Turkey Meatballs in Lazy Marinara Sauce with Parmesan Polenta

turkey meatballs

It was just about one-and-a-half years ago that I discovered polenta on a trip to northern Italy. It was in Bergamo's Città Alta, sitting under a star-vaulted veranda in a restaurant named after the city's famous son and opera composer Donizetti, that I converted to cornmeal. It's funny because cornmeal is quite popular in Hungarian cooking, yet in my childhood my family never ate it. It took a trip to Bergamo for me to discover the merits of puliszka as it's called in Hungarian.

I think Hungarians love cornmeal almost as much as the Italians. As a recent convert to polenta, lately I've been finding all kinds of meals to pair it with. I love it with a fish curry, topped with a mushroom ragu, or served with meatballs--my favorite pairing so far. I might even say it's better than spaghetti and meatballs! But you'll have to find out for yourself.

turkey meatballs

Instead of making my meatballs with beef, pork, and/or veal, I love meatballs with either chicken or turkey. I just love the lightness that I can achieve with poultry. And I also love any excuse to use the herb sage, which I think pairs really well with poultry. And to make this recipe truly easy and even lazy, I make a super simple marinara sauce that consists of just two ingredients: tomato sauce and chicken broth. It does get spiked with fresh basil and dried oregano. But the meatballs also do their part in flavoring the sauce while they simmer away. The end results are fluffy and flavorful meatballs in a luscious, lip-smackingly good sauce.

In Italian this recipe would be called polpette di tacchino al sugo con polenta! I just love saying that because it sounds to rhythmic. I think I've given my inner nonna a chance to shine while making this meal. So, please try it with your family the next time you're looking for a new recipe to make for Sunday supper. I bet everyone will be smiling and mmm-ing in unison to Don Pasquale! Buon appetito!

Turkey Meatballs in Lazy Marinara Sauce with Parmesan Polenta

for the meatballs:
3 slices dry white bread, cubed
3 tablespoons milk
olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup finely chopped sage
1 large egg
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound ground turkey
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the marinara sauce:
1-1/2 cups tomato puree
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup torn basil leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the parmesan polenta:
fine sea salt
1 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
shaved Parmesan cheese, for serving

To start the meatballs, combine the cubed bread with milk and allow the bread to soak up the milk.

In a small saute pan set over medium-high heat, warm a tablespoon of oil. Add onion and saute until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant. Add the mixture to a large mixing bowl. Add the soaked bread, the sage, beaten egg, cheese, and turkey. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Using your hands, mix lightly until thoroughly combined.

With moistened hands, form the meat mixture into golfball-sized meatballs. Place on a tray lined with parchment paper. You should get between 14 and 18 meatballs.

Warm a shallow amount of oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Sear meatballs in batches until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Set the meatballs aside on a tray.

To make the marinara sauce, warm a deep skillet or medium-size saucepan over medium-high heat. Add tomato puree and chicken broth; bring to a simmer. Add fresh basil and dried oregano. Simmer until color deepens and sauce thickens, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add meatballs to the sauce, cover, and simmer until sauce is further thickened and the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.

To make the polenta, bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan. Season well with salt. Gradually whisk in polenta. Lower heat to a simmer, and cook, stirring every minute or so, for 25 to 30 minutes. Off the heat, stir in butter and grated Parmesan.

To serve, spoon a good portion of polenta into shallow bowls, and top each bowl with three to four meatballs and a generous amount of sauce. Garnish with shaved Parmesan. Yield: 4 servings.


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