Turkey Meatballs Braised in Apple Barbecue Sauce with Corn Pudding

Seek out meat from free-range turkeys to make these tender meatballs. Organic, naturally raised birds are generally available at food co-ops, independent grocers, through your local CSA, natural foods stores, and at farmers markets. I used coarsely ground turkey from Misty Knoll Farm located in New Haven Vermont. Birds grown in the open air, and allowed to forage on bugs in open pastures grow more slowly, but are more flavorful and healthier to eat. The richer texture and taste of these turkeys stands up to the spice-laden barbecue sauce. A traditional pudding of toothsome whole corn kernels and sharp cheddar balances the texture and deep flavor of these meatballs. Serve with a leafy green vegetable such as Swiss chard sautéed with garlic.

A medium-bodied Zinfandel with its spicy, berry flavors and peppery tones is a great match for the turkey and sauce. American Amber Ale has a nice balance of sweetness and spice to match the characteristics of this meal.

Apple Barbecue Sauce
2 cups ketchup (475 mL)
1 cup sweet cider (240 mL)
3 Tbsp brown sugar (45 mL)
6 Tbsp cider vinegar (90 mL)
1 tsp chipotle chile powder (5 mL)
¼ tsp ground cinnamon (1 mL)
¼ tsp coarsely ground black pepper (1 mL)
½ tsp ground ginger (2.5 mL)
½ tsp ground sage (2.5 mL)
1 Tbsp whole grain prepared mustard (15 mL)

Meatballs
1½ lb ground turkey
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ground sage
½ tsp thyme leaves
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
½ cup milk
1 egg
Few grinds black pepper
1 tsp salt
Flour as needed for dredging
Vegetable oil as needed to brown meatballs

Corn Pudding
2 cups corn (about 4 ears of corn) (300 g)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter (60 g)
4 Tbsp all-purpose flour (30 g)
½ medium onion, finely chopped
1½ cups milk (350 mL)
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated (115 g)
2 Tbsp chopped mixed fresh herbs: parsley, dill, chives (30 mL)
1 tsp prepared mustard (5 mL)
4 eggs
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
Few grinds of black pepper

Whisk together all ingredients for the barbecue sauce. The easiest way to do this is to measure all of the ingredients into a blender, and mix it for a few seconds. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and run again for a few seconds.  Since it will be used to braise the meatballs there is no need to simmer it before using.

Preheat oven to 350° F (175°)

Combine the breadcrumbs and milk in a mixing bowl, stir together, and let the breadcrumbs slowly absorb all of the liquid. Breadcrumbs aren’t just filler, their purpose is to retain moisture in the meatballs, and also to block the interlocking of the protein chains that can make meatballs rubbery. The end result is a moist, tender meatball.

Heat the butter in a small skillet over medium-low heat; when it has melted add the onion and garlic. Cook the onion until transparent, remove from the heat. Add to the breadcrumb mixture with the herbs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, add the egg and stir together again.

Add the ground turkey, and work it all together with your hands. The mixture should have a uniform consistency. Wash and dry your hands before proceeding. Pour a little bit of oil on your hands and rub them together. This will keep the meatball mixture from sticking to your hands as you make them. This recipe makes 16 two-inch (5 cm) meatballs, each weighing approximately 2 ounces (60 g).  Snatch up egg-sized handfuls of the mixture and roll into meatballs. Use an ice cream scoop to simplify this task.

Wash and dry your hands. Dredge the meatballs in flour and shake off the excess. Heat some oil over medium-high heat in a cooking vessel with fairly high sides to prevent spatter. Don’t crowd the pan; it’s best to do this in two batches. Brown the meatballs on all sides; remove to a platter, and reserve.

Put the meatballs back in the pot, pour in the barbecue sauce, and roll the meatballs so they are covered with sauce. Bring to a boil, and then cook uncovered on the center shelf of a preheated oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Shake the pot during the later stages of cooking so the meatballs roll around in the sauce. By cooking it without a cover, they will develop a nice glaze, and the sauce will reduce to the proper consistency. These meatballs can be made in advance, refrigerated, and reheated when you wish to serve them.

Corn Pudding
This can be put in the oven halfway through the cooking time for the meatballs—both will be done at the same time.

Preheat oven to 350° F (175°)

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, add the onion and cook, without coloring, until onion is translucent. Stir in the flour to form a paste. Add the milk and cook, stirring occasionally, until it just comes to a boil. It will be slightly thickened. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese to combine. Stir in the mustard, herbs, and salt.

Use a sharp knife to cut the corn from the ears of corn and put into a mixing bowl. During the winter months use frozen corn. Thaw to room temperature, and chop a portion of it to simulate the texture you get from freshly grated corn. Add the eggs and stir to combine. Add the cheese sauce, and stir until combined.

Butter a casserole or deep Pyrex pie plate, and pour in the corn mixture. Bake on the center shelf of a preheated oven for 40 minutes. It will be slightly puffed and golden brown, and smell wonderful. Remove from oven and allow the pudding to set for a few minutes before serving.

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