Tender Turkey Meatballs Recipe in Tomato Basil Sauce

How to easily make tender ground turkey meatballs cooked in a quick and easy tomato basil sauce. Jump to the Turkey Meatballs Recipe or read on to see our tips for making them.

Tender Turkey Meatballs Recipe in Tomato Basil Sauce

These tender, moist turkey meatballs do not last long in our kitchen. The moment one of us turns away the other quickly sneaks a meatball and before we know it, all that’s left is an empty pan.

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How to Make Ground Turkey Meatballs Cooked in a Tomato Basil Sauce

You will love this easy recipe. There are no lengthy cooking times and no need to bake or sear the meatballs in advance. Instead, we make a very simple tomato basil sauce, bring it to a simmer then drop the meatballs right into the simmering sauce. After 25 minutes, they are done.

To make the sauce, cook chopped garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in a little olive oil then add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil. Then allow the sauce to simmer while you make the meatballs.

For the meatballs, we combine lean ground turkey with breadcrumbs, milk, egg, cheese, and herbs. After forming them into balls, we carefully drop them into the simmering sauce. Simple.

How to Make Ground Turkey Meatballs Cooked in a Tomato Basil Sauce

How to Make the Best Turkey Meatballs

For the most tender and light meatballs (using ground turkey, chicken, or beef) you need to have a light touch when mixing and forming. To help with this, we have two tricks:

  • First, combine all the ingredients before adding the ground meat. You’ll see that in our recipe we mix breadcrumbs, milk, an egg, and herbs together first. That way, when we add the turkey meat, all we need to do is lightly mix.
  • Second, these meatballs are pretty wet, so they easily stick together when forming. All you need to do is gently form into a ball. From there, just be careful when working with them. For the first 10 minutes of cooking, don’t stir the sauce and let the meatballs be. Once they’ve cooked and firmed up a bit, you can stir normally.

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Making Meatballs Ahead of Time

Meatballs are the perfect make-ahead meal. Here are our tips for making them in advance:

  • Make-ahead sauce: The tomato basil sauce can be made in advance and should last in your refrigerator up to 3 days and in your freezer for about 3 months. We recommend using freezer-safe glass containers, or double layers of freezer bags to store sauces. To thaw, simply leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Make-ahead meatballs: Arrange shaped and uncooked meatballs in a dish or on a baking sheet, without touching. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
  • Freezing uncooked meatballs: Prepare the recipe through the shaping step. Arrange them on a foil-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Place the frozen meatballs in a freezer container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.
  • Freezing cooked meatballs: Let the cooked meatballs cool completely, then transfer to a freezer container or food-safe bag. Freeze for up to 1 month. Frozen meatballs can be thawed overnight or reheated directly from the freezer. Reheat them in a simmering sauce for 10 to 15 minutes or in a warm oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

How to Make the Best Meatballs

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Recipe updated, originally posted January 2013. Since posting this in 2013, we have tweaked the recipe to be more clear. – Adam and Joanne

Tender Turkey Meatballs Recipe in Tomato Basil Sauce

  • PREP
  • COOK
  • TOTAL

There’s no lengthy cooking times, no baking and no searing these meatballs. Instead they are simmered in a simple tomato basil sauce. Have a light touch when mixing and forming the meatballs. Also, when you add them to the sauce, be careful not to stir the sauce for about 10 minutes so the meatballs have a chance to firm up. Once they’ve cooked and firmed up a bit, you can stir normally. Serve these alone with a dollop of ricotta cheese, over spaghetti, or with rustic bread.

Makes 4 servings

You Will Need

Tomato Basil Sauce

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 (28-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes

1 large basil sprig plus handful of torn basil leaves

Salt

Turkey Meatballs

1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs or regular breadcrumbs

1/2 cup milk, we use reduced fat

1 large egg

1 1/2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, coarsely grated (generous 1/2 cup)

1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves and tender stems, chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound ground turkey (93% lean)

Directions

  • Make Sauce
  • In a large skillet with sides and lid, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes then cook 30 seconds to 1 minute until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring often, until the color turns from bright red to orange, about 2 minutes.

    Pour in the crushed tomatoes and a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer. Add the basil sprig then taste for seasoning. Adjust with additional salt if needed. Continue to simmer while you prepare the meatballs.Turkey Meatball Step 1

      Stir breadcrumbs and milk in a large bowl, and then let sit 5 minutes. Add the egg, cheese, parsley, oregano, and the salt. Stir until well blended.

      Add the ground turkey and use a fork or your fingers to gently mix everything together until combined. For the most tender meatballs, try your best not to over mix.

      Wet your hands, and then form the mixture into 1-inch balls. You should get about 24 meatballs.

      Gently drop the meatballs into tomato sauce. (It’s okay if some are not completely covered by the sauce). Cover the skillet and cook 20 minutes. Gently shimmy the skillet to move the meatballs around a little and then cook another 5 to 10 minutes or until the meatballs are thoroughly cooked. Just before serving, scatter torn basil leaves over meatballs and sauce.Turkey Meatball Step 3

Adam and Joanne's Tips

  • Storing leftover meatballs: Store leftover meatballs in a food-safe container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Reheat over low heat in a saucepan or in the microwave.
  • Make-ahead sauce: The tomato basil sauce can be made in advance and should last in your refrigerator up to 3 days and in your freezer for about 3 months. We recommend using freezer-safe glass containers, or double layers of freezer bags to store sauces. To thaw, simply leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
  • Make-ahead meatballs: Arrange shaped and uncooked meatballs in a dish or on a baking sheet, without touching. Cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.
  • Freezing uncooked meatballs: Prepare the recipe through the shaping step. Arrange them on a foil-lined baking sheet and freeze until solid. Place the frozen meatballs in a freezer container or freezer bag, and freeze for up to 1 month. Thaw meatballs in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.
  • Freezing cooked meatballs: Let the cooked meatballs cool completely, then transfer to a freezer container or food-safe bag. Freeze for up to 1 month. Frozen meatballs can be thawed overnight or reheated directly from the freezer. Reheat them in a simmering sauce for 10 to 15 minutes or in a warm oven for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Nutrition Facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA Supertracker recipe calculator to calculate approximate values.

If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #inspiredtaste — We love to see your creations on Instagram and Facebook! Find us: @inspiredtaste

Nutrition Per Serving: Serving Size 6 meatballs / Calories 354 / Protein 37 g / Carbohydrate 28 g / Dietary Fiber 9 g / Total Sugars 14 g / Total Fat 12 g / Saturated Fat 4 g / Cholesterol 114 mg
AUTHOR: Adam and Joanne Gallagher

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48 comments… Leave a Comment
  • Alexandra December 21, 2015, 7:12 pm

    Does it matter if you use water instead of milk? If you have 1 1/2lbs of meat, should I add more liquid or an extra egg or leave the ingredients as is?

    Reply
    • Joanne December 22, 2015, 12:43 pm

      Make the recipe as-is. The extra 1/4-pound won’t make too much of a difference.The milk helps tenderize the meat. Water (or stock) can be used in a pinch, but if you have milk, I’d go with that.

      Reply
  • Kristal November 8, 2015, 8:10 pm

    These were amazing! Simple, delist, and they turned out perfect- which is saying something coming from me because I’m not a great cook, baking is more my speed.
    A couple of quick questions.
    Can I make these in a crockpot? If yes, how?
    I thought to make the sauce then put it in a preheated crockpot (you know, heat it up with water in it then dump the water out and add your food). I’m helping friends move and it seemed most practical to make and bring something than to order stuff or try and make it in the middle of unpacking.
    Thanks for this recipe!

    Reply
    • Joanne December 22, 2015, 1:25 pm

      These should work really well in a crockpot. Just add everything to the slow cooker and turn on until the meatballs are cooked through.

      Reply
  • Jennifer C July 10, 2015, 9:10 pm

    I have made these meatballs so many times that they are now a family staple. They are absolutely the best I’ve ever had! Including any that were from a restaurant. I’m thinking of branching out and trying sausage and beef instead just because, why not?

    Reply
  • Robyn April 9, 2015, 6:20 pm

    Just wanted to leave a tip that a cookie scoop works perfectly as a meatball shaper. I just combine the meat mixture in a bowl, set it beside my pan of sauce and scoop and dump. So easy! I have made this several times and totally love it – thanks for the great recipe! I’ve tried many different meatball recipes in the past (pre-bake the meat then add to sauce, etc) and these are by far my favorite. So tender and flavorful. Love the light sauce too. Doesn’t hurt that it is so simple and is a one pan dish too! I haven’t made with anything but turkey (love the lightness the turkey brings) but I’m sure they’d be great with plenty of other ground meats.

    Reply
    • Joanne April 10, 2015, 8:42 am

      Great tip, Robyn! Thanks for sharing.

      Reply
  • Iris February 6, 2015, 12:57 am

    These were amazing!! My first attempt at making meatballs and anything out of turkey and I was really impressed. Thank you so much for sharing 🙂

    Reply
  • Doug September 23, 2014, 5:30 pm

    Do yourselves a favor and try serving these with mashed potatoes smothered in the tomato sauce.

    Reply
  • Jazmin September 6, 2014, 11:59 am

    WOOWWWWW!!! these were absolutely beyond tasty! I used only a 1/4 cup of milk since I was afraid to put too much but that was the perfect amount. I did make the meatballs bigger which left me with alot of leftover sauce, but I think I’m just going to make a new batch of meatballs!! Thank you for sharing this recipe!

    Reply
  • Donna August 3, 2014, 7:53 pm

    Delicious and easy!! Just what I was looking for. The meatballs are very light and don’t taste like they are overpowered by the panko or the parmiagiano-reggiano. I will save this to favorites and make it again.

    Reply
  • sandra July 2, 2014, 12:49 am

    I have mad these three times, my family love them love the texture and the fast thank you.

    Reply
  • Melissa June 3, 2014, 6:09 am

    Used a fresh chili and an onion with the garlic, and added some diced mushrooms and zucchini to the sauce to boost the veggie content. Also used chicken mince as there was no turkey, but my goodness this recipe is awesome!!

    One thing- in the future I won’t be using milk, they were far too moist and I had to add more panko crumbs to even form a ball.

    Reply

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