Category Archives: pasta

spaghetti with turkey meat sauce

spaghetti on fork

I’ve got a small backlog of posts to get to that involve, for the most part, even more sweeties. And chocolate. So to break up the sugar rush, I thought I’d share the #1 dinner we have around here.

Spaghetti with turkey meat sauce.

I’m not sure that it sounds appetizing (meat sauce?), but it is our absolute favorite thing to eat for dinner. I don’t even know that it looks that appetizing. I mean come on, how good can ground meat really look? But it smells so fantastic and when it’s all simmering together at the end, I have to restrain myself from eating it all up before the pasta is even done boiling.

This is another one of those recipes that I picked up after watching my mom make it at home. I’ve tweaked it a little since I started making it myself, but the basic sauce is still there. However, I won’t promise to the total accuracy of the measurements for the ingredients. I’ve never picked up a measuring spoon while preparing this dish, so any amounts listed here are just rough estimates. Play with the recipe as you like.

Oh and also, I am not Italian by any means, so I’m quite sure this “meat sauce” is not at all close to a traditional bolognese. Please don’t be horrified by the ingredient list. It just tastes good. Really.

spaghetti with turkey meat sauce

enough spaghetti* for you and whomever you are serving
pack of ground turkey (I would guess a little over 1 lb.)
1/2 white onion, in a small dice
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
15-oz. can of tomato sauce
3-oz. tomato paste (half of a small can)
olive oil
1 1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
2-3 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tsp dried oregano
salt (I prefer kosher for this) and ground pepper to taste

First, we must make the sauce.

Side note: I had photos of this process… but the transformation from raw to cooked meat just doesn’t look so appealing. Just imagine along with me.

Heat a large saucepan (I use my enameled cast-iron casserole) to medium/medium-high. Pour in enough olive oil to barely coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion and sauteé until it starts to become translucent (around 2-3 minutes). Toss in a pinch of salt, then add the garlic and stir until fragrant (another minute or so).

chopped garlic and onions

how many great dishes begin

Add the ground turkey to the pan and stir well. Add a generous pinch or two of salt, a few turns of pepper, and a couple teaspoons of garlic powder. You need to season the meat well before it browns so that the meat has good flavor on its own and isn’t totally dependent on the sauce later. Brown the meat until almost all of the liquid in the pan has evaporated. If you’re used to ground beef, note that turkey won’t get nearly that dark, so don’t keep on cooking forever, because it will get very dry.

Once the turkey has browned, turn the heat down to low and add the tomato sauce, tomato paste, and dried oregano. Add an extra cup of water or so, and stir until it’s all combined. You may need to go after the tomato paste with the flat side of your spoon a bit so it’s not a lurking mass.¬† Add in the soy sauce and brown sugar and stir well.

Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes. This is also a good time to get a large pot of water boiling for the pasta. Then comes my favorite part: testing! I usually have to adjust the amounts of soy sauce and brown sugar until it tastes right. It should be just slightly sweet with a fairly strong savory flavor. My mouth is watering just thinking about it. Nurmm… Anyway, you can let it simmer gently until you are ready to eat. (This is where I get into trouble… “sampling” the sauce until the pasta is done.)

Once you’ve got your sauce tasting just right, start cooking the pasta. It should take around 7-8 minutes, but check it regularly to make sure you pull it when it is al dente. I hate mushy pasta, and as fabulous as this sauce is, it cannot make up for watery, pasty noodles.

*Spaghetti note: While we will, on occasion, pair this sauce with penne rigate, I must say that turkey meat sauce just belongs with spaghetti. The two go together perfectly. Lately I have been quite partial to thick spaghetti like this:


mmm, thick spaghetti

It’s only slightly larger than regular spaghetti, which works 98% as well as the thick variety (according to me) so really, you can use whichever pasta you wish.

Once your pasta has reached the al dente stage, it’s all quite self-explanatory: strain it out, plate it up, and spoon some sauce over top. The parmesan is optional. Eat up!

spaghetti and meat sauce plated

pasta salad

After years of following food blogs, I have learned at least this: some people hate cilantro. AKA coriander. AKA Chinese parsley. I love the stuff, but evidently there are those who can’t stand it — not even a decorative sprig atop their plate.

So, if you are one of those people who think that cilantro AKA coriander AKA Chinese parsley tastes like soap/dirt/other-nonfood-item, then please, for goodness’ sake, do not try this recipe. Oh. And also, do not try this recipe if you do not like vinegar.

Now if you are like me and have no qualms about cilantro or vinegar, please DO try this recipe. It is most definitely a yummy. At least it is for me. And maybe for you, too!

There is a teeny tiny story behind this recipe: Apparently, my mom was a very hungry lady during her pregnancy (as are most, I hear) and one day while she was pregnant with me, she threw together this pasta salad. She loved it and ate it all the time … 22 years later, and I still crave it every few months. I would probably have a hankering for it more often, too, if one batch didn’t result in a giant bowl that lasts for nearly a week. Ready-made lunch!

The recipe can be tweaked all kinds of ways to suit your own tastes — these are just approximations of what I happened to toss into the bowl this time.

My Mom’s Pasta Salad

2/3 of a 1-lb. box of macaroni (bowtie works well, too)
1 chicken breast, skinless
1/2 red bell pepper
1/2 green bell pepper
2 big handfuls of cilantro (again, if you don’t like cilantro, be very afraid)
1/4 onion

shredded Parmesan cheese

For the vinaigrette (make at least 1 cup total)
equal parts vegetable oil (or your favorite salad oil) and white vinegar (I used ~ 1/2 cup each)
1 T tarragon (I used dry and crushed it up)
1 heaping T sugar
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Boil the macaroni in salted water until al dente. When it’s done, drain and rinse with cold water — this will keep the pasta from sticking together.
2. While the macaroni is going, boil the chicken breast in water with some salt and pepper. If you don’t flavor the water a little, the chicken breast will have zero flavor. I am a huge fan of my instant-read thermometer, which keeps me safe from food-borne illness. Chicken should read ~165F. Do it or be sorry.
3. Dice your bell peppers to a small-to-medium dice. While you’re at it, finely dice the onion. For me, this means smaller than however the peppers turned out.
4. Rough chop the cilantro.
5. Once the chicken breast has cooled, dice it into fairly small, bite-sized cubes. Remember, chicken is not the main attraction in this salad.
6. To make the vinaigrette: combine oil, vinegar, tarragon, sugar, salt, and pepper. Stir it up! This part is to your own tastes, but then again, it’s difficult to gauge what a vinaigrette will taste like on the salad by how it tastes on a spoon. You could try swishing a piece of pasta in there as a sample, if you like.
7. In a large, large bowl, combine the pasta, chicken, bell peppers, onion, cilantro, and about a cup of vinaigrette. Toss it all together and taste. If you think it needs more sugar or vinegar, mix it up with the extra vinaigrette first, and then add to the bowl.
8. Depending on your love of parmesan, toss in a handful (or more) to the salad. Mix everything together well.
9. Eat! Or, cover it up tightly and leave it in the fridge overnight. It tastes even better the next day (or later) as the flavors all come together.

Recipe notes:

  • If you are an efficient kitchen-maven, then you will have time to chop up all your veggies whilst other things boil! I am not an efficient kitchen-maven. I waited for all the boiling to be done, then started chopping.
  • I’m over-analytical, so I can tell you that my bell peppers were approximately 7.5 mm square. Or just over 1/4 inch square. Scientific precision makes me feel secure — but do whatever makes you happiest. For the sake of my dignity, I will not mention what a 5 mm square onion dice is equal to in inches.
  • The salad shouldn’t be swimming in dressing, but the pasta will soak up some overnight. That said, I would err on too much dressing instead of too little.