The tomato sauce that we’re making to go along with turkey meatballs in a couple of meal-planned lunches this week is easy. It is not, however, quick. The recipe actually sounds a little absurd at first: Five pounds of tomatoes, each one chopped, scooped, and grated before you’re even ready to start cooking. It’s from The New York Times and it’ll make you roll your eyes about the implied lives of the upper-middle class types who have time for this kind of faux farmhouse shit. Sauce made from canned tomatoes or simply purchased in jar form is just fine, and if your weekend is full of exciting summer plans, by all means, go for just such a shortcut and streamline the journey between now and eating lunch. But maybe loading up on produce and cooking all Sunday afternoon is your idea of an exciting summer plan. In that case, turn on the game—baseball season and tomato season coincide nicely like that—and hunker down with a box grater; this sauce is worth the extra effort.
Tomatoes (5 pounds plus one or two extra)
Grocery store additions:
Bread crumbs (I prefer to use panko)
Grated Parmesan cheese
Hoagie rolls (2)
Good fancy butter
Pantry staples you probably already have (but should add to the grocery list if you don’t):
Red pepper flakes
Salt & pepper
It’s the middle of the summer; you don’t want to be cranking the stove every day and I don’t want you to be. Most of the cooking for this week can be done ahead of time—say, on Sunday—with a certain amount of preparation still left over for when you get to the specific lunchtimes. The sauce, the meatballs, the Israeli salad, and the compound butter we’ll be using the second half of the week are all eminently make-ahead-able. Along with those recipes, which are detailed on the days you’ll be eating them below, you’ll want to make a pound of pasta. Spaghetti seems like the obvious choice to serve with meatballs, but it has the distinct practical liability as an office food of being almost impossible to eat without slurping. Go authentic at your own risk.
Don’t trust the Times classification of this sauce as “quick.” If it takes 30 minutes, that’s counting from after all the tomatoes are grated. To do so: Chop your 5 pounds of tomatoes in half and squeeze/scoop out the seeds and their ambient goop. Grate the tomato flesh on the large holes of a box grater, discarding the skins. This sounds more complicated than it really is. The first tomato will likely feel haltingly inefficient, especially when you see what a tiny pile of grated pulp you’re left with after just one half, but I promise the process quickly becomes soothingly rote; and you’ve probably got about a dozen other half-tomatoes to practice on. See the process in action in the video above.
By the end of let’s say, two quick innings (top and bottom) you should have several cups of pulp and a deep sense of satisfaction even before you turn the stove on. From here on on out, the sauce is a breeze. Get what should now be about 4 cups pulp into a saucepan large enough to comfortably fit a single layer of meatballs and add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste, a healthy drizzle of olive oil, salt, pepper, and something garlicy. A couple of cloves of minced mature garlic ,would be great but let’s assume you only have the ingredients from the shopping list above. That would be weird, but you could definitely use a small handful of finely-chopped garlic scapes as well. Stir it all together, bring it to a simmer, and let’s make some meatballs.
One of the great things about meatballs is how easy it is to tell you how to make them; really, this is just fantastic for me. Mix together ground turkey, chopped onion, chopped parsley, panko, Parmesan cheese, milk, and one egg. The proportions are based on this recipe, although I found that a full onion is a little too much and ends up weakening the structural integrity of the balls. I prefer panko to traditional breadcrumbs to keep the meatballs from getting too dense. Once it’s all mixed together, reserve what looks like about a serving size for Tuesday and roll out the rest into whatever size and shape you like your meatballs to be.
If your sauce has been simmering for at least 10 minutes, go ahead and add the raw meatballs, which will cook as the sauce finishes up. Give the whole thing another 15 minutes or so uncovered, carefully rotating the meatballs every now and then. Store the meatballs in the sauce if you don’t need them right away. This recipe makes more than enough for the two uses in this week’s menu, so feel free to eat some Sunday night. For Monday, pack a serving of pasta, meatballs, sauce, and a sprinkle of grated Parmesan and chopped parsley if you’re feeling fancy.
An Israeli salad sounds sort of half-finished when you describe it, but since I eat leaves only out of begrudging necessity, I find it far more satisfying than most green salads. Whenever you’re prepping lunch for the week, dice a tomato, an onion, and a cucumber. Add however much chopped parsley suits your tastes and you’re most of the way there. The un-dressed veggies will keep just fine in the fridge all mixed together until you need them.
To make this meal-worthy, saute the leftover meatball mix in a generous glug of olive oil and with a hefty sprinkling of za’atar spice. (If you happen to see za’atar at the store, you should certainly acquire it to make all sorts of seasonings easier, but since it’s technically a spice blend, you can accomplish roughly the same thing by adding a healthy pinch of however many of the following you keep in your pantry: oregano, sumac, cumin, sesame seeds, salt, pepper.) Pack the cooked meat separate from the mixed veggies and on Tuesday, reheat the meat, stir it all together and dress with olive oil, or something more elaborate for added flavor.
Assuming you’ve been able to resist leftovers for dinner every night, you should still have some meatballs and sauce sitting in the fridge, right? On Wednesday you’re packing three meatballs with plenty of sauce, a couple of slices of mozzarella cheese, and a hoagie roll. I don’t think I need to tell you how to turn this into a sandwich that will be the envy of the office.
For the tail end of the week, we’ll be using a garlic scape compound butter. It comes together quickly but also, it’ll keep in the refrigerator for at least a week and has almost unlimited uses, so you should feel free to make it well in advance.
Chris Thompson has expounded upon the virtues and applications of compound butter before, if you need convincing beyond customized, flavorful fat. He also details the disparity in difficulty that depends on whether you’re using a food processor or your own hungry muscles; hopefully you’ve found his description convincing and have acquired said processor.
Assuming you have, pulse roughly-chopped garlic scapes until they’re essentially minced. Add room-temperature butter of a quality at least one step above Land O’ Lakes and whir it all together. When the blade starts to struggle, pour in some olive oil to smooth everything out. Add the zest and juice of one lemon and a generous pinch of sea salt and blend until you have what looks like beautiful green icing.
Cooking pretty much any vegetable in the compound butter will make it infinitely more appealing, which is what we’re relying on for Thursday’s lunch. Wednesday night, melt a big hunk of the butter in a hot pan and quickly saute chopped squash and onions. In the final minute of cooking, add some pieces of prosciutto and let them get just a little crispy. Mix this with your leftover spaghetti and reheat with an another lump of butter for extra flavor.
I’ll be honest: A lot of what I make for these lunches is partly performative, because I know I’ll be writing about it. A simple sandwich is a perfectly respectable lunch. And a sandwich elevated by a smear of this compound butter will put any of the interchangeable, overpriced options available near most offices to shame. If you’ve got good bread and one or two other good ingredients, you’ve got lunch. Using leftovers from earlier in the week, make a sandwich of prosciutto, sliced tomato, and a thick layer of softened garlic scape butter. You’ll wonder why you ever bother to cook at all.