There are the cookbooks I hoard simply to page through their elaborately rendered contents and daydream, and then there are the ones I actually cook from. You can usually identify which is which pretty easily: the former are pristine, the latter, dog-eared and grease-stained with pages warped from spillage. While practical is a word I eschew in regard to most areas of my life (particularly my closet), in the kitchen, I embrace it with open arms. And if accessibility is what you’re after, Julia Turshen is your cooking spirit animal. The accomplished private chef and cookbook writer (she worked on the excellent Buvette book with Jody Williams) collects the recipes that get the most mileage in her own kitchen, along with countless helpful ideas (like, add a few drops of water to your pan while cooking eggs to create steam that will render the whites perfectly set), in her new book Small Victories (Chronicle Books), shot by a pair of our Gather favorites, Gentl + Hyers, and all of it written in a breezy, friendly tone whose subtext is clear: you can do this; in fact, anyone can do this. Because, as Turshen points out, if you learn to appreciate the small victories (like that aforementioned egg trick) that can happen when you’re cooking, you’ll be more open and relaxed in the kitchen. And really, who doesn’t want that? FV
TURKEY + RICOTTA MEATBALLS
SERVES 8, OR 4 WITH LOTS OF LEFTOVERS (MAKES ABOUT 30 MEATBALLS)
The first thing I ever cooked for my wife, Grace, were these meatballs. I made the mixture at my apartment, then packed it up with a box of pasta, ingredients for sauce, and a pot (she told me she had only a skillet) and took it all to her apartment . . . which soon became my apartment, too. A small victory here is not only about getting someone to marry you (!), but also about making meatballs that are incredibly light and tender by incorporating a generous amount of ricotta cheese in the mixture. In fact, I’ve found that by adding ricotta, you can skip the usual bread crumbs and eggs (which also makes this recipe gluten-free, if that’s important to you)—I love any addition that allows you to let go of a few things. Another small victory is baking the meatballs instead of frying them. It’s much less messy and so easy—win-win. Please note that while most of the recipes in this book serve four, I’ve made this one a bit larger because whenever I make meatballs, I like to make a ton so that I can freeze some. That way, I can have meatballs on the spur of the moment. I thought you might like that too, but feel free to cut the recipe in half if you prefer. Serve the meatballs with pasta, polenta, rice, garlic bread, or just on their own! Whichever way you choose, be sure to sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.
Two 28-oz [794-g] cans whole peeled tomatoes
7 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves; 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced
1 cup [40 g] fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 cup [40 g] fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 ½ cups [300 g] fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
½ cup [50 g] finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 lb [900 g] ground turkey (preferably dark meat), at room temperature
Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children). Rinse one of the cans with about ¼ cup [60 ml] water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans, and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.
In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 Tbsp of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425°F [220°C]. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 Tbsp olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey, and 1 Tbsp salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 Tbsp olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.
Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve.
FOR SAUSAGE AND RICOTTA MEATBALLS, instead of ground turkey, use 2 lb [910 g] of your favorite sausage meat. Just take it out of its casings and proceed as directed. I like using half sweet and half spicy Italian sausage.
FOR A SLIGHTLY MOROCCAN RIFF, use ground lamb instead of turkey and finely crumbled feta instead of Parmesan. Leave out the ricotta. Add a handful each of toasted pine nuts and raisins to the mixture, and use mint instead of basil. Add a cinnamon stick to the tomato sauce (remove it before serving the meatballs).