The War of the Meatballs



To try Sophie's recipe for turkey meatballs with pine nuts and golden raisins, click here, or click here for a recipe for a cinnamon-laced tomato sauce to accompany them.

One recent Sunday, I found myself on the hunt for a healthy meatball, for two reasons. One, who doesn't like a good healthy meatball? And two, my boyfriend makes phenomenal meatballs, and I was determined to one-up him.

His brain works in a way mine doesn't, which enables him, seemingly intuitively, to be good at things at which I'm awful: he can use Microsoft Excel, parallel park, thoughtfully answer inane questions lobbed at him during job interviews—the list goes on. (For fun, he once asked me to answer one such question: "How many golf balls can you fit on a plane?" I started with my base unit of measurement, the "dad," as in "one dad," because my father is six feet tall. I pictured dad-clones lying head to toe in the aisle of a 747, and reasoned that, for starters, the plane was 20 dads long.)

My boyfriend's ability, however, doesn't translate to the kitchen, where he's generally a mess—except when it comes to his signature dish, the meatball. With my sub-par reasoning skills, I figured that all I had to do to reclaim my position as "Better All-Around Cook Than Dave" would be to make an even better meatball. (I'm not competitive.)

To make things easy, I could have taken his recipe (base meats: ground veal, pork, and beef) and added ground bacon. Bacon makes everything better. But I had to go above and beyond. I had to make a tastier meatball that was also—healthier. So I'd be working with turkey meat, the other other white meat.

Dave's recipe calls for onions, garlic, parsley, Serrano peppers, bread crumbs, cheese, and egg to be mixed with the meats—standard meatball procedure. But with a turkey meatball, I'd have to pack in even more flavor. I added jalapenos, plumped-up golden raisins, and pine nuts toasted until they almost burned (a riff on Lidia Bastianich's turkey meatball recipe), then mixed in more egg than usual, and a few glugs of milk to keep the meatballs moist.

Nervous that baking wouldn't yield a brown and crispy crust, I seared the meatballs in a pan, baked them in the oven until they cooked through, then simmered them in a rich tomato sauce to ensure juiciness. With a deep caramel color on the outside, they looked delectable.

I invited some friends over to ensure that the taste test would be fair. Minutes after we sat down, their bowls of food had been devoured. I had to make more spaghetti on the fly, and one friend asked me for the recipe the next day, both good signs.

Still, it wasn't until I received an email from Dave two days later around lunchtime that I exhaled. He'd taken the leftovers to work. Entitled "Turkey Meatballs," it said, simply: "Yours might be better than mine. I'm serious."