small meatballs the size of ping pong balls (or larger if you'd prefer). You will have about 20 meatballs. Keep them in the fridge while you make the sauce, this will help them hold their shape.

2

Meanwhile, heat the oven to 425F.

3

For the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large, oven-safe (12-inch) skillet over medium low. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 1-2 minutes. Add tomatoes, 1/2 cup water, red pepper flakes, dried oregano and 1 tsp salt. Simmer until thickened, 10-15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4

Add meatballs straight from the refrigerator into the sauce. Cover the skillet with an oven-proof top (I don't have one so I just use tin foil). Transfer the skillet into the oven and bake, covered, for 8 minutes. Uncover, return to oven and bake 2-4 mins more until meatballs are cooked through (internal temp of 160F) and lightly browned on top.

5

Remove the skillet from the oven and garnish with freshly chopped parsley or torn basil.

6

Serve with spaghetti, spaghetti squash, or any alternative (blasphemous) combination you'd like. Whatever the finished product is, be sure to top it off with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan.

Nutrition

  • 409 Calories

Notes

Although spaghetti and meatballs is not actually an Italian dish, it pairs wonderfully with Italian wine. Try it with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a light Sicilian red. Since we are using turkey meatballs, I would stay away from overly heavy reds. You could even go for a really dry Pinot Grigio if you wanted white wine.


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