I am a huge proponent of eating healthy (yet delicious) when I can, often altering recipes to make them healthier, and that almost always includes substituting ground turkey for beef when called for. I have dozens of recipes for turkey burgers, turkey meatloaf, turkey chili, turkey tacos, and yes turkey meatballs. And just when I thought my spaghetti and turkey meatballs couldn’t get any better I discovered an ingredient that brought them to a whole new dimension.
The secret ingredient? Bacon!
No I am not, and have never been, a bacon freak that loves to discuss the subject on a daily basis, twittering about bacon, joining bacon fan clubs, etc. Heck, I barely ate the stuff until very recently, but I have to say, I am quickly discovering the secret of bacon.
A recent edition of Bon Appétit magazine included a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs with a bacon tomato sauce; with bacon both inside the meatballs and in the sauce. After reading the recipe I was struck with curiosity and decided to give it a try (of course substituting the suggested beef for turkey). What sparked my interest is that I often run into a common dilemma when cooking poultry… drying out. Turkey can easily dry out creating a product that is not as desirable for a carnivore to eat as its juicy beefy counterparts. But, when I tried the bacon paste (below) mixed into the ground turkey it added the missing component; fat, which added a much-needed moisture to the meatballs. End result? The meatballs don’t taste bacon-y, just moist and delicious! And the amount of bacon added is so minimal that you have nothing to worry about. Believe me, it’s still a healthy meal! Below is my usual recipe for my red sauce and meatballs; only I have now added the bacon to both, inspired by Bon Appétit. I can’t wait to try the bacon paste in other turkey recipes, including my Gorgonzola stuffed turkey burgers! Yum.
Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs with Bacon Goodness
This may seem like a lot of instructions, but don’t worry, it is very easy and your reward at the end will make it all worth it! And if you don’t feel like making the meatballs, the sauce is a great, easy, red sauce for any type of pasta.
- 3 slices peppered bacon
- 1 package ground turkey (approx 1.25 lbs)
- 1 lg garlic clove, finely minced or pressed with garlic press
- 1/3 c. Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup panko or regular bread crumbs
- ¼ cup onion, finely diced (or grated as suggested in the Bon Appetit recipe)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- *3 strips of bacon, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small-med sized red onion, diced
- 2 med garlic cloves, finely diced
- 1 celery stalk, finely diced
- 1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
- ½ cup red wine (Sangiovese works well for this recipe)
- 1 (28oz) can whole tomatoes (quickly blended to take out the chunks)
- ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 dried bay leaf
Instructions for the whole shebang (meatballs and sauce together):
Starting with the meatballs: Place the bacon in a food processor and pulse it until it turns into a paste. Transfer to a large bowl. Add all other ingredients and gently combine together being careful to not overwork the meat. Roll into golf ball sized balls and set aside.
In a large pot over medium high heat cook remaining bacon until crispy. Remove bacon bits and set aside. Add 1 tbsp olive oil to the bacon drippings. Add meatballs and cook one side until brown, approx 4 minutes. Be careful not to move or turn the meat prematurely. Turn meatballs and brown other sides. Continue to cook until all sides are golden brown, about 10-12 minutes total. Remove meatballs and set aside on a tray.
Using the same pot, with all the goods inside start on the rest of the sauce:
* My normal sauce usually doesn’t start with the bacon, but I couldn’t resist, the addition is so good. Typically, my sauce (without doing the meatballs) starts out by cooking up 2 spicy chicken sausages (removed from casings, and broken up into bits, and cooked until browned). This time I substituted the bacon for the sausage, but the remainder of the sauce is made the same way.
Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and let cook 1 minute. Add the celery and carrots and sauté until all the vegetables are soft, about 7 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and wine and let reduce for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bay leaf, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf. Add the meatballs to the sauce and allow them to reheat in the sauce and simmer for about 10-12 minutes.
Pasta: Cook pasta according to box instructions. I always use whole wheat pasta because I love the added benefits of the whole wheat and added protein.
Place a layer of pasta on your plate and top with a few meatballs and extra sauce. Shave some fresh Parmesan cheese over the top, serve, and enjoy with a delicious glass of Sangiovese.
Leftovers? Use any remaining sauce and meatballs to make a delicious meatball sandwich the next day. Add a slice of mozzarella cheese on top and place the sammy under the broiler to allow the cheese the melt and enjoy more meatball goodness for the second day in a row.
For an acidic and somewhat heavy dish like red sauce I recommend a wine equal in acid and weight, and a typical sidekick for red pasta sauce is Sangiovese and I recently discovered a delicious new Sangiovese made by the owner of one of my go to wine shops.
2007 VIOLA Sangiovese, Nicolas Cole Vineyard, Walla Walla Valley, WA
Where to purchase: cork • a bottle shop
This wine was made by Darryl Joannides, owner of cork • a bottle shop, with grapes from Walla Walla, Washington.
This Sangiovese had plenty of dark berry fruit with some roasted meat aromas along with spice and vanilla. The mouth was rich and bold with some pretty spice characteristics with medium tannins and strong acidity.
The pairing: Now let me tell you, this is precisely why the Italians know what they are doing. Red pasta sauce with Sangiovese = happy marriage. I can’t really think of a better pairing to demonstrate how acid in wine paired with equal acid in food work together to create a perfect harmony. The acidity in both dishes complimented each other very well. The pasta and meatballs brought out a smoky characteristic to the wine that wasn’t as distinct before. The spice and richness of the sauce was right on balance with the weight of the wine. Mmm mmm good.
Please try this for yourself. And even if you don’t feel like making the recipe exactly, consider adding a bit of bacon paste to your next ground turkey recipe. It’s pretty awesome and gives you the moisture often missing from lean meat like turkey!