Meatball evolution

My mother made (and still makes) the most delicious meatballs.  I remember going to Italian restaurants as a kid and always being disappointed with the ones served alongside my pasta/ravioli/etc.  Part of her secret was not mixing everything together perfectly.  You would find a lump of bread or some cheese that wasn’t smoothed into the meat mixture.  The meatballs were dynamic in this way.  And they never failed to satisfy me or be the best part of our spaghetti meal.

The meatballs I am going to show you are very different from hers, but they evolved from them in a sense – I keep certain things the same – always letting the mixture sit for a period of time and always adding Parmesan cheese, as well as kneading the mixture with my hands.  I can say that my mother’s meatballs are more along the lines of comfort food (but are by no means unhealthy).  Just like an “evolved” creature, these meatballs are not better, not “worse”, they are just different or at least suited for a different environment.

I’ve made this recipe twice now, served alongside spaghetti squash.  I think these may become my family’s staple meatball – they will be my kid’s “Mom’s Meatball”, and then they will have “Grandma’s Meatballs” too.  You can choose to use either 99% lean ground turkey or lean (93/7) ground beef.  There is less than a 10 calorie difference between the two, per meatball, if you are a stickler for ground beef.  Either way, I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Herbed Turkey Meatballs
(makes 20, ~1.5″ meatballs)

  • 1 lb 99% lean ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup quick cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup various fresh herbs, or about as much as is pictured below – yes, that is a lot of herbs! (I used equal portions of rosemary, sage, basil, and oregano – and yes, they must be fresh!)
  • 1/2 yellow onion
  • 5 medium cremini mushrooms
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 T grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 T milk (2% or whole)
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I also add in a few dashes of cayenne)

(Note: this recipe calls for the use of a food processor.  A blender will probably work fine for processing the herbs and oatmeal as shown below.  It may also work for processing the mushrooms and onions, though you may end up having to hand-mince these items.  Not a big deal, you will just not get as smooth of a meatball in the end, which I’d be happy with, but it depends on the person.)

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and coat lightly with olive oil or non-stick cooking spray (I spray lightly with olive oil using a Misto).
  2. In a food processor, add 1/2 cup of oatmeal and all the herbs.
  3. Run the processor until the herbs are roughly the same size as the ground oatmeal.
  4. Pour the oat/herbs mixture into a large glass bowl and set aside.  Meanwhile, pulse the onion and the mushrooms together in the food processor until they are minced.  You’ll be just about ready to combine all the rest of the ingredients at this point.
  5. In the large bowl, combine the oats and herbs, minced onion and mushrooms, and ground turkey.  Add the egg and Parmesan cheese, milk, as well as freshly ground pepper to taste.
  6. Mix the mixture together thoroughly, kneading with your hands.  I find this is the best and the most satisfying way to make the meatballs (yes, and also the most messy for your hands – but that is part of the fun :-)).  The finished product should stick together nicely and form a smooth ball that resembles bread dough in texture.
  7. Cover the ball with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.
  8. With your hands, roll roughly 1.5″ balls and place them evenly spaced on a baking sheet.
  9. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the meatballs are done in the center (they should look like they have a nice, baked “crumb” texture in the middle).
  10. Once you have tested a meatball, or are confident that they are done, place the meatballs under the broiler, set on high, until they are golden brown on top.  This step is optional; however, I feel like it does add nicely to their texture and appearance.

As you can see, the meatballs are very light and are not greasy at all.  The oatmeal lends itself well to making a very moist meatball.  They go fabulously with spaghetti squash and marinara sauce, though I’m sure they’ll work well with just about any Italian dish.  My husband and I have also dipped these in pineapple salsa as a snack/appetizer and they were delicious that way.

This recipe is very versatile.  I’m currently toying with an adaptation that would include the addition of diced apple, roughly chopped dried cranberries, and a dash or two of cinnamon and nutmeg –  to be served with turkey gravy.  If you find a combination of ingredients that works well for you, please leave a comment!

(Nutrition estimate per meatball: ~47 kcal, 3 g carbohydrates, 1 g fat, 6 g protein, 27 mg sodium, 0 g sugar)