Slow-Food Convenience: Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs

16 Jan

Ingredients of meatballs, the colors of the Italian flag

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love to cook, there’s nothing more unappetizing than the notion of creating a warm, wholesome (read: three course, three-hour) supper for the fam after a long day at work. Yes, the idea of filling my home with the celestial scent of braising meats, roasting tomatoes and melting cheese triggers my most visceral nesting instincts, but on an average Wednesday at 7 pm after a day schvitzing over my TPS reports and grinding through a hectic commute, momma ain’t cooking a meatloaf.

Empirical data suggests I’m not alone.

Since the advent of tertiary processed food, Americans have embraced the shortcut lifestyle. After World War II, most large-scale food companies were saddled with an enormous excess of product, and they responded as all quick-witted American capitalists have: by inventing a market into which they could pour their surplus.

Suddenly, store shelves were awash with canned and frozen meals, shelf-stable powdered cakes and gravies, and we lapped up the shortcut lifestyle it afforded – and the vats of fat and sodium that came along with it.

Frowny face. Weh …. weeeeh.

In 1954, the folks at Swanson (most likely cackling with glee while guzzling martinis and stroking fat, black, purring cats), introduced the – wait for it – TV Dinner! Horrors! The first year on the market, it sold 10 million units.

And now, we’re a nation of convenience addicts. A confluence of sociopolitical factors have helped enable our addiction, of course. (More women working, our country’s perennial obsession with whiz-bang space age anything, fewer families that prioritize meal-time together, etc.)

So when I heard that Hostess was filing for bankruptcy, I was shocked – and, I admit it, greatly saddened. I wholeheartedly welcome the green food / slow food / locavore revolution that’s sweeping the country, but I’ll always have a soft spot for Twinkies, arguably Hostess’ most ubiquitous product. I associate them with the pure, unadulterated sweetness of early childhood.

Meanwhile, they’re made with flour bleached with chlorine gas, brimming with white cellulose gum and Polysorbate 60 filling, and coated with corn dextrin. But contrary to many pundits’ initial reactions, Hostess’ demise cannot be blamed on the foodie revolution, and the general public’s demand for whole grains in everything. In reality, it’s rising pension and medical costs for its 19,000 employees and the sky-rocketing prices of commodities like sugar (up 21%) wheat (up 69%) that are grounding the great, transfat-fortified Hostess blimp.

So is the potential destruction of the 82-year old candy snack (rumored to be) the most likely to survive a nuclear attack some sort of existential, metaphysical metaphor for the dangerous, self-destructive path so many of us find ourselves on when we look for cheap shortcuts in life? I don’t know.

But it did inspire me to make my own form of foodie convenience snacks this weekend: meatballs! And as far as I’m concerned, no one makes meatballs like the Italians. I cranked out a version of Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs that I can eat “on the go” – or with candlelight and proper cutlery, leisurely, with my husband, while we calmly talk about our day, find

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before taking our toast and tea.

Any meat will do. Click on for my recipe.

Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs

Makes 8 servings, and about 16 big balls


  • About 2 pounds good ground turkey (not lean; go for the thigh meat if possible)
  • 2 cups whole milk ricotta

Shell out a few extra bucks for the good stuff

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup plain bread crumbs

Resist the urge to substitute dried herbs for fresh in any meatball recipe; you need that touch of springy zing

  • 1 oz freshly grated Parmesan
  • ½ cup fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Flour for dusting
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 3 cups favorite tomato sauce


  • Mix together all ingredients (up until the flour) with a big rubber spatula in a huge bowl, using as few strokes of the spatula as possible. Overmixing it will lead to tough balls, so not delicious. Chill, covered, for at least 30 minutes to firm up, and up to 2 days.

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Dust each ball with a healthy pinch of flour. (I get a bowl of flour out, add a bit of salt, and just roll each ball in the flour). Fry in an well-oiled skillet (about ½ inch of oil) on super-high heat until golden brown. Do this in batches or you’ll steam the balls – about 3 balls per medium-sized skillet. Drain on a paper-towel lined plate.
  • Transfer to glass casserole dish, cover with tomato sauce, cover with foil and braise for 45 minutes in the oven. Serve on slider buns, cooked pasta, or solo.

Nutritional Breakdown of Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs: About 500 calories and 20 grams of fat.

Cost Breakdown of Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs: Ground turkey is on sale at Whole Foods! So $2.50 per serving with fancy Ricotta.

Verdict / In the Future: As long as you have a protein, a binding agent and gooeyness in some form, pretty much anything flies with meatballs — I’ve even heard tell that vegetarian meatballs, made with lentils and walnuts are delicious. Leave it to the New York Times to spread vicious rumors like that.

time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;         30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

One Response to “Slow-Food Convenience: Turkey-Ricotta Meatballs”

  1. Susan January 18, 2012 at 9:25 am #

    I love that “schvitzing” made it into your post. And I *love* the foods that I can make and freeze and whip out when I’m feeling too lazy (or can’t be arsed, as they say in London) to cook an elaborate meal. This is a nice recipe.

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