A hot Italian meatball sandwich smothered in melted cheese and tomato sauce is great now and again, but isn't well suited to regular rotation in a healthy diet.
But with a starting point so tasty, we felt compelled to find a version we could feel good about serving more often.
Meatballs often are made with fatty ground meat and lots of cheese. So we created a turkey meatball that's got all the flavor and moisture, but way less fat.
Look carefully at the labels when buying ground turkey, as there are many types available at the market, some with as much as 17 grams of fat in a 4-ounce portion. You also can find 99 percent lean (ground turkey breast), which can end up dry and flavorless.
A good compromise is 93 percent lean ground turkey, which we combine with a small amount of hot Italian turkey sausage and some canned tomato sauce for added flavor and moisture.
As a healthful filler, we add a cup of whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs, which are light and airy. But if your market doesn't carry them, regular whole-wheat crumbs will do.
Finally, the meatballs are baked rather than fried, which also helps to hold down the fat and calorie count.
Unlike the classic heavy, cheesy Italian sandwich, this light, whole-wheat pita pocket is filled with crunchy shredded romaine lettuce and juicy diced tomatoes along with a satisfying serving of meatballs. A drizzle of low-fat creamy Caesar or Italian dressing ties the whole thing together.
If you're not in the mood for the pita pocket, these meatballs do just as well simmered in your favorite tomato sauce and served over whole-grain spaghetti.
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend
1/2 cup canned tomato sauce
12 ounces (93-percent lean) ground turkey
6 ounces hot Italian turkey sausage, removed from casing
2 cups Italian seasoned panko breadcrumbs
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
6 sandwich-size whole-wheat pita breads
3 cups shredded romaine lettuce
3 cups diced tomatoes
6 tablespoons low-fat creamy Caesar or Italian dressing
Heat the oven to 375 F. Coat a wire rack with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet.
In a large nonstick skillet over medium-high, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute until the onion is soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.
Stir in the garlic and Italian herb blend, then cook for another 30 seconds. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl, then stir in the tomato sauce. Let cool for 10 minutes.
Add the ground turkey, turkey sausage, breadcrumbs, egg whites, salt and pepper, then mix well. Form the mixture into 1-inch meatballs (makes 24 meatballs). Place the meatballs on the prepared wire rack and bake until the meatballs are browned and cooked through, about 30 minutes.
To assemble the pita pockets, cut off one edge of each pita. Stuff with lettuce, tomato and meatballs, then drizzle with dressing.
Makes 6 servings.
Nutrition information per serving (values are rounded to the nearest whole number): 403 calories; 102 calories from fat; 11 grams fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 62 milligrams cholesterol; 51 g carbohydrate; 24 g protein; 5 g fiber; 1,293 mg sodium.