Kitchn Love Letters

The Secret Ingredient in Ina Garten’s Meatballs Makes Them an Absolute Standout

updated Jan 21, 2021
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Credit: Sheela Prakash

One pre-COVID routine I didn’t think I would miss is going to the gym. But lately, I’ve found myself pining for that blissful hour that I’d get to tune into the Food Network while busying myself on the machines. I was never picky about the specific show, but I always felt like I hit the jackpot when I’d plug in my earbuds and Ina Garten was gracing the treadmill’s screen.

On one such occasion, she spent part of an episode cooking up a batch of turkey meatballs to serve at a party celebrating her friend’s new baby. Now, these weren’t the dry, flavorless meatballs so may of us associate with using turkey. These were special, thanks to a secret ingredient Ina tucked inside. It had me so intrigued, I couldn’t help but make my own batch soon after — and I’ve been making them ever since. What’s her special touch? Prosciutto.

These Spicy Meatballs Are the Tastiest Contradiction

The title of these meatballs is a bit misleading. Turkey meatballs imply meatballs made with ground turkey for a leaner, perhaps more wholesome option. Ina’s recipe does indeed contain ground turkey, but sweet Italian sausage and finely chopped prosciutto also make an appearance, and it’s the latter that really makes these meatballs spectacular.

Combining ground turkey with sausage and prosciutto negates any risk of these meatballs drying out when cooked. You get all the nice spices and aromatics that come from Italian sausage, and the prosciutto lends a salty, umami-rich flavor that’s hard to pinpoint if you don’t know it’s in there. It’s what makes these meatballs stand apart from the countless other meatball recipes out there.

The piece of the recipe title that isn’t deceptive? That they’re spicy. A generous dose of red pepper flakes gives these meatballs quite the kick, which I personally love. I find it balances all the savory richness and makes them extra primed for a bath in marinara sauce.

Credit: Sheela Prakash

If You Make These Meatballs, a Few Tips

These meatballs are baked, rather than fried, but otherwise they come together like most meatball recipes. A few tips, however, will really set you up for success.

  1. Use turkey or chicken sausage, if you prefer. If you’d like these meatballs to be a bit leaner, opt for turkey or chicken Italian sausage. They won’t be quite as tender and rich, but the prosciutto will prevent them from drying out and you’ll still get great flavor from the sausage.
  2. If you can’t find Asiago cheese, reach for Parmesan or Pecorino Romano. Ina calls for freshly grated aged Asiago, but I’m not always able to find chunks of this Italian cheese at the store. Parmesan, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano, or a combination work just as well.
  3. Feel free to use less red pepper flakes. I sprinkle red pepper flakes on just about everything, so I love the spicy kick they lend. But if you’re not a fan of heat, don’t hesitate to use just a pinch, or leave them out completely.
  4. Consider using less salt. Ina is known to be a bit heavy-handed when it comes to salt, and this recipe is no exception. Since both the prosciutto and grated cheese are naturally salty, I’ve found that 2 teaspoons of kosher salt (rather than the 1 tablespoon she calls for) still results in well-seasoned meatballs.
  5. Consider halving the recipe, or freeze some for another day. You’ll get a big batch of meatballs from this recipe — enough to serve eight. I suggest halving the recipe, or baking the whole batch and freezing what you don’t need, either in sauce or as is.
  6. Serve the meatballs as you wish. While Ina instructs you to serve these meatballs over spaghetti, I love serving them on on their own, showered with Parmesan cheese and paired with garlic bread. They’re also spectacular over creamy polenta, stuffed into crusty rolls, and Parm-ified.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.