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Albondigas with Roasted Butternut Squash

3 Feb

Chop, chop, chop. Peppermint, onions, and tomatoes.

Specks of thyme, sage, freshly ground pepper, cumin, and oregano on brightly colored Butternut Squash

I only have the slightest inkling of guilt that my first post is not vegetarian. Most will be.

Albondigas are probably the fondest memory I have of my maternal grandmother and her kitchen. Sure, Papa Chuy’s Chocomilk banana shake was more fun, but the aromas streaming from the pot during one of these meatball soup sessions have permeated my soul for all time. I always wished Mama Chuy would invite me to help her, but that was not her style, so I contented myself with watching.

Over the years, I’ve added my own twists; and, in the more recent years, I’ve decided that I can’t go wrong as long as I use the freshest herbs and the most seasonal of vegetables.

It’s no secret to all those closest to me that I’ve been sick for almost a week now, confined to my comfortable apartment because doc thinks I’m contagious up until precisely today. Cue mom! She came over with a couple of pounds of organic ground turkey and a bundle of pilfered peppermint from some neighborhood or other.

This recipe calls for a lot of tomato during the non-tomato season. I refuse to buy tomatoes out of season– except for those certain heirloom varieties that still miraculously give fruit to us So Cal folk. But, for the most part, I’m happy to use canned whole peeled tomatoes, picked at the optimal point of ripeness and nutrition.

During the off-season, use canned tomatoes

Almost as an afterthought, I added the roasted butternut squash from a couple of nights ago. I am convinced that roasting is the only way to prepare winter squash. Dense, nutty, smoky, flavorful.

Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper-- 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Slice into thin slivers for much faster roasting, but if you choose this method, remember to turn every 7 minutes, so the flesh does not stick to the tray.

Ingredients for meatballs:

1.5 or 2 lbs organic ground turkey
1 large egg, slightly beaten
3 stalks green onions, finely chopped (use all parts, except the very root)
3 T long or short-grain rice
1 or 2 T peppermint leaves, finely chopped
1 T oregano, fresh or dried
2 slightly drained whole peeled tomatoes OR 1 ripe tomato, finely chopped
2 tsp sea salt
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients for stock:

1 T favorite cooking oil (I use olive)
4 stalks celery, finely chopped
rest of the bunch of green onions, finely chopped
2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes (minus the ones used in the meatballs), roughly chopped
OR 8-10 ripe tomatoes, quartered
3 C water, can vary depending on your thickness preference
4-5 C assorted veggies, cubed (in this case 1/4 B. squash, carrots, red potatoes)
1 sprig rosemary
4-5 sprigs thyme
5 leaves sage, finely chopped
pinch of cumin
pinch of cinnamon
pinch of star anise, ground
peel of 1 small lemon, grated
salt and black pepper, to taste

For this soup, I am liberal with the salt.

From our patio, cupboard, and fridge (all organic!)


Place ground turkey, plus the rest of the ingredients for the meatballs, in a medium bowl. Mix with a fork until incorporated, but do not over mix. Cover and refrigerate.

Set a large stock pot over medium heat. Heat oil. Stir fry celery and onions until celery is translucent. Add tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add water. Mix in all herbs and spices. Taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary.  Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium low heat, and start to drop in the meatball mixture one rounded tablespoon at time. When all meatballs float to the top of the pot, add uncooked vegetables. At this point, you can again check for seasoning. The turkey should be cooked through when it rises, but now we are waiting for the rice to get tender and the uncooked veggies to be just cooked enough.

I added the roasted butternut squash by scooping it out with a spoon and dropping it into the soup, but I don’t see any reason why uncooked, cubed squash could not be substituted, as long as it is added with the other uncooked veggies earlier.

So, that’s that. You can make a meal out of this by serving with toasted sourdough baguette slices or the traditional rolled up yellow corn tortillas.

Happy eating!