Turkey Meatballs

My love of meatballs goes back to my days as a visiting kid at my Italian grandmother’s house on Long Island. We never, I mean never, went hungry over there, and were offered a meatball, or a “meat-a-ball” almost as soon as we came in the door. We would pull up a seat at the table that consistently could seat 12, and savor our bowl of meatballs, extra sauce, and homemade pizza bread. Then we raided the fridge for the peanut butter cups tucked in there! I needed to recreate that comfort food for my boys. Little did I know that it would become one of their favorite meals, so I couldn’t always wait until the weekend to make them. I have been experimenting and perfecting this recipe for years, and I have it down to the essentials…give it a try and I hope you love them. My guys prefer the more tender texture of turkey to beef, plus it’s much lower in saturated fat. It just translates into being able to eat this more often!

This meal is absolutely do-able on a weeknight. Try it!

This meal is absolutely do-able on a weeknight. Try it!

Turkey Meatballs
Recipe type: Dinner
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 4
This recipe can easily be multiplied to make a large batch for company or parties. If you would like to freeze the meatballs, pack them with the sauce in quart containers and freeze.
  • Just over one pound of ground turkey (93 or 94% fat free, NOT ground turkey breast)
  • 1 slice bread (I use whole wheat sandwich bread, use a slice of whatever you have on your counter)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 egg
  • handful of fresh basil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • ½ cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
  • sugar
  • optional ingredients: sliced mushrooms, frozen peas, shredded or thinly sliced carrots
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Generously oil a non-stick sheet pan. I love my Chicago Metallic non-stick jelly roll pans.
  2. In a large glass bowl, tear the slice of bread into small pieces and pour in the milk. Mash the bread into the milk with a fork until it becomes a paste. This actually has a fancy name, panade, if you want to impress anyone watching.
  3. Add the ketchup, Worcestershire and egg to the bowl and mix well with the fork.
  4. Tear off a handful of fresh basil leaves from the stems (saving the stems), roll the leaves together and slice into thin ribbons. Toss basil into the bowl and mix. Add a teaspoon of Kosher salt and several turns of freshly ground pepper.
  5. Add the turkey meat to the bowl and shake the dry breadcrumbs over it. Gently fold everything together and gauge the texture of the mixture. Do you think it is too wet to form into neat meatballs? If so, add a little bit more breadcrumbs. I have never had this happen, but if it's too dry, you can add a tiny bit of water. I have seen it done and it works well.
  6. Pour a little bit of olive oil over your hands and roll the mixture into 12 meatballs. They will be about the size of golf balls. Place on the greased sheet pan.
  7. Place on the center rack in the oven and set a timer for 20 minutes. I use the convection feature to bake them, but you don't have to. I just rush them along!
  8. Now make your sauce. Small dice an onion, mince the garlic and saute in a Dutch oven with 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  9. If using, toss in the sliced mushrooms and shredded carrots and saute until slightly softened.
  10. Add the whole basil stems and the can of crushed tomatoes and reduce heat to medium-low. Salt and pepper again. Add a little bit of sugar, I use about a teaspoon. It rounds out all the flavors.
  11. Add the frozen peas, if using. Leave the sauce on the stove on low to await the meatballs.
  12. This is a good time to put on a big pot of water if you are serving pasta. I generously salt the boiling pasta water and use spaghetti most of the time for this dish.
  13. Using a wooden spatula or sturdy plastic turner, flip the meatballs. They will be caramelized on one side and I have found that the wooden spatula keeps the meatballs intact the best during flipping. Set the timer to bake them for 10 more minutes.
  14. Remove from oven and pop them directly into sauce so they stay moist. I let the meatballs sit in the just-slightly-bubbling sauce for about 10 minutes while I boil whatever pasta I am serving.
  15. Drain pasta, toss with some of the finished sauce so it doesn't stick together, and heap into the bowls first, adding the meatballs and extra sauce on top.
  16. Shower with freshly grated parmesan cheese and crushed red pepper if you would like and enjoy!



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3 thoughts on “Turkey Meatballs

  1. Yay! One of my favorite meals and certainly the most requested from the boys — I’m glad it finally made it to primetime in the blog. I’m sure everyone else that makes them will fall in love too!

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