Recipe: “Blonde” Meatballs & Spaghetti
Contributor Lisa Fielding is a private chef and boutique caterer based in Manhattan who weekends in Litchfield County whenever possible. Many of her Manhattan clients are also Litchfield County weekenders, so work brings her to Northwest Connecticut as well. A Los Angeles transplant, Fielding was a former Hollywood film executive who segued into screenwriting several years ago, which enabled her to pursue her passion for food and entertaining. Lisa’s culinary skill set draws from a broad spectrum of dishes and ingredients.
I love the concept of spaghetti and meatballs, but in reality I always find the actual dish too heavy, without tasting inspired or fresh. A bowl of pasta lacquered in heavy tomato sauce with even heavier meatballs might be the perfect answer to hunger pains on a wintry day, but what if you’re looking for something less filling, slightly more refined, and more presentable on the plate? Well, I happened upon a delicious path to a more delicate version of spaghetti and meatballs while cooking for a client and seeking a luncheon recipe to appease both children and adults at the table.
I always say that there is alchemy in the kitchen because if there weren’t, my career as a professional chef would have ended early into my tenure. For instance, there was the leg of lamb that despite following the recipe to the letter was completely undercooked and had to be butterflied and broiled until I could carve and serve it without destroying the beautiful piece of meat in the process. My clients later said it was the best leg of lamb that they had ever eaten. These little blessings happen all the time because, let’s face it, cooking is art and performance all rolled into one and just like anything else in life, there is room for error. And somewhere along the way, I have learned to trust in the process that no matter how bleak the scenario, the perfect solution is just a few deep breaths away.
Under similar circumstances, I developed this recipe out of necessity without any precedent for where I was going with the ingredients. My client had suggested a pasta with protein and also mentioned that there was ground turkey and a few eggplants in the refrigerator. Immediately, baked penne melanzane with a turkey ragù came to mind, but the creative side of my brain vetoed the notion and urged me to come up with something different. Note to self: cooking untested recipes for the first time at a client’s could be professional suicide or another good day in the kitchen. The gambler in me bet on myself, and a very clear image of turkey eggplant meatballs with a caramelized garlic olive oil sauce over spaghetti occurred to me.
And guess what? This dish turned out to be one of the most delicious and easiest meals I’ve ever prepared, while also hitting high marks for a gorgeous presentation. I plated it on a huge platter with a generous sprinkling of minced Italian parsley and additional freshly grated Parmesan, a blonde version of an Italian favorite. My clients loved it, too, and now it’s earned a place in the cookbook I will one day write.
So if you, like me, have fallen out of love with spaghetti and meatballs, rekindle your affection with mine.
Turkey Eggplant Meatballs with
Golden Caramelized Aglio e Olio
Serves 8 to 10
For the meatballs
2 pounds ground turkey
1 medium onion, finely diced
8 cloves garlic, finely diced
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 large eggplant, peeled and cubed
6 slices white bread, torn into pieces
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper (do not substitute with foil, or meatballs will stick).
2. In a large bowl mix the turkey, onion, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes.
3. Put the eggplant dice in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Drain and reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid.
4. Put the torn bread in a bowl and add 1/4 cup of the reserved eggplant water. Mash and squeeze the bread until it is a doughy, wet mass. If more water is needed, add a few more tablespoons one at a time.
5. Put the eggplant on a cutting board and chop until it is reduced to a pulpy purée.
6. Add the bread and eggplant to the turkey and mix well. Add the eggs and Parmesan and mix well. The mixture will be light and moister than a traditional meatball mixture.
7. Gingerly roll the turkey mixture into 2-inch balls and drop onto a baking sheet. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the tops are golden brown and the bottoms are crunchy. Set aside.
For the pasta
12 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 pounds dried spaghetti
1½ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup minced Italian parsley
1. Place the minced garlic in a small pot, not a saucepan, and cover with the olive oil. (This is not a sauté but a slower-cooked caramelization process that cannot be achieved in a shallow pool of olive oil. The garlic would cook too quickly and taste bitter rather than sweet and garlicky with a chewy texture.) Add the salt and the red pepper flakes. Cook over low heat until the garlic has caramelized and is golden and slightly browned on the edges, about 15 minutes.
2. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain but do not rinse; immediately place in a large bowl and toss with ¾ cup of the garlic olive oil. Toss with the Parmesan and parsley. Spread on a large serving platter.
3. In a large sauté pan over high heat, reheat the meatballs with the rest of the garlic olive oil for 2 to 3 minutes. Tumble the meatballs onto the platter and serve immediately.
4. Follow with a simple green salad. Mangiamo!