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.
April 26th, 2011 at 9:37 am
I love Julia Turshen—she brings such grace to whatever project she works on, whether it’s a simple article in a magazine, an interview, or a book. Thanks for this, Tim.
April 26th, 2011 at 9:43 am
I love your questions for Julie, Tim. And the meatballs look perfect.
Lisa (dinner party) says:
April 26th, 2011 at 9:50 am
I love posts like this, Tim! Great work.
April 26th, 2011 at 9:53 am
This is an especially inspiring Lottie + Doof quiz. Love her voice and passion.
Sense of Home says:
April 26th, 2011 at 10:22 am
Thoughtful questions, got me to thinking how I would answer them myself. Spaghetti and meatballs, always a favorite comfort food.
April 26th, 2011 at 1:39 pm
Amounts for garlic/fennel seed?
Caroline Shields says:
April 26th, 2011 at 1:42 pm
I want that for dinner.
And I could not agree more about the avocado. Great post!
April 26th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
I’ve been noticing Julia Turshen’s work a lot lately too, for good reason. Love her voice and style–feel that we’re kindred spirits in the kitchen (not the east because my maiden name is Tirsch). Avocado with maldon salt? You read my mind. Lovely recipe here–great way to lighten the meatballs.
April 26th, 2011 at 2:53 pm
Julia is the best – and so so lovely in person!! Loved this interview with her!!
April 27th, 2011 at 7:37 am
Gwyneth featured this recipe on one of her first GOOP posts – properly credited to Julia, of course. It must be a stellar go-to recipe!
April 27th, 2011 at 8:57 am
Lovely! I love the idea of intentional turkey meatballs, so often people substitute turkey for a leaner version of something that was intended to be beef.
April 27th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
I love Julia Turshen!! These meatballs look beautiful and delicious. Love the idea of lemon zest.
April 27th, 2011 at 3:57 pm
Crunchy and salty! With you all the way on that!
April 27th, 2011 at 4:02 pm
tim, you always interview the most interesting people. love julia! this pasta made my heart race. turkey meatballs for life!
SMITH BITES says:
April 27th, 2011 at 5:59 pm
until now, i did not know the ‘name’ Julia Turshen but i’ve loved her work – actually, i think i had an epiphany watching the Spain: On The Road Again series; it was then i decided i wanted to do something with food, culture, storytelling – i loved everything. single. thing. about that series. lovely recipe to boot – and i’m definitely going to be ordering Gwyneth’s book – too many people have said they loved it!
April 28th, 2011 at 8:38 am
Side note — You got my vote for best food blog on saveur. I’m so glad they recognized your great work – photography, topics, food choices, and your sincere stories that give nods to others and not just yourself (you know how the blogosphere can sometimes get). I love your approach!
Sweets by Vicky says:
April 29th, 2011 at 8:38 pm
It’s hard not to fall in love with meatball and pasta. It’s almost like comfort food but more than that; it’s a way of reminding yourself that you can get through anything with a good meal! :) Love the quiz questions!
May 23rd, 2011 at 10:42 pm
made this tonight, so yummy. i have a feeling that my boyfriend and i will be fighting over left overs…
October 14th, 2012 at 5:53 pm
This has become my go-to meatball recipe. Sometimes I change it up, using bread soaked in milk instead of panko or adding ricotta. It’s a winner that feels decadent, but still is pretty healthy. My boyfriend also loves this recipe. It’s a total keeper. Thank you for posting!
October 15th, 2012 at 6:59 am
Thanks for checking in, Sophia! Glad you like the recipe.
December 9th, 2012 at 9:16 pm
Made this tonight. Absolutely delicious. Fennel seeds, herbs and lemon zest make it fragrant and flavorsome but like Sophia said, a fairly healthy hearty dish. Thanks for sharing!
November 8th, 2013 at 5:30 pm
Yummers…. my significant other wanted meatballs and spaghetti last night (usually a long and laborious process). I was reluctant at first, but he has a bad cold and was looking at me with puppy eyes. I relented and then miraculously remembered this recipe. God it was good and so easy! Thanks, Tim!
Jennifer Rasanathan says:
March 27th, 2017 at 7:39 pm
Referred back to this page after your recent post about small victories….lo and behold:
“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.”
Made me smile :)