Fresh Herb Turkey Meatballs and Sauce

I strongly dislike the word ‘instead’. When2013-01-21 18.40.25 a person uses the word instead, they are implying that some sort of substitution has been made, and often connotatively suggesting that the thing being replaced is – for some reason or other – disagreeable, undesirable, unwanted, or otherwise bad. When it comes to food and drink, you’ll often hear “instead” used as a tool for healthy-living:

“Drink MGD64 instead of beer with flavor.”

“Use low-fat cheese instead.”

“I made these muffins with orange juice instead of butter and sugar.”

“Don’t eat beef, eat turkey instead.”

I know that Sasquatch wouldn’t like to hear it, so why should I? It’s just disappointing. When I hear these kinds of statements, I don’t feel like I’m making a good choice, I feel like something is being taken away from me. I love beef, good beer, butter, sugar and full-fat cheese. They’re delicious. That’s why I choose to eat them. The thing is, I also choose to eat the “instead’s”… I just do so on my own terms; I make them taste good.

Which brings us to turkey meatballs. I’ve struggled to find a good recipe for turkey meatballs for a while now. Most recipes embrace the “instead” mentality in that they’re attempting to produce a substitute for “real” meatballs. Big mistake. A Rachel is not a Reuben, and turkey meatballs are not regular meatballs, it’s just not possible. So when making a turkey meatball, the first thing you need to do is throw that notion out the window, and accept that you’re working with a lean meat. Ground turkey is usually around 90% lean, which means that – in order to make a juicy, flavorful meatball – you’ll need to supplement the flavor and fat from other sources.  When making meatballs, I also like to make a basic sauce, and serve them with spaghetti for a traditional, comforting meal. For the full dish, you will need the following ingredients:


  • ½ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1.25 lbs ground turkey (1 package)
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 large egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • Crushed red pepper (if you like some spice)
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 cans crushed tomatoes (I use the kind with pre-mixed Italian spices)
  • 1tbsp fresh oregano
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil
Sliced garlic in evoo
Sliced garlic in evoo

To make the sauce, heat olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add the garlic, and cook (stirring) for 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, and cook (stirring) for 1 more minute. This will produce this weird brownish-red paste, with slices of garlic mashed in… don’t worry, it’s supposed to look like that. Mix in the tomatoes, herbs, and a pinch of salt and pepper (canned tomatoes have plenty of sodium already), bring to a boil, and then simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15-20 minutes.

garlic and tomato paste
garlic and tomato paste
To make the meatballs, begin by combining the breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, basil and garlic in large bowl. Mix the ingredients with a spoon until they’re well-combined.2013-01-21 17.55.54

Add the milk to this mixture, and stir until it’s well-mixed. It will form chunky (but pleasant-smelling) paste. Add the turkey, egg, and a pinch of salt and pepper (and the crushed red pepper if you like some spice, and then dig in with your hands… it’s the only good way to mix it up ;).2013-01-21 18.02.58

Form the mixture into medium-sized balls (about 1.5 – 2 inches).2013-01-21 18.10.57

Heat the oil in a large, non-stick pan over medium heat. Cook the meatballs, turning them often, until evenly browned. This may take 6-8 minutes or so.

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Transfer the thoroughly browned meatballs to the sauce, and simmer for 10 minutes to finish cooking. This final ten minutes is also a good time to cook the pasta.

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Serve and enjoy! I know I did!

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