One-Pan Italian Turkey Meatballs with Easy Marinara Sauce are seasoned with a blend of dried herbs and, using a few tips provided, come out tender and full of flavor. Once the meatballs have been formed, the dish comes together in a flash.
There’s something about meatballs simmering in red sauce that feels instantly cozy and comforting. Meatballs are always a dinner win at my house, and this healthier twist on classic Italian meatballs has been a popular one. We’ve been serving these meatballs and sauce over spaghetti squash for the adults, regular spaghetti for the kids, topped with a healthy dose of grated parmesan for all. Bonus that meatballs are a freezer-meal dream – just defrost and use them as you need them.
Italian Turkey Meatball and Marinara Sauce Ingredients
- Breadcrumbs – In this and almost all recipes, I prefer to use Panko breadcrumbs. Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs that can be found in the international aisle of almost any grocery store. Panko has a large, fluffy texture that works especially well to soak up and hold onto the liquid in this recipe. If you don’t have Panko, any type of breadcrumbs – homemade or store-bought – will work.
- Milk – As noted above, breadcrumbs and milk work together to retain moisture in the meatballs, making them tender and juicy. Any type of milk will work.
- Ground Turkey – Just like with chicken, turkey is available in both light and dark meat. Light meat ground turkey will work just fine, but dark meat ground turkey has a higher fat content and will give you the most tender and juicy meatballs.
- White Onion – You just need a very small white onion for this recipe. Chop it as finely as you can. 2 Tbsp will go into the meatballs and the rest will be used in the sauce.
- Italian Herb Seasoning – This easy blend of dried herbs gives big, fresh flavor to the dish without the need to chop fresh herbs. Find the recipe for my homemade seasoning here. In a pinch, you can also use store-bought Italian Seasoning. Divide one batch of the seasoning in half, stirring half into the meatballs and using half to flavor the sauce.
- Egg – An egg helps to bind the meatball ingredients together.
- Crushed Tomatoes / Tomato Paste – These two pantry ingredients are all the additional ingredients you’ll need to make a flavorful, classic red sauce. Look for “tomato sauce” if you don’t see canned “crushed tomatoes”.
Tips for Tender Turkey Meatballs
- Panko + Milk – You’ll find some combination of breadcrumbs and liquid in any good meatball recipe. The breadcrumbs work to absorb liquid and slowly release it into the meatballs as they cook, resulting in tender, not-dry meatballs. Panko works especially well because it comes in large pieces that absorb maximum liquid.
- Onions – Adding very finely chopped onions to the meatball mixture creates tender meatballs because the onions release moisture into the meatballs as they cook. Just be sure to chop the onions very finely – you don’t want even want to know that they’re there when you bite into a meatball.
- Dark Meat – Ground turkey comes in light and dark meat. These meatballs will work with light meat, but using darker meat with lead to tender, more juicy meatballs.
- Don’t Overwork – When mixing the meatballs, do it gently and only until everything is combined. That’s why mixing with your hands works great. Overworking the mixture can lead to tough meatballs.
Freeze This Meal
This is an easy meal to freeze. Use either of these methods:
- Baking Dish / Oven: Transfer the cooked meatballs and sauce to a square baking dish or reusable aluminum pan. Cover tightly with foil (to minimize the amount of air in the dish) and freeze for up to 6 months.
- Freezer Bag / Microwave: Transfer the cooked meatballs and sauce to a freezer-safe plastic bag. Press out as much air as possible and seal. Lay the meatballs flat in the freezer (I do this on a sheet pan, so they freeze very flat) until frozen solid. To reheat, defrost in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. Transfer meatballs to a microwave-safe bowl and cover with a paper towel or microwave-safe lid. Heat, stirring every minute, until heated through, 4 to 5 minutes total.
Be sure to print the recipe below for a cut-out label with reheating instructions. Tape it to the baking dish or freezer bag so that cooking directions are always at your fingertips.
How to Deliver This Meal To Someone Else
This would be a fun meal to deliver to someone who could use a little extra TLC because it super family-friendly and flexible. The meatballs are great served on their own (no pasta necessary) or with a baguette on the side. I like to add in a package of pasta for an easy serving option too. See below if you are making this for someone who needs to eat gluten-free or low-carb.
- Garlic Bread Hawaiian Rolls
- Uncooked Spaghetti or other Pasta
- Store-bought Salad Kit (or greens + avocado + vinaigrette)
How to make Gluten-Free, Low-Carb Meatballs
Most meatballs include a small amount of breadcrumbs that act as a binder. The breadcrumbs are soaked in liquid and the combination of these two ingredients helps to retain moisture inside the meatballs. You can omit the breadcrumbs and liquid in almost any meatball recipe. Meatballs without breadcrumbs can be a bit more soft and finicky to work with, but they will cook up fine.
To make the entire dish gluten-free or low-carb, serve the meatballs and sauce over spaghetti squash. Click here for everything you need to know about preparing spaghetti squash.
- Dutch Oven, Saute Pan, or Cast Iron Skillet – The Dutch Oven and Saute Pan linked here are a bit of an investment, but I’ve had both of these for over 10 years. The tall, straight sides are perfect for keeping simmering, splatter-prone red sauces contained. Cast Iron Skillets are more affordable and always cook beautifully.
- Splatter Screen – Hands down the best kitchen-related purchase I’ve made in the past year (and so affordable!). This keeps oil from splattering all over the cooktop but lets heat and steam escape. I’ve reduced my stovetop clean-up by a ton after buying this inexpensive tool.
One-Pan Italian Turkey Meatballs with Marinara
- Dutch Oven, Saute Pan, or Skillet
- Spaghetti or other type of pasta (or spaghetti squash for a lower carb / lighter option)
- Grated Parmesan Cheese
- Chopped Parsley (for topping)
Make the Meatballs
- Combine Panko breadcrumbs and milk in a large mixing bowl.
- Let sit for 5 minutes to allow the breadcrumbs to soak up the liquid.
- Set a small sheet pan, baking dish, or cutting board next to the bowl (this is where you will line up the meatballs as you shape them).
- To the breadcrumbs / milk, add turkey, 2 Tbsp onion, 1 ½ tsp Italian Herb Seasoning, and egg. Add salt (1 tsp if your Italian Seasoning doesn't include salt; 1/2 tsp if your Italian Seasoning does include salt).
- Using your hands, gently combine all of the ingredients, mixing them just until combined (but being careful not to over-mix).
- Use a 1 Tbsp measuring spoon to scoop up one heaping spoonful of the meatball mixture at a time and then roll it into a ball. (Don’t worry if they aren’t all perfect balls, but try to make them uniform in size so they cook evenly.)
- Line up the meatballs on the prepared pan as you make them. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate the meatballs to cook them later if you’d like.
- Heat a large Dutch oven, saute pan, or skillet over low-medium heat. Add oil and let it heat for a minute until shimmering. When oil is hot and shimmering, transfer the meatballs to the pan (I find it easiest to use my hands to quickly transfer the meatballs one-by-one).
- Let the meatballs sear on the bottom for 2 minutes and then give them pan a gentle shake or use a spatula to gently turn them so that the meatballs start to roll around a bit (this will help them to hold their round shape).
- Continue cooking meatballs, turning with a spatula or tongs, until meatballs are nearly cooked through. (Take one out of the pan and slice it open to be sure. It should be tender and juicy inside but not look pink.) It should take a total of 8 to 10 minutes to cook the meatballs.
- Transfer the meatballs to a plate and return the pan to heat.
- If the pan looks dry, add a splash of oil.
- Add 3/4 cup onion. Saute until onion is tender and starting to brown in spots.
- Add 1 ½ tsp Italian Herb Seasoning and tomato paste and stir for 1 minute.
- Pour crushed tomatoes into the pan and stir everything to combine.
- Simmer sauce for 2 minutes to let the flavors come together.
- Add meatballs to sauce and cook everything together for 1 minute.
- Serve meatballs over spaghetti (or spaghetti squash) or with bread on the side. Top with parmesan and chopped parsley.
Just hangin’ out on a bridge in flip-flops in these last days of summer…
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