Once strictly the revered centerpiece for special winter holidays, turkey now joins table fare year round, especially as ground meat. Low in fat and mild tasting, it fulfills the need for protein without offensive calories or gamy taste. As such, though, it can be perplexing how to make it appealing rather than just bland. Fortunately, turkey pairs well with a global range of spices and seasonings, so the cook can have a field day choosing which way to go. Here, distinctive Mediterranean flavors–orange zest, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese–add flair, and for an assertive finish, a chilied cranberry topping.
Notes: Be sure to use turkey thigh meat or a combination of breast and thigh with an added dash of olive oil; the breast alone is too dry for meatballs.
You can form the meat mixture into any size balls or patties, depending on how they are to be used. I usually make them into 1 1/4-inch balls, the perfect size for hors d’oeuvres with the cranberry ancho chili topping, or small breakfast patties, without the topping. Once formed, the balls or patties may be frozen for up to 1 month.
If you don’t have fresh or frozen cranberries for the topping, equally delightful would be Arugula Pesto, Avgolemeno, Rhubarb Compote, Strawberry Rhubarb Jam, Red Capsicum Marmalade, Watercress Cream, or your favorite tomato sauce.
Makes twenty to twenty-two 1 1/4-inch balls or 2 1/2-inch patties
1/3 cup shelled pine nuts
1 pound ground turkey, preferably from the thigh
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped yellow or white onion
1 teaspoon finely chopped orange peel
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons white wine
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1. If the pine nuts are raw, toast them in a small skillet or microwave oven until beginning to smell nutty, about 2 to 3 minutes either way. Let cool briefly until firm, then finely chop. If the pine nuts are already roasted, chop them straightaway.
2. Combine all the ingredients, including the toasted and chopped pine nuts, and knead with your hands until well-mixed. Refrigerate for several hours, preferably overnight, to firm and for the flavors to blend.
3. To use, roll or pat individual portions into balls or patties. Fry in a little butter or olive oil until golden and no longer pink in the center. Time will vary according to the size and shape of the balls or patties.
Cranberry Ancho Chile Topping
Makes about 2 cups
3 cups whole cranberries, defrosted if frozen
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange or tangerine juice
1/4 cup water
Combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Decrease the heat to maintain a brisk simmer and cook until the berries begin to pop and the liquid thickens, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, cool, and serve warm or chilled. Will keep in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.