Turkey Meatballs

Homemade meatballs. They take some time, but they’re certainly not difficult or terribly laborious to make. I’d never made them before last week, and now I’ve made them twice.

After a couple hours of mincing, chopping, measuring, mixing, sautéing, stirring, simmering, and tasting, it is incredibly satisfying to sit down to a plate of these turkey meatballs and tomato sauce. Made by you! In your home!

Definitely serve with wine. Definitely play some music while cooking. A Pandora station set to Carla Bruni works.

These meatballs manage to be light and tender, which probably has something to do with these being made from turkey. Chopping all those herbs is worth it, as their flavors really come through in the final browned meatballs covered in red sauce. On the first go with these meatballs, we formed our balls twice as big as the ones seen in these pictures. They were good and even more tender, seemingly barely held together. But the smaller meatballs are closer to bite size, and they offer up more surface area to get nice and browned.

Leftovers the next day are just as good.

turkey meatballs

These meatballs require a fairly long list of ingredients and some time, but they’re not difficult to make. And if you’re cooking for two, you’ll have leftovers for days.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 additional tablespoons
1 large yellow onion, very finely diced
6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 pound ground turkey (preferably dark meat)
1 egg
crushed red pepper
1 pound spaghetti, cooked just before serving
1/4 cup basil leaves, torn
grated Parmesan cheese

Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a large Dutch set over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for 8 minutes to soften. Stir in the garlic, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper. Sauté for four minutes. Remove from heat and reserve half of onion mixture in a large mixing bowl. Return the Dutch oven to the burner, adding the tomatoes with their juice and tomato paste to the onion mixture. Lower the heat and allow the tomatoes and onions to simmer while making the meatballs with the other half of the onion mixture.

Combine the breadcrumbs, lemon zest, parsley, thyme, and rosemary in the bowl with the reserved onion mixture. Add the ground turkey and egg, incorporating it all with your hands until everything is combined. Do not overmix.

Measure out the turkey mixture a tablespoon at a time and form into balls.

Now, there are two ways to cook the meatballs – in the oven or in a skillet. The oven is a good method if you want to set everything in the oven to cook and not have to stand at the stove, flipping and watching the meatballs. This is also the way Danny’s dad says his Sicilian side of the family made them. The skillet will give you slightly crispier meatballs, which I think I prefer, and you just have to cook them in several batches in a skillet. Both methods will give you good meatballs.

For the oven, line all meatballs close together on a large baking sheet. Add about a half-inch of water to the baking sheet to keep the bottoms of the meatballs from burning. Cook in an oven set to 400ºF for 20 minutes. Check the meatballs at this point, they should be just starting to brown. The water is probably mostly if not all gone, and you can add more if you want to but it’s not necessary. Increase the heat to 425°F and cook for another 15 minutes.

For the skillet, heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large (cast iron) skillet set over medium-high heat. Add a few of the meatballs per batch, making sure not to overcrowd the pan. Brown the meatballs on both sides, which will take a few minutes. Repeat with the rest of the meatballs.

When the meatballs are browned and done, stir them into the tomato sauce. Add a sprinkle of crushed red pepper for some heat. The meatballs should cook in the sauce for at least 20 minutes, and can hang out in here for up to an hour and a half.

Start up your spaghetti (or linguine, if you have a bf who insists he prefers linguine to spaghetti). Serve about 6 meatballs per person with a mound of spaghetti, torn basil, and grated parmesan.

Makes 36 small meatballs to serve 6. Adapted from Julia Turshen via Lottie + Doof.



13 thoughts on “Turkey Meatballs

  1. I want to give baking them another shot. We need better instructions than 450 degrees for 45 minutes. My father is crazy!

    Anyone have any good recipes for baking meatballs? Or any other good methods?


  2. These look delicious! I have only made homemade meatballs once and they weren’t as easy as I would have hoped. More because it was hard to keep the “ball” shape while cooking them in the skillet. But I love your idea to make them in the oven…this will be on my list of meals to make…SOON!

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