When the Going Gets Tough

Make Meatballs

Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Who doesn’t have stress?  Group it with taxes and death – unavoidable.  While we all have stress, some more than others, what matters most is how we cope with it.  My top stress-busters are to:

·         Call a friend

·         Take a walk or a bike ride in nature

·         Attend yoga class

·         Sink into a hot bath with something foamy and fragrant

·         Cook


When disaster strikes or life doesn’t go as planned, one recipe I turn to is meatballs. Last summer, my daughter and I missed an airplane and found ourselves with a “found day,” waiting to catch another flight.  Angry, frustrated and disappointed that our day was ruined, what could I do?  I went directly to the store and got all the fixings to make meatballs. 


Cooking is a rhythmic, freeing distraction from troubling thoughts.  The aroma of food in the making soothes the soul.  Working with the hands can relax the mind.  Anyone bread-baker will tell you that shaping dough can be therapy. Sitting down to enjoy the results is more therapy.  It is so simple. 



Photo by Lorelle Del Matto

Meatballs are the humble companion to my family’s tomato-based pasta sauce (shared in another blog).  I never made them until I married a man with Italian-American roots, whose family operated an Italian restaurant with a tradition of homemade pasta, meatballs and much more.  


Over the years my husband I have made different iterations of these meatballs, and, while we will probably always strive for a more perfect meatball, this is the version we deemed good enough to repeat and thus wrote down.


If you try the recipe, don’t expect them to taste like those from late father-in-law’s restaurant, or like those of most Italian Nonna’s.  First, we use ground turkey rather than ground beef and boost the flavor with Parmesan cheese and Worcestershire sauce, natural sources of flavor-boosting glutamates, along with anchovies which contain flavor enhancers called nucleotides.  An article in Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, May-June 2012 explains that when you combine sources of glutamates and nucleotides in a dish, the flavor impact is additive and you get a bigger umami flavor than each ingredient alone. 


We further amp up the flavor with finely chopped olives, herbs and red wine.  You could sub another liquid like tomato juice but there seems to be an added punch to using alcohol, which is able to bind to both water- and fat-soluble flavorings. 


Ground meat varies greatly in fat content which impacts the flavor and texture of the meatballs. I mix ground turkey with lean poultry-based Italian sausage.  See the notes with the recipe for details.


 Got stress?  Get cooking.


Rustic Italian Meatballs


Photo by Lorelle Del Matto


I use part ground turkey, with about 5 grams of fat per 4-ounce serving, and part poultry-based Italian sausage which is leaner than pork sausage.  Ground turkey breast, with almost no fat, is too lean. If you use ground beef, purchase a product labeled as “extra-lean” which by law can have no more than 5g total fat, less than 2g saturated fat per 100 gram or 3 1/2 ounce serving. 


Extra meatballs freeze well.  They’re good to have on hand when you need edible comfort.



2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 to 3 anchovies, drained

7 ounces (about 7 slices) fresh whole grain bread

1/2 cup red wine or tomato juice

1 large egg

1/2 cup finely shredded fresh parmesan cheese

3 tablespoons olive tapenade or finely chopped black kalamata olives

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano or marjoram (or 3 teapoons dried)

2 teaspoons each: chopped fresh rosemary and sage

2 teaspoons sea salt

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

2 pounds ground turkey

1 pound uncooked lean Italian chicken or turkey sausage, bulk or removed from casing


In large skillet, combine 11/2 tablespoons olive oil and onion. Stir and cook over medium to medium-low heat until onion is soft. Push onion to perimeter of pan and add garlic and anchovies to center of pan. Drizzle anchovies with remaining 1/2 tablespoon olive oil; smash with back of fork to make a smooth paste. Stir into onions. Remove from heat and cool. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Remove crusts from bread and tear into small pieces. Place in bottom of a large bowl; add red wine and egg. With a fork, mash bread with liquid to form a paste. Stir in cheese, tapenade, Worcestershire sauce, herbs, salt and pepper. Stir in onion mixture; ground meat and sausage (removed from casing if in links).  Blend well. Form into balls, about 2-inches in diameter.  Place meatballs on oiled baking sheets.  Roast 15 to 20 minutes or until cooked through, switching position of sheets in oven halfway through cooking.   Serve warm with whole grain pasta and tomato sauce.  Makes about 33 good-sized meatballs.


© 2013 Lorelle S Del Matto

lorelle About lorelle

Crazy about cooking, eating and sharing good food – my work and leisure revolve around the kitchen. As a culinary dietitian my professional life encompasses nutrition counseling and education, recipe development, product development, food and nutrition writing, marketing communications, corporate test kitchen and consumer affairs management, food styling and work as a product spokesperson.

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