by contributing writer Mary Cressler
Several years ago I discovered a very cool use for canned cranberries at a very unlikely location – a winery. I was out wine tasting during Thanksgiving weekend, and the owners of this particular winery were putting cranberries, which are overabundant during the holidays, to good use. They were serving up meatballs cooked in a cranberry and Pinot Noir sauce.
They mixed pinot noir and canned cranberries to make a sweet sauce for the meatballs. I loved the idea! It was such a fun and tasty holiday appetizer with flavors reminiscent of the season. I didn’t particularly love how it paired with the wine. The sauce was a bit sweet for my taste and not the best compliment to the wine. Plus they used store bought frozen meatballs (I don’t blame them, they had hundreds of guests coming through that weekend. I would have done the same!)
Despite all of that, I left inspired and had to figure out how to replicate that recipe on my own. I’ve now been making my version for about five years, and each year I try something a little different to make them even better. I’m finally happy with the results.
I prefer to use ground turkey for the meatballs for a healthier alternative to beef (plus it makes me feel better about indulging in that sweet sauce). And my secret to giving the meatballs a unique yet complimentary flavor is adding a handful of dried cranberries to the mixture. The sweet bite provides a nice contrast to the savory meatballs. I also add some Dijon mustard to both the meatball mix and the sauce for a touch of heat.
This is such a fun and festive dish that is perfect for holiday parties. They travel well, and you can just leave them warm in the crock-pot for guests to serve themselves.
- 1 pound ground turkey
- ½ onion, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, finely diced
- ½ cup breadcrumbs (or breadcrumb substitute)
- ½ cup dried cranberries
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
- ½ teaspoon each, salt and pepper
- 1 (16-ounce) can cranberry sauce
- 1 cup fruity red wine (Pinot Noir or other fruity red wine like Zinfandel)
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- Preheat oven to 375.
- Mix all meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon or with your hands.
- Shape into approximately 1 ½ inch balls. Place on a non-stick baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Drizzle the tops lightly with olive oil.
- Bake for 15 minutes until cooked through or until they reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
- In a medium size saucepan, combine the cranberry sauce, wine, brown sugar and Dijon mustard.
- Bring to a simmer and whisk continuously for about 5 minutes.
- Transfer the sauce to a crock-pot, add the meatballs, and gently stir together. Keep warm.
The actual meatballs are rather savory with a sweet bite from the dried cranberries and a touch of heat from the red chili flakes and Dijon. The sauce is rather sweet, also with a touch of heat from the Dijon. Because of this, I recommend a fruity red wine such as a new world Pinot Noir or Zinfandel to balance out the flavors.
A jammy Zinfandel is an excellent match for the sauce, but Pinot Noir is great with the actual meatballs. Though they are very different styles of wine, they both work quite well.
Whatever you chose, just make sure to use the same wine in the sauce as you are intending to drink for balance.
This has to be one of my favorite recipes for holiday parties. It’s seasonal, and it’s simple. You can make it ahead of time so that you can spend your time catching up with friends and family instead of sweating away in the kitchen. Plus they are delicious! It’s a win-win.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners.
She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.