Tonight we’re eating meatballs. I went through an obsessive meatball phase in early spring, when the weather was still cool and dinner required something warm and satisfying. Now that summer is winding down, it seemed like the appropriate time to bring the meatballs back. I love this time of year. Not late summer in particular, but that little window between seasons when the weather starts to change. I’ve always liked those transitional times more than any season itself. This morning the air was cool and dry and scentless, bringing back memories of standing in the front yard in my favorite plaid dress while mom took my picture before the first day of school. I was that child who got excited to buy new pencils and notebooks and rulers and always eagerly anticipated the start of the school year.
Still, the end of summer was bittersweet. Dad would join mom and I in Maine for labor day weekend to help us close the house for the season. We took the screens out of the windows, moved the wood from the outdoor woodpile into the basement, and brought the potted plants inside. But, the most sentimental ritual was bringing the boat to the marina. Dad and I would take the canoe to the mooring for the last time, remove the lines, and fly across the lake at full throttle to the docks in Oquossoc. It was always a little sad, watching the shoreline streaming by for the last time that year, but it was also exciting to know that we were starting the next chapter.
As an adult working on a college campus, I usually get that same tingle of excitement when a new cohort of students arrives, fresh faced and nervous to begin their lives away from home. They bring an energy and a purpose to our office after a lazy, listless summer. But this summer was a little different, the quiet time never came. Things never slowed down. I didn’t have a chance to rest or breath and I have been dreading the return of the young and anxious hoard. And so, I knew it was time to move on.
On Friday, I gave my supervisor two week’s notice. I felt guilty and a little sad to abandon my office family, but the more days I sit with the decision, the lighter and happier I feel. And so I’m making meatballs. I’v been putting off this recipe for two weeks because I couldn’t find the energy or inspiration to go through all the steps – mixing, shaping, frying, and baking. But this afternoon, with the cloud of anxiety behind me and the last remnants of summer air wafting through the open door, all I wanted to do was slowly and carefully prepare meatballs and watch them brown in their sputtering pan of oil.
Sesame-Spiced Turkey Meatballs + Smashed Chickpea Salad from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
For the Meatballs:
1 pound (455 grams) ground turkey
2/3 cup (40 grams) fresh breadcrumbs (from 1-2 slices sandwich bread)
1/4 cup (60 ml) water
1 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons (15 grams) sesame seeds, toasted
Form meatballs. Preheat oven to 400. Combine all the meatball ingredients in a medium bowl with a fork, breaking up the clumps of meat until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Form turkey mixture into 1 1/2 inch, or golf-ball-sized, meatballs, and arrange them on a tray.
Cook meatballs. Heat a generous slick of oil in a large ovenproof saute pan with a lid. Brown the meatballs in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan or nudge them before they are nicely browned. These meatballs are soft, so use a gentle hand. Transfer the meatballs to a paper-towel-lined tray, and continue cooking in more batches until they are browned.
Discard the oil, and wipe all but a thin layer from the pan. Return all of the meatballs to the pan, and transfer to preheated oven. Bake until a thermometer reads an internal temperature of 160 to 165, or about 10 to 15 minutes.
For the Salad:
1 3/4 (440 grams) cooked chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Handful pitted, halved, and very thinly sliced green olives
1/2 teaspoon ground sumac, plus more for garnish
Chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
Pinch of cayene pepper
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Mix everything but the oil in a small to mid-sized bowl. Very lightly smash the chickpea mixture with the back of a fork or potato masher – this ends up looking more like a coarse chop than puree. Dress the chickpeas with a drizzle of olive oil and stir to combine. Adjust seasoning to taste.