Sweet, Garlicky Turkey Meatball Lettuce Wraps, Sticky Raisin and Orange Relish

Autumn, Savory Recipes • 23 Sep 2013

September winds usher in a discernible undercurrent of metamorphoses. Night’s inky cobalt skies leak into the ochre fall days. Balmy, thick air becomes crisper, thinner and thankfully, increasingly negotiable. I crave the inevitable change with its aloof, brusk, seemingly overnight temperature change. I’ve never been enamored with the heat.

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I admit, though, to feeling a bit unsettled this September. I usually flip my coattails at the squalid, sweaty New York City summers with their leaky, odorous trash, stagnant subway stations and lava-hot playground slides. In spite of the still-lush city foliage, a scattering of lifeless leaves, devoid of moisture and crispy under my shoes, blankets the sidewalk. I cringe as we crack their backbones with our heels. I dance a bit to the right, and then scamper to the left, avoiding further pulverization. I’m desperate, this September, to hold onto every precious molecule of summer, even as cooler air flaps through the leafy emerald trees, blatantly reminding me that big change is afoot.

Speaking of change, my son has commenced part-time preschool. We experienced a microcosm of the first school night, replete with a handful of ruffled feathers, a sprinkling of abdominal butterflies and cluster of youthful excitement. He, undoubtedly, fed from my bowl of energy: tangible, fleshy and sliceable with a knife. I know I cannot shelter him from school-age vicissitudes and apprehensions, but by clinging to sweaty summer, I feel I can slow the clock, and his inevitable brush with childhood realities.

While he is away, I cook and write to allay my nerves. First school days create restless jitters for stay-at-home moms. Tonight we feast on humble and comforting turkey meatballs to put our collective belly butterflies to rest.

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I make enough meatballs for two nights; Sweet, salty and tender, thoughtfully assembled with a paste of silken white beans, sweet and sticky prunes and carrots and spinach for good measure. These meatballs are not only quintessential comfort food, but filled with hidden healthful ingredients for my picky toddler.

For the first night, we eat our meatballs heaped on stringy spaghetti squash, draped in a blanket of rich, gratifying, slightly-spicy tomato sauce. On the second night, we experiment with just-warmed meatballs freckled with a sweet, nutty sauce of raisins, toasted pine nuts, garlic, and aromatic orange zest, sprinkled with salty parmesan snowflakes and wrapped in crisp, cold lettuce leaves. The second version perfectly bridges the seasons, fills our bellies and even gratifies our gullible, unsuspecting son. In no way did he take umbrage with his food, a rare and peaceful change of tone.

Sweet, Garlicky Turkey Meatball Lettuce Wraps, Parmigiano Reggiano, Toasted Pine Nuts, Sticky Raisin and Orange Relish

1/2 cup cannellini beans
1/2 cup roughly chopped carrots, boiled until just tender
1/2 cup roughly chopped spinach
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon zest
5 pitted prunes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 egg
3/4 cup soft whole wheat bread crumbs
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pound ground turkey

2/3 cup raisins
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 small garlic gloves, minced
1/3 cup olive oil

2 heads Boston lettuce, leaves separated, cleaned and dried
2-3 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts for garnish
Chopped parsley to taste

1. Add white beans, cooked carrots, chopped spinach, lemon zest, prunes and garlic to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Transfer the puree to a large bowl and add egg, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Fold in the turkey, being careful not to overwork meat. Use hands to thoroughly combine. Refrigerate for 1 hour to 24 hours.

2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

3. Form into 1 1/2-inch balls and place on parchment paper. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow meatballs to cool.

4. While meatballs are baking, toast pine nuts. Spread 3/4 cup pine nuts on a small baking sheet and bake until golden brown, occasionally stirring during toasting, about 6-10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool.

5. To make the relish, add 1/2 cup pine nuts, raisins, 2 cloves garlic, orange zest and 1/3 cup olive oil to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth and very thick and sticky.

6. To serve, lay out lettuce leaves along with one to two meatballs per wrap. Add about a teaspoon of relish to each lettuce wrap and top with pine nuts, shaved parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately.

Yield: Makes about 30 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Lettuce wraps serve 6-8.

2 Responses

  1. Stephanie Rael

    Those look delicious! My toddler loves meatballs, too. I suspect they would also freeze well?

    • I haven’t tried to freeze these particular meatballs but have had general luck with freezing meatballs. I’d give it a go! These were really fantastic with a nice, silky red sauce. Definitely the way to go with a toddler.

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