Turkey & Asiago Meatballs with Mushroom-Tomato Ragout

My childhood was filled with Filipino food all day-everyday. In our house, it was longanisa for breakfast, adobo for lunch, then kare-kare for dinner. And dessert? Sliced mangoes or a few scoops of ube ice cream.

Whenever we had food from other cuisines, such as American or Italian, it was usually from a restaurant. (The first time that I ever ate macaroni and cheese was when I was 13...at a buffet.) My mom and I didn't start cooking many non-Filipino recipes together until I was a lot older. (Credit: The Food Network Boom. Seriously.) Then, my curiosity and appetite only grew when my home-ec class introduced me to foods like chili, caramel apples, and fudge. The fun part about cooking on my own now is that I get to dabble in a little bit of everything. Culinary school and my time spent traveling have only made that curiosity and appetite to learn grow even more.

Today, it's all about a couple of classics: meatballs & tomato sauce. As much as I love sticking to my Filipino and Pacific Island roots, and as much as I enjoy fusion dishes, it's always nice when I get to cook hearty, traditional comfort food from other cuisines. This is the kind of recipe that involves some serious love & labor over a hot stove...lots of sauteing, simmering, and stirring with wooden spoons. And, when you really think about it, there are many cultures all around the world that can relate to this. So, for something a little different yet still so familiar...Turkey & Asiago Meatballs with Mushroom-Tomato Ragout!

The closest thing I ever had to meatballs, when I was a kid, was embutido. It was a Filipino-style meatloaf with carrots and raisins. Plus, my idea of spaghetti was the Filipino kind with a super-sweet sauce and sliced hot dogs. Homemade meatballs weren't really our thing.

These days, I love making my own meatballs and playing around with the different combinations of meats, seasonings, and vegetables. The ones in this recipe are half-turkey and half-veal, and they get their flavor from asiago cheese and herbs.

Asiago cheese is a cow's milk cheese, but the aged wedges are a bit sharper and have a subtle sweetness. It adds flavor, but it also adds a creamy aspect to the meatballs.

Although most meatball recipes call for dry or toasted breadcrumbs, I like to make fresh breadcrumbs from the ends of a loaf of French bread.

The loaf ends have more of the crust, so they make a more flavorful breadcrumb with a great texture.

In a small bowl, combine the cheese, breadcrumbs, egg, Greek yogurt, and seasonings (dried oregano leaves, ground thyme, sea salt, and black pepper). The Greek yogurt adds moisture to the meatball, but its tangy flavor also accents the asiago cheese.

Add this mixture, along with freshly chopped parsley, finely chopped onion, and minced garlic, to the ground veal and turkey.

Mix with your hands, just until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated. Then, shape the meat into tablespoon-sized rounds. (There are literally a million different things that you could do with a cookie scoop. Making meatballs is one of them.)

I was able to make 40 because I was feeding a lot of people. For convenience's sake, though, I split the amounts in half for the final recipe posted below. It would still make a good amount to feed 4-5 guests.

Next, brown the meatballs in olive oil, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. This is only to sear the outside, but not to cook them completely through. Set the meatballs aside on a baking sheet or large platter while you make your sauce.

I love chunky tomato sauces, ragout-style. I often add tons of chopped fresh vegetables. (Sometimes, even zucchinis and squash!) To pair well with the meatballs, I kept this version pretty simple. All that you need are some canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, fresh parsley, sliced mushrooms...

...and carrot juice! Many tomato sauces include spoonfuls of sugar to add a hint of sweetness. It balances that little bit of sour from the tomatoes. Instead of sugar, though, I use carrot juice! I've seen recipes with grated or shredded carrot, but juicing this vegetable really concentrates its own natural sweetness.

To start the sauce, saute the onions and garlic in the same pan that you browned the meatballs in. Scrape away at the bottom of the pan to get all of those caramelized bits mixed in.

Add the sliced mushrooms, and saute the vegetables for another 4-5 minutes. 

After the mushrooms have caramelized, add my second "secret" ingredient...chunks of crusty bread!

Some Italian soups add bread as a thickener, so I like to use some to thicken my tomato sauce. Aside from making fresh breadcrumbs, this is another great way to use up the ends of a loaf of bread. (Because, let's be real, sometimes nobody touches them and they get left behind...)

At last, add the canned tomatoes.

I used whole peeled tomatoes (remember, I like chunky sauces), but you can use diced or crushed if you prefer a smoother consistency.

Stir in the carrot juice, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Then, cover the pan, lower the heat, and cook for 40-45 minutes. Stir every few minutes to avoid any burning at the bottom of the pan.

To finish cooking, return the meatballs to the pan, submerging them in the rich tomato sauce.

Sprinkle freshly chopped parsley and basil over the top, return the lid, and simmer over medium heat for another 10-12 minutes. No need to stir, but simply give the pan a little shake halfway through to prevent any sticking.

Serve over pasta, over polenta, or even in a sandwich! Garnish with grated cheese and even more chopped herbs.

The Turkey & Asiago Meatballs are tender and moist, and the Mushroom-Tomato Ragout is a thick, stewed, and savory sauce. You have all of the makings for a satisfying family dinner!

To serve a more rustic appetizer at your next dinner party, you could even make smaller-sized meatballs to skewer onto cocktail toothpicks. Process the ragout with an immersion blender to make a perfect dipping sauce on the side!

Turkey & Asiago Meatballs with Mushroom-Tomato Ragout (serves 4-5)

Print Recipe

1/2 lb Ground Veal
10 oz Ground Turkey
1/2 cup Grated Asiago Cheese
1/2 cup Fresh Breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Plain Greek Yogurt
1 large Egg
1 tsp Fine Sea Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Ground Thyme
1/4 tsp Dried Oregano Leaves
1/4 (packed) cup Fresh Italian Parsley Leaves, finely chopped
1 Garlic Clove, grated or minced
1/4 of a Small Yellow Onion, grated or finely chopped
1/4 of a Small Yellow Onion, diced
1 Garlic Clove, peeled & smashed
8 oz Fresh Sliced Mushrooms
3/4 cup Diced French Bread
1 28-oz can Diced or Crushed Tomatoes
1/4 cup Fresh Carrot Juice
1 tsp Fine Sea Salt
1/4 tsp Ground Black Pepper
1/4 tsp Ground Thyme
3/4 tsp Dried Oregano Leaves
3-4 large Fresh Basil Leaves, finely chopped
1/4 (packed) cup Fresh Italian Parsley Leaves, finely chopped
  1. In a mixing bowl, combine the veal and turkey. In a separate bowl, combine the cheese, breadcrumbs, yogurt, egg, and seasonings, and stir to combine well. Add this mixture, the garlic, the onion, and parsley to the bowl of veal and turkey. Mix with hands until all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
  2. Shape the meat mixture into tablespoon-sized rounds. (Makes 20 meatballs.)
  3. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs, 1-2 minutes per side. This is only to sear the outsides, but not to cook through completely. Set meatballs aside on a baking sheet or large platter.
  4. In the same saute pan, add a tablespoon of olive oil if needed, then add diced onions and garlic clove. Saute for 1 minute, scraping at the browned bits of meat at the bottom of the pan. Next, add sliced mushrooms and saute for 4-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are evenly caramelized. Then, add the diced bread and stir to combine.
  5. Pour in the diced or crushed tomatoes (with liquid) and fresh carrot juice. Season with salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then cover and lower the heat to medium. Cook for 10 minutes. Turn heat to low, then cook for another 35 minutes. Stir every few minutes to prevent burning on the bottom of the pan.
  6. Finally, return the meatballs to the pan, submerging them in the sauce. Sprinkle the chopped fresh herbs over the top. Cover, and cook for 10-12 more minutes over medium heat. (Do not stir, but lightly shake the pan halfway through to prevent sticking.)
  7. Serve meatballs and ragout over pasta or polenta, and garnish with more chopped fresh herbs and grated cheese. Enjoy!