What We’re Cooking This Week: Turkey Meatballs With Fennel

Stick to ground dark turkey, and equal parts meat and veggies.

Turkey meatballs, photo courtesy of Jim Dixon.

Jim Dixon wrote about food for WW for more than 20 years, but these days most of his time is spent at his olive oil-focused specialty food business Wellspent Market. Jim’s always loved to eat, and he encourages his customers to cook by sending them recipes every week through his newsletter. We’re happy to have him back creating some special dishes just for WW readers.

I make meatballs the same way I make meatloaf, roughly equal amounts by volume of ground meat and vegetables. Other recipes may add a little onion or garlic for flavor, or sometimes a bit of mashed potato to hold them together, but they’re still mostly meat so they tend to be a bit dense. More vegetables makes them lighter, and since vegetables are mostly water, cooking them drives some of it off and concentrates their flavor.

While I’ll often add cabbage, I had a fennel bulb with an especially large bunch of stems and fronds so I used those instead. The stems can be a little tough for salads, but if they’re cooked soft and chopped finely they add the same faint licoricelike flavor. The amount of stems and fronds on a fennel bulb in the produce department can vary widely, but if there’s not much you can just chop up the bulb to make up the volume.

A mixture of beef and pork work best for meatballs, but I’m often feeding people who prefer turkey, and ground dark turkey makes very good meatballs. Ground poultry in general tends to be stickier and moister than beef and pork so these use more breadcrumbs than the mammalian version. I usually have homemade breadcrumbs in the pantry, but I’ll use panko if I don’t. While you can eat these with pasta and a simple tomato sauce, I like them on their own, too.


1 medium onion, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

2 celery stalks, chopped

1 fennel bulb, stems and fronds only (save the bulb for another use)

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

¾ pound ground dark turkey

3 eggs

1 cup panko or homemade breadcrumbs (recipe below)

2 ounces Parmigiano or Pecorino Romano cheese, grated

1 teaspoon kosher-style sea salt

1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper

¼ teaspoon msg

Cook the onion, carrot, celery, fennel, and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until very soft, about 20 minutes. Let cool, then transfer to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

In a large bowl combine the turkey, eggs, panko, cheese, salt, pepper, and msg. Mix in the cooked vegetables, then use your hands to form a sample meatball about the size of a walnut. Cook it in the same skillet you used for the vegetables to see how it holds together and if it’s got enough salt. If it’s too crumbly you may need another egg; too wet and soft means a little more panko.

When you’re happy with flavor, use your hands to make crude spheres roughly golf-to-tennis-ball sized. Don’t worry if they’re not perfectly round, just quickly make them roundish. The bottoms flatten out as they bake anyway.

Arrange the meatballs on a lightly oiled sheet pan or a couple of skillets, then bake them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or until they’re lightly browned. You should get 12-18 meatballs depending on the size.

A note on making your own breadcrumbs:

When I’m getting to the end of a loaf of bread, when it’s starting to get dried out, I cut the last of it into cubes and let them dry on the kitchen counter for a few days. I’ll stick them in a bag, and when I’ve got a quart or more, I grind them into crumbs using the food processor. It’s noisy, and the crumbs may vary in size, but they work for meatballs, meatloaf, fritters, or even just toasted in a skillet with some olive oil and tossed with pasta.

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