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Melting Pot Meatballs

October 19, 2014

Spaghetti & meatballs has always been high on my lust of comfort foods. It’s one of the many dishes I would watch my mom make for us growing up. It wasn’t a natural in her repertoire. Influenced by her Italian next-door-neighbor? Maybe. But more likely, she was responding to the clamoring of her little Yankee (yours truly).

Years ago I began adding diced zucchini to the sauce for my own version of meatballs and spaghetti. It added richness plus rounded the dish out with the added veggie.

The French begin so many savory dishes with a mirepoix. This simply means sauteing chopped onion, carrots and celery for the base of all manner of soups, stews and sauces. Why not? I’ll do it too.

a mirepoix

a mirepoix

From there, the idea just evolved. What vegetables do I want in this batch? That’s the way we operate in the bb kitchen. Variety is the spice of life, so they say. Did I hear someone say, “Who’s they?” You know, they.

veggies on hand

Then I met a physical therapist from Mexico City. While she was pulling my legs and stretching me, we discussed (one guess… ) cooking. She told me that she learned from her mom to always stick a cinnamon stick into whatever she was cooking that had tomato sauce. It adds a layer of complexity and depth to the sauce that once you taste, you won’t ever want to make any other way. Hmmm, must remember I thought. And remember I did. And if you don’t have a cinnamon stick, add 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon along with the cumin in the beginning.


For the binding agent, use fresh bread crumbs.

fresh bread crumbs

fresh bread crumbs

Or grab some leftover Challah or egg bread, tear into chunks, place in a small bowl and pour hot water over it. Let it soak for ten minutes.

soaked Challah

soaked Challah

Then squeeze it dry and using your fingers, pull it apart over the meat mixture.

softened bread in meat mixture

softened bread in meat mixture

Throw some chopped parsley in, if you like. Mix it up well to incorporate. Hands work best for this activity.

meatball mix

For the ground meat, I long ago realized that ground turkey can be swapped out for beef to bring the fat content down. But you can also try ground chicken. It works especially well with the soaked bread version.

Make smallish meatballs and quickly brown them for a few minutes on each side in hot oil.


browned meatballs

From Morocco, the cumin

From Mexico, the cinnamon

From France, the mirepoix, the classic base of onion, celery and carrot

From the Mediterranean, the classic vegetables and herbsmeatballs in dauce

A dish with melt-in-your-mouth savory flavors in every bite. For dinner at home, in the Sukkah, or to take to someone else’s home… Go ahead, pull out what you have in your veggie bin and feed your friends and family one memorable meal.

meatballs and veggies

Melting Pot Meatballs


1 lb. ground turkey (ground  chicken or beef can also be used)
1 egg
4 T. fresh bread crumbs or about 1/2 c. torn pieces of Challah or egg bread
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 T. chopped Italian parsley
4 T. olive oil
1 t. cumin
1/2  t. oregano
1 cinnamon stick or 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 stalk celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 red pepper, diced
2 zucchini, cut lengthwise and sliced
1/2 lb. mushrooms, quartered, optional
1 small eggplant, cubed, optional
28 oz. tomatoes, crushed or whole and cut-up
8 oz. can tomato sauce
1/2 c. red wine
2 T. tomato paste
salt & pepper


Make the meatball mixture by combining the ground meat, 1/4 of the chopped onion, 1 minced garlic clove, Italian parsley and salt and pepper. Add fresh bead crumbs. Or take about 1/2 cup or 2 slices of Challah or egg bread, pour hot water over it in a small bowl and let sit for 10 minutes. Squeeze the water out and pull it apart over the meat mixture. Stir well to combine.

Heat a large deep skillet or Dutch oven. Add 2 T. olive oil to heat through. Form the ground meat mixture into small meatballs (about 18-20) and briefly brown on both sides. Remove to platter and set aside.

Scrape all the bits to the sides of the skillet or pot and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Add the cumin, oregano, and ground cinnamon (if not using a cinnamon stick) and quickly cook for a half-minute. Add the remaining chopped onion, celery and carrots and cook for 5 minutes until softened. Add the remaining 3 cloves of chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add the remaining vegetables, depending on what you’re using – diced peppers, diced zucchini, quartered mushrooms, diced eggplant. Saute for 10 minutes.

Return the meatballs to the pot, arranging them over the vegetables. Pour the large can of tomatoes over, along with the sauce,  wine and tomato paste. Add cinnamon stick if using. Bring up to a boil and then down to a gentle simmer. Cook, with lid askew, for 30-40 minutes, until all the veggies are tender.

Make this dish a day or two ahead of time.It only gets gets better with re-heating. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serve over rice, Israeli couscous, or of course, your favorite pasta, including spaghetti!

meatballs and spaghetti

Serves 8

Melting Pot Meatballs


From → Poultry, Veggies

  1. hsimpsongrossman permalink

    Looks good!

    Hope you survived the holidays in one piece.


    • I survived it and went to visit the Ohio gang after the holidays! Put this recipe in as a must now that the weather is cooling down… xo Judy

  2. I didn’t know to put cinnamon with tomato, what a great tip. I can’t wait to try this recipe as it looks wonderful.

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