Comfort Food for Trying Times

After 9/11, I remember being at a loss for what to offer the readers of my syndicated column, “That’s Entertaining,” that I was writing back then. Who, I thought, would feel like entertaining during such a horrific time? Then it came to me: food and the thought of food restores. In particular, such comfort dishes as roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy or golden chicken pot pies can lift spirits as well as satisfy our hunger.

After all that has happened this autumn–the hurricanes that have struck our country and the Caribbean, the earthquakes in Mexico, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and now the fires in California, I have found myself once again thinking of comfort food.

This time I’ve chosen taleggio-stuffed meatballs and spaghetti, with a spicy tomato sauce. These meatballs distinguish themselves from more traditional ones in several ways. They are prepared with ground dark meat turkey, and shaped into bite-sized spheres –around 1.5 inches in diameter. I stuff them with small cubes of creamy taleggio cheese, and then conveniently roast them rather than brown them in a skillet. Whole Foods sells ground turkey thigh meat in my area, but you should be able to find or order it from local stores or shops. If you can’t find taleggio, a good Italian fontina or even plain harvarti works equally well.

My husband groans whenever I say “ground turkey,” but was crazy about these meatballs, and has helped himself to seconds, and even thirds, each time I’ve offered them. My assistants who created the recipe with me have jumped at the chance to take home leftovers, and have served them to great reviews.

My hope is that this recipe will add some solace to these fraughtful times.


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Taleggio-Stuffed Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Spicy Tomato Sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp minced garlic
Two 28-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained well
1 1/2 tsp dried basil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
Kosher salt
1 1/3 cups chicken stock plus 1 cup extra if needed

1 lb ground dark(thigh) turkey meat
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup dry plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan plus 1/4 cup extra for garnish, preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley plus 1/4 cup extra for garnish
1/2 tsp dried crushed rosemary
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 medium garlic clove, peeled
1 large egg, whisked well
A 4-oz piece taleggio cheese, chilled (or Italian Fontina, or plain harvarti, chilled)

12 oz spaghetti
1 to 2 tbsp olive oil

1. For sauce, heat oil in a large skillet (with a lid) over medium heat until hot. Add onion and garlic, and stir until onion has softened and is transparent, 3 to 4 minutes. Add tomatoes, basil, red pepper flakes, and generous 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir a minute more. Add stock and bring mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and sauce is chunky, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly and then puree mixture in a food processor or blender. Season with more salt and red pepper flakes if desired. (Sauce can be prepared 1 day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat over medium heat, stirring, and adding extra stock if sauce is too thick.)

2. For meatballs, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment cut to fit.

3. To a large mixing bowl, add turkey, onion, 1/2 cup bread crumbs, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/4 cup parsley, rosemary, salt and pepper. Using a grater (such as a microplane) grate the garlic clove into the bowl. Using a fork, stir in the egg and continue to mix until all ingredients are blended well. With your hands, roll the mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls (using 2 tablespoons for each) and place them on the baking sheet with a little space in between each. You should get about 28.

4. Cut the taleggio (including the rind) into 1/4 to 3/8- inch cubes. (If using Fontina, remove rind.) With a finger push a cheese cube into the center of each meatball and then reshape firmly to enclose the cheese. Cover meatballs with plastic wrap and refrigerate to firm, at least 45 minutes or longer.

5. Roast meatballs until lightly browned on the outside (and quite browned on the bottom) and cooked through, 15–20 minutes. An instant-read thermometer inserted into center of a meatball should register 165°F. Some cheese may ooze from the meatballs-that’s okay. (Meatballs can be prepared a day ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature and reheat in simmering sauce in a skillet over medium heat. Or, reheat in the microwave in batches.)

6. Cook the pasta according to package directions and return to its pan. Toss with olive oil.

7. Divide pasta among four shallow bowls and toss with some sauce. Add meatballs to each serving and sprinkle with some remaining Parmesan and parsley. Serves 4.

Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2017

4 thoughts on “Comfort Food for Trying Times

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful post. These are stressful and trying times, indeed! I will definitely make this recipe. I took classes from you a few decades ago at la Belle Pomme and have most, if not all, of your cook books. I currently live out of the country but brought American Favorites with me. As a matter of fact, I just made your peppered salmon and corn chowder yesterday. It’s an autumn and winter favorite. My husband commented that it had been too long since I last made it. Thanks for your inspiring words and recipes!

    • Thank you so much for taking time to write such a thoughtful note. I hope your husband and you will enjoy this recipe too!!

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