We normally have a big, Italian food feast on Christmas Eve, but this year was more low-key and we almost skipped our Italian dinner all together. Most of our family was out of town, so it was basically my immediate brood and my mom visiting for Christmas. I thought I would miss the crowd, but as great as it is to have everyone over, I really liked the small intimate, informal group this year. It was so relaxing to just have us. Anyway, I almost decided not to do any type of Italian meal and then changed my mind at the last minute. I found this recipe in a brand new, never-used cookbook from Pam Anderson (NO, not THAT Pam Anderson!) and decided to try it. I was even more pleased when I discovered that I had everything on hand for it, and I didn't have to make another trip to the store on Christmas Eve!!! As it turned out, my little family loved this dinner and it satisfied our Christmas Eve Italian food criteria. The recipe itself was a bit involved; but since it was a holiday, I really didn't mind so much. (Also, I've made it since and it get's easier to put together with practice.) I can't wait to explore more recipes in this cookbook, that's for sure!
One Pot Penne with Turkey-Feta Meatballs
From: Pam Anderson's Perfect One-Dish Dinners: All You Need For Easy Get-Togethers cookbook
8 garlic cloves, peeled, 3 left whole, 5 minced
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (94 percent lean)
3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, plus more for topping
1/2 cup crumbled saltine crackers (about 12 crackers)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 3/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 large egg
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
4 thin slices prosciutto (about 2 ounces), minced
1 cup dry red wine
2 cans (28 ounces each) crushed tomatoes
1 pound penne pasta (I used whole wheat penne)
Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 whole garlic cloves and toast until spotty brown, about 5 minutes. Remove garlic from skillet, smash and mince.
Meanwhile, break up ground turkey into a medium bowl. With a fork, mix in feta, cracker crumbs, oregano and ¾ teaspoon salt. Mix egg, minced toasted garlic and tomato paste together; stir into turkey mixture with fork until thoroughly combined. Using a 2-tablespoon measure, such as a coffee scoop, form mixture into about 36 cylindrical drum shapes.
Heat oil over low heat in a large heavy roasting pan set over two burners. A couple of minutes before frying meatballs, increase heat to medium-high. Add meatballs and cook, turning once, until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.
Add remaining 5 minced garlic cloves, along with prosciutto, to roasting pan and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden. Add wine and simmer to reduce by half, about a minute. Add tomatoes and enough water to make a sauce-like consistency. Bring to a simmer, add meatballs and cook, loosely covered with heavy-duty foil, to blend flavors, 10 to 15 minutes.
Still on medium-high heat, add 6 cups water and remaining 1 teaspoon salt to pan and return to a simmer. Add penne, cover loosely with foil and cook, stirring gently and frequently, until pasta is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue to simmer until sauce is thickened to your liking. Once cooking is completed, spoon pasta and meatballs into serving bowls, sprinkle each portion with feta cheese, and enjoy.
No one in my family seemed to mind that this wasn't our typical traditional Christmas Eve Italian feast. As I said above, I've actually made the meatballs a few times since we originally tried this dish (for spaghetti and meatballs) and they are a hit without exception. I love that this preparation makes the ground turkey so flavorful and delicious. This is a keeper!