It’s taken me quite a while to board the ground turkey train. Even as a healthy eater, ground turkey just never appealed to me in the slightest. I’m not even all that crazy about the big roasted bird, so it makes sense that I wouldn’t go gaga over a ground version. Plus, ground sirloin is lean and tasty, so why bother?
Well, originally? Largely because of money. Calorie-wise, most ground turkey is similar to ground sirloin, especially if you’re using “ground turkey” vs. “ground turkey breast.” It’s true that you should limit your red meat, but you don’t need to stay away from it altogether. But when it comes to cost? Well, since we started buying organic/grass fed/humanely treated animal meat, ground turkey is just a lot cheaper than ground sirloin or lean ground beef. So, while we still purchase red meat, we’ve reduced it a bit in lieu of things like ground turkey and turkey sausage.
The good news is I’ve learned how to use ground turkey pretty well, which is to say it’s more of a blank canvas than anything, sort of like chicken breasts. As long as you use great tasting ingredients, the turkey will be pretty great tasting, too. And in my mind, you can never go wrong with anything pesto flavored. I’ve been wanting to make turkey pesto meatballs for a while, but it finally happened recently when I had some extra basil to use up. I doctored up my standard meatball recipe, and it turned out wonderfully. I can honestly say I didn’t miss the beef at all and Tom commented both at dinner and the following day, after eating leftovers for lunch, how great the meal was. Zachary for his part also ate 3 meatballs, so I’d say it was a winning dish all around.
Spaghetti and Turkey-Pesto Meatballs
1/3 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup milk
1.5 Tbsp. pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup loosely packed fresh basil (about 1 oz.)
4 tsp. olive oil, divided
1/3 cup finely diced onion
1 lb. ground turkey
1 tsp. salt
ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup Parmesan or Romano cheese
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup beef broth, chicken broth, or water
1/2 tsp. oregano
salt and pepper to taste
fresh basil, optional
8-10 oz. dry whole wheat spaghetti
To make the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 375. Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl and pour the milk over the top. Allow the breadcrumbs to soak as you prepare the next steps. In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts, stirring until golden brown and fragrant. Cool slightly and place in food processor. To the food processor, add the garlic, basil, and 2 tsp. oil. Pulse until well blended.
Heat the oil in a skillet (I just use the same one I used to toast the pine nuts) and add the onion, cooking until translucent. Cool slightly.
To the breadcrumb mixture, add the turkey, salt, pepper, egg, cheese, onions, and basil mixture. Mix until just incorporated, being sure not to overmix. Form the mixture into meatballs and place on a baking sheet (I like to line with foil for easier cleanup). Bake until nearly cooked through, about 10 minutes for 1″ meatballs.
To make the sauce: Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and add the oil. Stir in the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper, stirring until fragrant, about 1 minute. Deglaze the pan with the balsamic vinegar, scraping to remove any browned bits from the pan and allowing the vinegar to become absorbed. Add the crushed tomatoes, broth/water, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer over low heat as the pasta and meatballs cook.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the pasta and cool until al dente.
Remove the meatballs from the baking sheet and place them in the sauce. Cover and continue to simmer until meatballs are thoroughly cooked and pasta is ready. Serve the sauce and meatballs over the cooked pasta, topping with additional fresh basil, if desired.