Turkey Meatballs with Tomatoes and Basil

We used to have a cat named Jack. Jack was a sly, slow-moving, long-haired Persian that would rarely come when called, but if you put out a small bowl of vanilla ice cream, out of nowhere he would magically appear. This is sort of how my dad is with meatballs. All I have to do is say, “Dad, I’m making meatballs,” and he’s half-way out the door on the way over. He loves these.

It’s hard to go wrong with meatballs. You just need to make sure you don’t over-mix them, and you brown them slowly enough, and in enough fat, so that flavor develops and the meatballs cook through. That said, meatballs made with ground turkey can tend to be on the dry side. To counter that we add some sour cream to the mix, in addition to breadcrumbs. We also use ground turkey thigh meat, which we are able to get at our local butcher. If you can get ground thighs, I recommend it. Not only will they be more moist because thigh meat is fattier than breast meat, but also more flavorful.

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Turkey Meatballs with Tomatoes and Basil Recipe

  • Prep time: 20 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serve 4 to 6.

Ingredients

Meatballs

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground turkey (thigh meat if available)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup flour, for dredging
  • Sauce

    • 1/4 cup olive oil
    • 1/2 jalapeno chile, seeded, minced
    • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
    • 3 tablespoons white wine or chicken stock
    • 1 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, roughly chopped (can substitute a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes)
    • 1/4 cup fresh basil, thinly sliced

Method

1 In a large bowl, place the turkey, bread crumbs, sour cream, egg, minced basil, salt, minced rosemary, oregano, thyme, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes. Gently mix together using your (clean) hands. Place flour in a shallow bowl or plate. Use the palms of your hands to form 1 1/2 to 2-inch wide meatballs. Roll them in the dredging flour and set them on a plate or tray. You should have about 18 to 22 meatballs.

2 Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large, shallow sauté pan. Gently place the meatballs in the pan. You may need to work in batches as to not crowd the pan. Once the meatballs are sizzling, reduce the heat to medium low and gently cook them on at least 3 sides, so that they get browned pretty much all over, and cooked through. Use a fork to nudge the meatballs in the pan. Cooking the meatballs should take about 10 minutes per batch. A gentle heat will ensure that the browned meatballs get cooked through. Use a slotted spoon to remove the meatballs from the pan to bowl, set aside.

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3 Add the jalapeño and garlic to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Add the white wine or chicken stock. Increase the heat to high and boil down the liquid to the point where a wooden spoon leaves a trail through the pan as you scrape it along the bottom of the pan.

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4 Return the meatballs to the pan with the sauce and coat all over with the pan sauce. Add the fresh tomatoes and toss to coat. Cook for four minutes or until the tomatoes just begin to break down. Do not overcook the tomatoes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the fresh basil.

Serve with fresh mozzarella, parmesan or pecorino cheese. Serve alone or with pasta, rice, or in a sandwich roll.

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Links:

Turkey Meatballs with Romano Cheese - form Kalyn of Kalyn's Kitchen
Teriyaki Turkey Meatballs - from Dara, the Cookin' Canuck
Curried Turkey Meatballs - from Lydia of The Perfect Pantry


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41 Comments

  1. monty

    2 thumbs up. The only thing this recipe needs is a couple of slices of garlic toast and some dark cold beer. (or wine for you California folks) When I am in a hurry or don’t have bread crumbs I will omit the salt and use crackers. If I have Italian seasoned bread crumbs I cut the spices by half. You have helped me decide what will be for dinner tomorrow. Thanks

  2. S.

    Whoa!!!! These look incredible! You’re right, you can’t go wrong with these. Check out the color and I love meatballs! Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Carol

    Great recipe! What can be substituted for the sour cream (lactose-free)? Can coconut milk/cream be used?

    You can easily skip it. I’ve made it both ways, with and without. Both are excellent. ~Elise

  4. Jessica

    These look great — do you have any tips on freezing meatballs?

    I do not. Perhaps someone else reading this will chime in with advice? ~Elise

  5. Cristina

    It looks delicios !!

    Cristina

  6. Kalyn

    I’m definitely with your dad on the love of meatballs! Love the sound of these meatballs with fresh tomatoes and fresh basil, two things that are abundant here right now.

  7. Barbara

    I’ve frozen meatballs before, just don’t make the sauce yet. Once they’ve browned and cooled on a plate, place a wire cooling rack on a baking pan, and set the meatballs on that so they’re not touching each other. Freeze completely, then you can pop them into a resealable bag. Once you’re ready to eat them, make the sauce and gently reheat the meatballs in the pan. Worked like a charm for us!

    Can’t wait to try this recipe! Sounds and look delicious!

  8. Evan

    These sound good. Do you think that ground chicken thigh meat would work?

    It should work. If you try it please let us know how it turns out for you. ~Elise

  9. Beth

    A friend of mine from italy gave me a tip that has helped me make moist delicious meatballs time and time again. instead of using bread crumbs use some left over bread or rolls, and soak it in water so it gets soggy, then mix it in with the meat and spices. the result is a light, flavorful, moist meatball that practically melts in your mouth.

  10. christina

    What if you only have panko bread crumbs? Can these be substituted for regular bread crumbs?

    Also is there a gluten-free substitute for bread crumbs?

    thanks so much.

    I think the first time we made these we only had panko, so we ground it up in the food processor. As for a gluten-free substitute, are gluten-free breadcrumbs available now? If not, I would just skip them. ~Elise

  11. Steve-Anna

    Christina, Glutino makes really good gluten free bread crumbs. I use them in many recipes. I’m sure they would work well with this one.

  12. Angela

    Looks yummy! Can these be cooked in a slow cooker?

    No, they need to brown, which they cannot do in a slow cooker. They do cook up quickly though. ~Elise

  13. Dara

    Adding the sour cream sounds like a great way to keep the turkey meatballs moist. My kids sounds just like your dad – they come running when they hear the word “meatballs”.

  14. Suze

    Just had to laugh to myself – not only do I love meatballs of all kinds but on my walk this morning – my 2 border collies and I came upon 3 wild turkeys who have taken up residence in our neighborhood. We live in Johnson City TN – a residential community called Town Acres. Having wild turkeys is as such a treat. Although I can’t help do the anatomy assessment – roast turkey – Thanksgiving just around the corner. Thanks

  15. Chit

    Hi…what is a good substitute for ground turkey. Quite rare where I come from and expensive. Thanks.

    I would try ground pork, ground beef, or ground chicken. ~Elise

  16. Nanette

    I just made this. It was ridiculously great! Thanks.

  17. Pete

    I followed this recipe to a T and the results were great. Thanks for a new dinner staple!

  18. Elise Lafosse

    Hi Elise, These look great and I hope to try it this weekend. However just curious when you say serve it with fresh mozzarella at the end as one of the choices. Is the mozzarella grated on top? Can you even grate fresh mozzarella? maybe tear it up. Or do you serve slices on the side? I love fresh mozzarella and wondered what you had in mind here. I think I will also serve them with some pasta…any recommendations as to which type of pasta? I see a picture here of meatballs served with butterfly pasta…is that your picture or another recipe picture? Maybe I will use butterfly pasta as it looks nice. Though I am sure any will do. Thanks. Elise Lafosse

    Hi Elise, I think a thick slice of fresh mozzarella on top would be great, or a few of those little mozzarella balls tossed in with the meatballs. As for the photo with the butterfly pasta, we made this recipe a few times, one time with the butterfly pasta. I also had it over some egg noodle pasta which was great. I also like the meatballs straight up. ~Elise

  19. Madi @ Sit Down and Eat Your Peas!

    These look delicious! I’ve grown to prefer ground turkey over beef in a lot of recipes-I even made some amazing from-scratch turkey sausage. Your site is always beautiful and I love the witty anecdotes! Thanks for sharing!

  20. Nannette Eaton

    Yummers!
    I’d pair with with a syrah.

    Cheers!

  21. tini

    jessica – you can make the meatballs and freeze them uncooked. i lay em out on a baking sheet so they freeze fast and evenly then once frozen i put them in ziplock bags. i also recommend double bagging them in ziplock bags so they keep longer.

  22. Rocky Mountain Woman

    I am all over these babies! They look so so good…

  23. Alana D

    This is alot like my recipe,looks delicious.

  24. Andi

    We made these for dinner last night. We have tons of rosemary, basil, and tomatoes in our garden right now, so this was the perfect recipe to use up some of the excess. The aroma while cooking was amazing. My husband said he was tempted to eat the raw meatball mixture because it smelt so good. Thanks for the recipe!

  25. Joanne

    Love these — never thought to add sour cream to the meatball mix, such a cool idea! Also, love that the same pan is used for the sauce.

  26. Laura

    Made these for dinner tonight….AMAZING!! My husband went from excited hearing we were having meatballs…then groaned when he heard ‘turkey’ meatballs. Well he loved them and ended up eating 12! Served as meatball sandwiches. Thanks for another yummy recipe!!

  27. April

    I like this recipe, I changed it up a little by adding rice to the meatballs and it was delicious Thanks for this recipe idea..

  28. jane

    This meal is fabulous. Turkey can be so bland, but not with this recipe! Fortumately, I had most of the herbs in my garden. The only thing I did differently was I oven baked the meatballs. I made the tomatoe/basil sauce separtely, and then added the meatballs to the sauce and let simmer. I would serve this to my dinner club. Thanks so much!

  29. Andrea

    Well, this is perfect timing. I over-purchased ground turkey and tomatoes at my local farmers’ market this weekend and was just pondering what to do about it. Thanks!

  30. Jackie

    Made this the other night for dinner. It was a hit! Served with corkscrew pasta because I was out of bowtie. Simple sauce, nice and light! Delicious meatballs. I added just a little grated parm to the meatballs, and some fresh oregano and basil.

  31. Breanna Klein

    Wow this turkey meatball recipe looks so good! I have been dying to make some meatballs and pasta. I really appreciate the tip about adding sour cream and breadcrumbs to the meat. I am also looking forward to trying the thigh meat. I will definitely have to let you know how delicious it is!

  32. alisa

    I am so glad I tried this recipe. These are the best meatballs I have ever had! And it was so easy to make.

  33. Evan

    I just wanted to report back that I made this recipe with chicken thighs that I ground using the smaller die on the grinder attachment for my stand mixer (one of my all time favorite kitchen toys). They turned out great.

    The only other changes I made were: skipped the rosemary because my wife hates it and used panko for the bread crumbs. I also added just a bit of bacon fat I had saved to the olive oil used to saute the meatballs.

    Hi Evan, thanks for letting us know! So glad the chicken substitution worked for you. ~Elise

  34. Jes

    I have been looking for a flavorful meatball recipe for a long time, and I’ve finally found it! They turned out moist and very tasty, I did put them in a 300 degree oven for about 10 minutes after cooking them in the pan to make sure they were cooked through. This will be my go to recipe for meatballs from now on.

  35. Atsuko

    Hello. This is my first time to post my comment. Last night I tried this recipe. It came out very delicious. Despite of regular ground turkey, meatballs were very moist. My boyfriend said it was one of the best meatballs he ever had and better than some Italian restaurant! Thank you very much for sharing this. Definitely I will start trying more of your recipes.

  36. CUSTODIO DSOUZA

    The very sight of those meatballs makes my mouth water. Want to try it out, but with minced beef.

  37. Ann

    Wow, Elise! Just made these and they were amazing. I left out the jalapeno because I didn’t have one, but the dish was still wonderful. Thank you for another great recipe!

  38. John

    I made this dish last night. It was simple and delicious! Full of flavor.

  39. KS

    Can I substitue something for the sour cream? Also, can ritz crackers work in place of the breadcrumbs? Thanks!

    You can skip the sour cream all together if you want and yes, you can sub the breadcrumbs with broken up ritz crackers. ~Elise

  40. Oralea

    These were ridiculously delicious! I used a jar of sauce with them to save a little time (new mom here!) and was worried it would overwhelm the yumminess of the meatballs but they stood their ground. Love the fennel seeds and fresh rosemary and the spice of them! So delicious. Thank you. We’ll be making them again for sure.

  41. Pete

    These were delicious and the recipe was spot on. Thanks, I will be making these regularly.

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