Friday, July 29, 2011

Weekend Gourmet Flashback: Turkey Meatballs with Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Happy weekend, friends! We’re heading home to Houston to visit our families later tonight, but I didn’t want to leave without stopping by here first! I’m going back to last fall to repost another great recipe from the early weeks of this blog that you may have missed the first time: my spin on Giada De Laurentiis’s amazing Turkey Meatballs with Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes. This is my go-to spaghetti and meatballs recipe, because it’s just so fantastic...I’ve made it for company several times, and everyone goes absolutely NUTS for these delicious meatballs!
Let’s face it: pancetta pretty makes just about anything taste that much better!! If you’ve never tried it, pancetta is basically Italian bacon that's been cured with salt, pepper, and a few other spices. Unlike American bacon, however, pancetta isn’t smoked. Luckily, you can buy pancetta in the deli department at most large grocery stores. If you can't get your hands on pancetta, you can easily sub in bacon for these meatballs. The taste will be slightly different, but still delicious!
These meatballs are a bit lighter and healthier than most. They’re made with lean ground turkey...and they’re flavored with crispy pancetta, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh herbs. The meatballs are baked in the oven before simmering in a simple, light homemade tomato-basil sauce. Just before serving, the meatballs and sauce are tossed with freshly cooked spaghetti. This dish tastes like you spent all day in the kitchen, but the entire meal takes about an hour from start to finish.
Turkey Meatballs with Pancetta and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from Giada De Laurentiis, Everyday Pasta

Meatball Ingredients:
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced (I usually use a purple onion, but yellow is fine too)
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano cheese
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and cut into pieces (San Marzano are best if you can find them!)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil 
  • Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Step 1:  Preheat oven to 400. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped pancetta and cook for two or three minutes. Add the onion and cook until the pancetta is crisp and the onions are nicely browned. This should take about five more minutes. Let the pancetta-onion mixture cool off the burner. 
Step 2:  While the pancetta-onion mixture cools, make the meatballs. Put the turkey, cheese, parsley, bread crumbs, sun-dried tomatoes, eggs, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl. Add the cooled pancetta-onion mixture and gently mix until everything is just combined. Clean hands are the perfect tool for doing this quickly!

Step 3:  Roll the meat mixture into 2-inch meatballs and place on a greased baking pan. Bake for about 30 minutes, until they’re nicely browned. For reference, I ended up with 14 meatballs.

Step 4:  Bring salted water to boil in a large pot. Add a package of spaghetti and cook until al dente (approximately 10 minutes). Drain pasta and reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water. While the pasta and meatballs are doing their thing, make the sauce. Put the olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the diced tomatoes, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and four finely chopped basil leaves. Stir to combine and let the sauce cook/reduce for about 15-20 

Step 5:  Add the spaghetti and cooked meatballs to the sauce. Toss gently with tongs to evenly combine all the ingredients. Add some of the reserved pasta water if it looks like you need a bit more moisture...I usually add about 1/4 cup. Just before you're ready to serve, dust with parmesan reggiano and sprinkle three more torn basil leaves on top.

 I love these meatballs, because every bite is a different flavor: sometimes you taste the sweet-tart sun-dried tomatoes, and sometimes the pancetta flavor is more pronounced...but every bite is delicious!  If you have any meatballs leftover, they also make a really nice sandwich the next day. By the way, my go-to pasta is Rustichella d'Abruzzo. I've tried many brands of pasta over the years, but this is our favorite. It has a great flavor and texture when cooked. It costs a little bit more, but I think the end results are worth it!
Next Monday is August 1st...which kicks off a month-long celebration of The Weekend Gourmet’s first blogiversary!! I’ve got a lot of fun stuff planned to celebrate this occasion: several giveaways, cookbook and item reviews, and a fun cooking contest sponsored by Cookwell & Company. I can’t wait to share all this with you in the coming days!! We’ll kick the fun off on Monday with the first giveaway of the month. In the meantime, have a wonderful weekend...and try to stay cool out there!!

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