I’d been coming across Julia Turshen ‘s work for a while now and am always impressed by her voice and the projects she is involved with. She bills herself as a personal chef, writer and producer and seems to do all of those things well. She worked on Spain: On the Road Again, the beautiful PBS travel/food series that featured Mario Batali, Mark Bittman, Gwyneth Paltrow and Claudia Bassols. But what the show really featured was Spain, and it did so beautifully.
Julia also contributes to GOOP  and worked with Gwyneth Paltrow on My Father’s Daughter, which has already been featured here . All of her projects manage to be both smart, beautiful and really engaging. (I think I might want to be Julia when I grow up)
Her next project, The Kimchi Chronicles , finds Julia working with Marja and Jean-Georges Vongerichten on a PBS series (and book!) “about rediscovering Korea and its cuisine and translating all of it into easy, approachable recipes for the American kitchen”— sounds amazing.
I asked Julia to share a favorite recipe with all of us and can say that she is as kind and charming as she is talented (if you want more evidence, check out this great interview with her over on Design*Sponge ). And these turkey meatballs are fantastic. I don’t cook with meat at home very often, and so it is always an occasion when I do. These meatballs are perfect for a special occasion, or a weeknight meal. Julia brightens them up with some lemon zest which really makes them shine. We feasted on these and then enjoyed the leftovers (which are great on a sandwich!) for the next couple of days.
Why this recipe?
This is probably the dish I make most often and is the most requested. I make them for clients I private chef for, for friends, for my family (sadly my brother has an aversion to fennel seeds, which I think is entirely lame, but family is all about compromise and, well, I do love him). I also love making them, I find the process completely satisfying from the initial sweating of the onions to the careful, loving browning of each meatball, to simmering them on the back burner. And they’re especially great because they only get better the next day so ideal to make ahead of time and then just reheat. And who doesn’t adore spaghetti and meatballs? The recipe I gave you is truly just a base—they come out a little differently each time I make them depending on what herbs are around, etc. And lately I’ve been increasing my breadcrumb-to-turkey ratio and also using fresher breadcrumbs and I find together that makes for a much softer meatball. Also, I know turkey sounds like a substitute—but truly I prefer these to all beef meatballs any day. They’re lighter and the flavors of parsley and fennel really shine.
And of course….
Lottie + Doof Food Quiz by Julia Turshen
Sweet or salty?
Salty. Without a doubt. And preferably crunchy and salty.
Chocolate or vanilla?
I think a scoop of vanilla ice cream is a near-perfect thing. So minimal, so chic, so delicious. I do really love dark chocolate-covered graham crackers though—they’re one of my grandmother’s favorite things.
Hot or mild?
What won’t you eat?
I literally eat everything and anything and enjoy most of it. I did eat raw sea squirt in Korea, though, and definitely don’t need to do that again.
Most memorable meal?
This is terrible question. It’s like choosing a favorite song or person or child or something. The one that jumps to mind, though, happened exactly two years ago at my best friend’s mother’s old house in Los Angeles. She and I prepared an epic Mother’s Day brunch that included corn cakes, fried chicken, fried green tomatoes and okra, eggs and bacon and were there collard greens? And shrimp and grits with scallions and perfect biscuits and sorghum molasses and freshly squeezed blood orange juice and champagne. And the greatest group of people and it all had the most tremendous spirit and it was a beautiful day and wow. That really was great.
Favorite object in your kitchen?
Probably my classic, no frills Bodum French press. It is the gateway to my first cup. I also have a lot of inherited objects that I use constantly that have great sentimental value—an orange, ceramic pot and a cleaver from a dear woman named Flo, who is so sadly no longer with us. A chopping blade from my grandfather, who I sadly never knew. My grandmother’s silverware, my mother’s striped mixing bowl, the most insanely stunning carbon steel knife from a friend. I love anything that’s not brand new.
What are you scared of in the kitchen?
Children running around, especially when the stove is full of pots and boiling things. It makes me terrified.
Do you prefer to cook alone or with others?
The majority of the time I prefer to cook alone, but there are a few exceptions .
What country would you like to travel to for the food?
Lately I can’t get Mexico off my mind. A really great friend of mine is from Mexico City and I got to spend a few days with her there after we graduated college and we put away some serious food! I want to drive around the country with her and eat fish in Veracruz and molé in Puebla.
If you were to come back as a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
An avocado, sprinkled with Maldon salt.
What’s for dinner?
Last night it was bourbon with bitters and ginger ale and not enough lime. Tonight it’s Gwyneth’s duck ragu, the absolute best recipe in My Father’s Daughter .
Huge thanks to Julia, for stopping by. I am so excited to see what she does next!
Julia’s Turkey Meatballs (recipe by Julia Turshen)
SERVES: 4 (makes about 2 dozen small meatballs)
TIME: an hour, plus at least 20 minutes of simmering
- 2 tablespoons olive oil plus 2 additional tablespoons
- 1 large yellow onion, very finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- coarse sea salt
- freshly ground pepper
- 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes, pulsed in a food processor with their juice or crushed by hand
- 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
- zest of 1/2 lemon
- 1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 pound ground turkey (preferably dark meat)
- 1 egg
- 1 pound spaghetti, cooked just before serving
- 1/4 cup basil leaves, roughly torn
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for about eight minutes, sweating it without giving it too much color. When it’s soft, add the garlic and fennel seeds and season generously with salt and pepper (about a teaspoon of salt and a half teaspoon of pepper should do). Sauté for an additional three or four minutes. Remove and reserve half of this onion mixture in a large mixing bowl. Add the tomatoes and their juice to the remaining mixture in the pot, turn the heat to low and simmer while you make the meatballs. Be sure to put a little water in the tomato can, swish it around and add it to the pot (don’t waste a bit!).
To make the meatballs, combine the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsley, thyme and rosemary with the reserved onion mixture. Add the turkey and egg and mush it all with your hands (the best tool for this job) just until everything is well-combined, don’t over mix. Form the mixture into 1-1/2″ balls with your hands (of course you can make them whatever size you like). Heat the last two tablespoons of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Making sure not to overcrowd the pan, brown the meatballs (should take about five minutes). Put the browned meatballs into the simmering tomato sauce and let them cook, shaking the pot occasionally to roll the meatballs around, for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour and a half. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Serve with spaghetti and the torn basil.