These juicy baked turkey zucchini meatballs are served with homemade marinara sauce! Ready in about 30 minutes, this is a crowd-pleasing recipe easy enough to whip up on a weeknight!
Baked Turkey Meatballs
When we lived in Brooklyn one of our happiest Sunday afternoon traditions was to schlep a few miles south, find a seat at the bar, and order a good part of the menu at our favorite little pizza shop. Icy cold draft beers, piping hot Neapolitan pizzas, and one or two small plates to start. My definition of heaven on earth.
One of my favorite starters was the meatballs in sauce. No pasta; no bread; just perfectly plump and juicy meatballs delicately surrounded by a few spoonfuls of spicy marinara sauce.
Simple, sensational, and so so satisfying. The way real Italian food is and should always be.
Last week I awoke with a fierce craving to once again call those meatballs my own, and decided to take matters into my own hands. <—- Recipe testing beats a 3 hour drive to Brooklyn every time 😉
Knowing many of you love quick, healthy, family friendly meals inspired me to take my dreamy Brooklyn meatball memories and transform them into a recipe we can all make at home – and fast! P.S. If you’re only here for the sweets and treats – don’t worry- I have something just for you coming up next (hint: cherries + brown butter are involved!).
So today I’m sharing with you my new favorite dinner recipe with you…
Baked Zucchini Meatballs in Homemade Marinara Sauce!
These meatballs are dairy and grain free ( Yup! No Parmesan or Breadcrumbs), baked in the oven, and finished off with a slightly spicy and super flavorful marinara sauce.
This recipe is:
- Quick √
- Easy √
- Healthy √
- Hearty √
- Big on flavor √
- Low in calories √
- Sure to please √
Seriously you guys, this simple Italian meal has me ready to book a one-way trip to Rome! Hey, a girl can dream… right? Keeping my savings account in mind I’ll just have to settle for a second helping and a few glasses of red wine. Not a bad compromise 😉
How to Prepare the Zucchini
First thing you’re going to need to do? Grate some zucchini!
You’ll want to grate two whole cups (about 1 large zucchini). Measure it first, then transfer it to a fine mesh strainer, a piece of cheesecloth, or a verrry clean and lint free dishtowel. You’ll want to let the zucchini rest a few minutes so it can begin releasing moisture – this will happen almost immediately – then squee(eeeeeeeeee)ze as much liquid out of the shredded zucchini as possible. There will be a lot of excess liquid, so this may take two or three tries. When you’re done squeezing your zucchini it will look more like 1 cup than the the two you started with.
Once your zucchini is prepped, grab a large mixing bowl and toss in your meat, onions, garlic, eggs, zucchini, seasoning, and olive oil.
Then the fun (and kind of gross) part: smash it all together with your hands!
Roll the Meatballs
Once you’ve combined all of the ingredients, you’ll simply roll and bake. I like to make my meatballs around 2 tablespoons in size (1/8 of a cup) but you can make them a little bigger if you’d like; just remember to increase the bake time accordingly. I find my two tablespoon meatballs are perfectly cooked right around the 25 minute mark. Be sure not to over bake yours or they’ll loose their juiciness and taste “tough”.
Make the Marinara Sauce
Now, while the meatballs are in the oven doing their thing, we make the sauce!
This is the simplest of simple marinara sauces. Crushed tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, sugar, and seasoning. I also add a hearty pinch of crushed red pepper flakes, but if you’re not into heat – or feeding children – you can skip this ingredient, or use a smaller amount. The sauce only needs to simmer for 15 minutes, meaning it’s ready to go the second those juicy meatballs emerge from the oven.
Final step: Toss meatballs in sauce and DIG IN.
You can eat these meatballs on their own, add some crusty bread, place them over a bed of spaghetti, top them with cheese, etc. The ways to enjoy are endless ♡
My favorite way? Extra sauce, cold beers, handsome face sitting across the table. We both go crazy for this meal every-single-time.
More Meatball Recipes:
- Easy Baked Meatballs
- 30-Minute Mozzarella Stuffed Turkey Meatballs with Homemade Marinara Sauce
- Italian Sausage Meatballs
Baked Turkey Zucchini Meatballs
For the Meatballs:
- 2 pounds ground turkey meat (ground beef will work too!)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 large eggs
- 3 1/2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- Salt and ground black pepper, to taste (I suggest starting with 1 and 1/4 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper)
- 2 cups zucchini, finely grated and drained (it will look more like 1 cup once it's been drained of excess liquid; see post if you need more clarity on this)
- 1 small red onion, grated
For the Sauce:
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
For the Meatballs:
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees (F). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.
- In a large bowl combine ground turkey meat, olive oil, minced garlic, eggs, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper, zucchini, and onion. Using your hands mix the meat mixture until the ingredients are evenly combined; the mixture should be very moist but still hold its shape when rolled into balls.
- Scoop two tablespoon sized balls of meat from the mix, roll into a firm ball, and place on prepared baking sheet; repeat with remaining meat.
- Place the baking sheet in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they're evenly brown and cooked though.
- While the meatballs bake, make your marinara!
For the Sauce:
- Warm the oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add in the garlic and sauté for one minute, or until the garlic is just golden (careful not to burn it here) and fragrant. Add the crushed tomatoes, salt, pepper, sugar, seasoning and crushed red pepper flakes, mix well to combine. Simmer the sauce for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.
- When meatballs are done baking, add them to the sauce, stir to coat, and serve.
They look great! Healthier and really delicious option!
Exaaaaaactly 😉 Thank, Medeja.
These look fantastic! I’m trying to find stuff I can stock the freezer with before my second Lovie arrives. Do you think these would freeze well? I’m new to freezer meals, so would you recommend cooking fully and then just storing in the freezer? My two year old is a meatball fanatic so these would be wonderful to have on hand!
Hi Branna. Congrats on the upcoming arrival of your second little one 🙂 So exciting! I think these will freeze just fine. You could even cook them fully, toss them in the sauce, let the entire thing cool, then transfer to a freezer safe container and freezer. I think they’ll be good in there for at least a month, maybe two.
I had to come back and tell you that these freeze perfectly! I did freeze the in the sauce like you suggested and they were fantastic. Also – these are hands down the best meatballs I have EVER had. They are so tender and seasoned so well. My husband isn’t a fan of ground turkey because he says it’s always so dry, but he loved these too! And my oldest son (almost 3) devoured his. He kept saying, “These are so yummy for me!” I didn’t tell him about the veggies hiding in there, I’ll keep that as another (secret) reason why I love these so much. I haven’t been able to get him to eat anything green for about 3 months now!
Okay, I’m finished obsessively raving about your meatballs now. I hope you can tell by my over excitement just how much I love these and how perfect they are for our family. THANK YOU!
What method did you use to cook them after defrosting?
I’m on the Ideal Protein diet tonight and made this tonight…just leaving the sugar out of the sauce. Amazingly yummy!!!!
Hi Corrie. So happy you enjoyed the meatballs! They have been one of my favorite meals this Summer. Thank you for letting us know you liked the recipe – and that leaving the sugar out will work for those interested in trying it the same way 😉
You can always replace sugar with dates molasses.. it’s healthier,goes well with tomato sauce and doesn’t change the food taste
I have had a turkey zucchini meatballs at a local shop, but they use sourcream as a topping with sumac. I have some homemade sauce I would rather use then I found your recipe which sounds great. I am thinking of using egg white instead of the whole egg, any thoughts? thanks
Hi Joanne. I find the yolk is really important in this recipe as it acts as a bonding agent. If you decide to try the egg whites, I’d love to hear how it turns out.
Hi! I made these last night and loved the flavor and how they came out overall, but when they came out of the oven they could best be described as “leaky.” Any ideas why or what it was? I assumed it was fat but I used 93% lean turkey. Either way, thanks for the recipe!
I salted, squeezed the zucchini 3-4 times…got as much liquid as I could…mixture was really wet but they formed into balls for the most part…10 mins to go and they look “leaky.” Was thinking to add breadcrumbs to get them drier and wish I did. Hoping there is a way to salvage them!
I made these last night and when I baked them there was a lot of moisture in the pan, but I put them on a cooling rack and baked longer until golden, maybe even another 10 minutes. They were delicious, I did not make the sauce but I did pop them into the freezer to use later, after I tried one of course 🙂 Probably the best turkey meatballs I’ve ever had, this recipe is definitely going to be a regular for me. Thanks!!
YAY!!! So happy they were a hit, Ashley 🙂
These were soooo good. I didn’t the problem others say they had with the meatballs oozing. I put the zucchini and the onion in a kitchen towel and squeezed the hell out of it. I got a lot of water out of the veggies.
Perfectly moist and well seasoned meatballs 🙂 Thank you!
I just made these! Tastes really good and I made doodles to go with it. Mine also appeared “leaky” as the above comment when coming out of the oven. Any way to avoid this next time?
Thanks for the great recipe!
Hi Trish. You could try baking them on a cooling wrack so the liquids leak down onto the pan. Happy you enjoyed the recipe 🙂
Yep I just had the same experience– Baked these but when I took them out of the oven, the entire sheet was covered with leaked-out liquids (I assume whatever fat was in the meat and liquids from the veggies). It was a little gelatinous so as I took each meatball off of the sheet, I scraped the extra “stuff” off the bottom of each meatball. Not the sexiest thing in the world but it worked! I like your suggestion of baking them on a cooling rack– I think that would have solved the problem. Thanks!
Amazing! Just cooked these but; I made half the ratio of the turkey meatballs, while cooking the amount of sauce as listed above and tossing in some wheat penne pasta. It was a hit and the red pepper flakes added thee perfect kick 😛 Thank you!
These are so tasty! I made them tonight with the sauce and some spaghetti noodles and we had some good ole spaghetti and meatballs. They took me a lot longer than 10 minutes to assemble, though.
I don’t think I drained my zucchini very well because I was kind of in a rush to finish up and the zucchini was still pretty juicy, so my meatballs were a little juicy and they leaked onto the paper when they were in the oven. I think I made my meatballs a little smaller than 2 tbsp each (just kind of eyeballed them), and they shrunk a little more in the oven, but what I’m trying to say is that despite my imperfect cooking abilities, these turned out amazing. Will definitely make these again and again!
Thank you! So happy to hear you enjoyed the recipe, Katie.
I absolutely LOVE these meatballs, I got 2 thumbs up from my Italian hubby. I have made the sauce 3 times now….easy and so delicious!!! Thank you thank you thank you!!
Linda, this comment made my night! So happy to hear you and your hubby are enjoying this recipe 🙂
Mine turned out yummy but super runny (so runny, they were difficult to mold) and leaky when I took them out of the oven. I thought it may be because of the onions—did you strain those like you did the zucchinis? I ended up adding Panko bread crumbs and that helped quite a bit.
Elise Huet says
These meatballs were delicious! I made them for dinner last night and ate them on a bed of rice with some veggies on the side. I followed the recipe exactly, using a tea towel to squeeze out the zucchini, and they turned out perfectly! They held their shape and went along with the sauce very nicely. I will certainly be making these again 🙂
Awesome! Thank you so much for letting me know they were a hit, Elise 🙂
Janet KItsmiller says
These look delicious. I am going to make them without the sugar.
Great recipe. That said, if I try to view the recipe on my phone it keeps going to a click ad page and it’s impossible to go back to the recipe. I understand the need to monetize your site, but honestly, whatever it is on the page that goes to the ad makes it impossible to view the recipe, you have to redo the search and go to your site again. I gave up trying to use my phone and had to use a desktop. Just thought you should know.
I liked the recipe but next time I will sauté the onions as I don’t like the crunchy texture in the meatballs.
I used grassfed organic ground beef and because of the higher fat content, I had a full baking sheet of fat. I removed the meatballs from baking sheet and finished them on stovetop. I then let the meatballs simmer for 2 hours in the marinara which I believe made them turn out fantastic.
I’ve made these more times than I can count so it is time to thank you for the recipe. As we get older, we are constantly looking for healthier versions of the food we love. There is no compromise here. Delicious! Thank you!
I absolutely love these!!! I make them once a month. Followed the recipe exactly and don’t have any issues.
So glad they freeze as I need to start making triple batches… especially since my boyfriend devours them; which he usually won’t even try my “healthy” meals. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂
Excellent! Thank you! Whole family enjoyed it including boy 3 and girl 4.5! I did put some parmesan too!
So happy to hear it, Vika!
Just made these last night and loved them! They were simple to put together and both the meatballs and sauce were flavorful. Thank you for the recipe, it’s a keeper!
Hi Laura! So happy you enjoyed the recipe 🙂
Emily Kenniston says
This was the single most delicious meatball recipe I’ve EVER made. I think these will become a staple in my family…
Only change was that I used dried onion powder instead of chopped onion. Still tasted wonderful. Thank you so much for this! 🙂
Phoenix C. says
I’ve made these 2x now and they’re delicious! I didn’t have italian seasoning so used garlic powder and tuscan olive oil instead. So juicy! 🙂
Delicious! I used a yellow onion! Great healthy dinner with pasta!
Kali P says
I love this recipe and follow it fairly closely. I’ve made this recipe at least 4-5 times and wanted to let you know how much I enjoy it. I do sauté the onion and garlic before I add them to the mix because I hate the flavor of them raw. I put the zucchini and the onion in nut milk bags so I can squeeze as much liquid out as possible. I also bake the meatballs on a rack so some of the liquid can drain out. I always make a double batch because they freeze beautifully and I love having them on hand.
These were sumptuous and I will definitely make again. I halted the recipe and used a small shallot. Next time I will sauté the shallot and garlic, since the kept repeating on me. I didn’t make the sauce and just opened a jar of marinara. My husband loved the meatballs and asked me to make them again. Thanks for sharing the recipe.
Ok I have made these 3 times now and my husband and kid both love them! But what the heck am I doing wrong that mine are always too soggy and barely hold a shape.
They always flatten out immediately and are like half moons haha, they still taste amazing but wondering what the culprit could be that I’m doing wrong? I make sure to wring out the zucchini thoroughly as well.
I don’t often comment on recipes but I’ve made this one a number of times now and they are fantastic! I think it’s the spices with just the right amount of zip. Do not omit the red pepper flakes.
The only thing I do different is double the sauce. Because it’s just so darn delicious!
Please try, you won’t be disappointed. My husband is Italian and loves these.
Lauren V says
I wanted to leave a comment for all of those that rated the recipe and said the meatballs were runny. I’m addition to making sure all the liquid was squeezed out of the zucchini, I added 1 cup of plain breadcrumbs and they turned out perfect! I also sautéed the garlic and onion prior to mixing them in to avoid them from being too crunchy.
LOVE this meatball recipe. It’s my go-to favorite recipe for meatballs.
These were really delicious! I cut the recipe in half and used jarred sauce. I would use less Italian seasoning next time! We loved these!
I haven’t made them yet but I’m so excited to try these. I have salted and pressed the zucchini now an hour and plan to let it sit a while. I make a cucumber salad that I salt and let sit under a cast iron with three cans on it get most of the liquid out. I’m doing this the same way zucchini and cukes are similar so I know this will work! Thanks for the recipe I’m so excited to try it.
Just made the meatballs. Pretty simple to make and was a big hit with the family… they were tender and flavorful. I only made a half recipe, but will definitely make the full recipe next time. Great way to add a veggie and a tasty change up to beef/pork.