Italian-style turkey meatballs are pretty darn delish, to be honest. They’re leaner than beef and pumped up with the umaminess of anchovies and mushrooms. And we’ve heard that the sauce is nothing to turn your nose up at, either.
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen | The Chicken Bible | America’s Test Kitchen, 2021
We start with 93 or 85 percent lean turkey; the 99 percent lean type didn’t have enough fat to create a palatable meatball. Next, we add an egg and fresh bread crumbs (instead of a panade, which made the meatballs too wet) to help bind the meat. To boost meaty flavor, we add glutamate-rich ingredients such as Parmesan cheese, anchovies, tomato paste, or rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms—America’s Test Kitchen
Italian-Style Turkey Meatballs
- 1 cup canned chicken broth or homemade chicken stock
- 1/2 ounce dried shiitake mushrooms
- 2 slices hearty white sandwich bread torn into 1-inch (25-mm) pieces
- 1 ounce Parmesan cheese grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin*
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 anchovy fillets rinsed, patted dry, and minced
- 1 1/2 pounds (85 or 93 percent lean) ground turkey
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 4 garlic cloves minced
- One (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons store-bought or homemade tomato paste
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- granulated sugar
- In a covered microwave-safe bowl, combine the broth and mushrooms and microwave until steaming, 1 to 2 minutes. Let sit until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain mushrooms in a fine-mesh strainer and reserve liquid.
- In a food processor, pulse bread until finely ground, 10 to 15 pulses. Dump the breadcrumbs into a large bowl (don't wash the processor bowl). Add Parmesan, parsley, gelatin, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper to bowl with bread crumbs and mix until thoroughly combined.
- In the food processor, combine the mushrooms and half of anchovies and pulse until chopped fine, 15 to 20 pulses.
- Add mushroom mixture, turkey, egg, and half of the garlic to the bowl with breadcrumb mixture and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined.
- Divide mixture into 16 portions (each about 1/4 cup loosely packed). Using your hands, roll each portion into a ball, taking care to not pack them too tightly. Put the meatballs on a large plate and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
- In the food processor, pulse tomatoes and their juice to a coarse puree, 10 to 15 pulses.
- In a small bowl, combine oregano, pepper flakes, remaining 2 anchovies, remaining garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
- In a 12-inch (30-cm) nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, warm oil until shimmering, 2 to 4 minutes. Add the meatballs and cook until well browned all over, 5 to 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meatballs to a paper towel-lined baking sheet, leaving fat in the skillet.
☞TESTER TIP: If your turkey is very lean, you may need to add a little extra oil to the skillet.
- Add oregano mixture to the skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Increase heat to high, stir in tomato paste, reserved mushroom liquid, and pureed tomatoes, and bring to a simmer.
- Return meatballs to the skillet, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook until the meatballs register 160°F (71°C), 12 to 15 minutes, turning meatballs once.
- Place meatballs on a serving platter, increase heat to high, and simmer sauce until slightly thickened, 2 to 5 minutes. Stir in basil and season with sugar, salt, and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over meatballs and serve, passing extra Parmesan separately.
*Why would you add gelatin to Italian-style turkey meatballs?Mainly, adding gelatin to ground meat helps it to retain moisture resulting in a more tender texture. Adding a small amount of unflavored gelatin mitigates graininess by trapping moisture and giving the meatballs a juicy mouthfeel. Then, a 15-minute refrigeration gives it all time to bind together and produce a springy, juicy texture in the cooked meatballs.
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Recipe Testers’ Reviews
I love meatballs, and this recipe for Italian-style turkey meatballs had something I’ve never seen snuck into the list of ingredients, gelatin, so I had to give it a try. The meatballs were quite moist and tender, which may come from the little bit of gelatin that was added. I’ll need to test it in some other meatball recipes. My better half, who doesn’t share my passion for meatballs, quite enjoyed this batch.
The sauce was simple to prepare and had just the right amount of spice from the red pepper flakes. I made mine with some sourdough bread, and I used porcini mushroom, as the store was out of shitake. Of course, porcini seems more Italian too! This can easily be made ahead of time. Once I got the meatballs in the fridge, I got the rest of the sauce ingredients prepped and set aside for later. I prepared the dish about 90 minutes later, and it all came together in under 30 minutes. I served it over some pappardelle pasta.
At first glance, I wanted to hate this recipe for Italian-style turkey meatballs. That’s a lot of prep for a turkey meatball. But it was worth it. Often dry and unsatisfying, via the inevitable comparison to their pork forward cousins, turkey meatballs are mostly a yawn-worthy affair around here. In contrast, these are meatball-umami bombs. I served these little bombs with garlic bread and broccolini. Go turkey!
Packed full of flavor, these Italian-style turkey meatballs are the perfect comfort food, rivaling anything made with traditional beef and pork. I wondered whether ground turkey would have enough oomph, but thanks to the shiitakes and anchovies, these meatballs didn’t stand a chance of being bland.
And this coming from a self-professed anchovy hater! Let me explain. I have always loathed the overly fishy and funky taste and smell of anchovies. I decided to test out the validity of my anchovy aversion with this recipe, and much to my surprise, found that they were only mildly identifiable in the final product, and did indeed add a great depth of flavor. For those of you who might share a similar distaste, I suggest dialing back the amount of anchovies a bit.
When forming the meatballs, use a light hand and do not pack them too tightly. The brief refrigerator rest will help them hold together, and could easily be extended if you wanted to make them up ahead of time. Going for a deep golden brown when frying, regardless of what the timer says, will reward you with maximum flavor.
The sauce was also a wonderful surprise. I loved the consistency and complexity and would make it again for pasta even if I did not have time for meatballs. My only complaint is that I wanted more. I will be doubling the amount next time. This recipe easily serves 6 with pasta. Add in a big green salad and you’re good to go.
So much flavor in these Italian-style turkey meatballs. The mushrooms, anchovies, and parmesan create a delicious umami punch. The sauce was a little thinner than I would’ve liked, but this was primarily due to my not reducing it for long enough. Yes, I’ll be making this again.
If you make this recipe, snap a photo and hashtag it #LeitesCulinaria. We'd love to see your creations on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
These Italian-style turkey meatballs were the perfect weeknight dinner. I even made the components a day ahead of time (refrigerating the formed meatballs overnight, then making the sauce and cooking them the next day).
I especially liked how this recipe forms the meatballs into larger-sized ones, making the meal feel even heartier. Served with parmesan, salad, and wine, this was a great dinner that we all enjoyed, even our toddler.