Easy Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Basil Sauce
How to make tender ground turkey meatballs cooked in a quick and easy 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. Jump to the Tomato Basil Turkey Meatballs Recipe or read on to see our tips for making them.
How to Make the Best Ground Turkey Meatballs
These tender turkey meatballs do not last long in our kitchen. The moment one of us turns away the other quickly steals a meatball, and before we know it, all that’s left is an empty pan.
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 quick tomato basil sauce — similar to our marinara sauce. After bringing it to a simmer, we carefully drop the meatballs right into the sauce.
To make the sauce, cook chopped garlic and crushed red pepper flakes in olive oil then add crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil. Bring it to a simmer and allow it to reduce 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.
For the most tender and light meatballs (using ground turkey, chicken, or beef) you use 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 first. That way, when we add the turkey meat, all we need to do is lightly mix. We do this when making chicken meatballs, turkey burgers, and even meatloaf.
- Second, these meatballs are pretty wet, so the mixture is a bit sticky when forming the balls. Be gentle when forming into meatballs then after placing them into the sauce, don’t move them for the first 10 minutes of cooking. Once they’ve cooked and firmed up a bit, you can stir as usual.
Make Ahead Tips
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 three 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, just 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.
More Meatball Recipes
- The Best Swedish Meatballs — This recipe makes juicy and flavorful meatballs with a creamy, rich, and crave-worthy sauce.
- Tomato Basil Slow Cooker Chicken Meatballs — made with lean ground chicken, parmesan cheese, parsley, and oregano, and then cooked in a simple garlic and basil tomato sauce.
- Goat Cheese Stuffed Baked Chicken Meatballs — I love that these easy meatballs are baked — it makes them so easy.
- Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs with Spinach Pesto — How to make extra flavorful turkey meatballs tossed with an easy homemade spinach pesto.
Recipe updated, originally posted January 2013. Since posting this in 2013, we have tweaked the recipe to be more clear. – Adam and Joanne
Easy Turkey Meatballs in Tomato Basil Sauce
Easy turkey meatballs cooked in a simple tomato basil sauce. 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.
You Will NeedTomato 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
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)
- 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.
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 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 the sauce does not entirely cover some). 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.
Adam and Joanne's Tips
- Storing leftover meatballs: Store leftover meatballs in a food-safe container in the refrigerator 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 three months. We recommend using freezer-safe glass containers, or double layers of freezer bags to store sauces. To thaw, leave it overnight in the refrigerator.
- Nutrition Facts: The nutrition facts provided below are estimates. We have used the USDA Supertracker recipe calculator to calculate approximate values.