This turkey meatball soup with spinach is a healthier riff on Italian wedding soup and is made using mini meatballs made with turkey. Also includes farro, a nutty whole grain. A weeknight fix that’s satisfying, simple, and kid-friendly.
This riff on Italian wedding soup swaps traditional beef and pork meatballs and teensy tiny pasta for turkey meatballs imbued with the lilt of lemon and nutty, chewy, outrageously satiating farro. We swear you won’t feel slighted in the least.–Renee Schettler Rossi
☞ Table of Contents
Turkey Meatball Soup
For the farro
- 1 cup uncooked farro preferably pearled or quick-cooking
- 4 cups cold water
For the turkey meatballs
- Olive oil for the baking sheet
- 1 pound ground turkey (preferably a mix of white and dark meat)
- 6 tablespoons panko bread crumbs
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley finely chopped
- Finely grated zest of 1/2 to 1 small lemon preferably organic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
- Freshly ground black pepper
Cook the farro
- Place the farro and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer until tender, 20 to 30 minutes (or longer if not using quick-cooking farro).
Make the turkey meatballs
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and slick the parchment with oil.
- In a bowl, combine the turkey, panko, Parmesan, egg, parsley, and lemon zest. Season well with the salt and pepper.
- Using 1 level tablespoon turkey mixture at a time, form small meatballs about 1 inch in diameter and place them on the prepared baking sheet. (You can make the meatballs slightly larger or smaller, depending on personal preference and whether you prefer to scoop up wee marble-size meatballs or want something larger that you can cut with your spoon.)
- Bake the meatballs until they're cooked through and lightly golden, 9 to 12 minutes. (If you end up making smaller or larger meatballs, you'll need to allow them less or more time in the oven.)
Make the turkey meatball soup
- In a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or so.
- Add the stock, season with salt and pepper to taste, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and gently simmer for 10 minutes to infuse the stock with flavor.
- Drain the farro and add it to the soup along with the turkey meatballs. Let everything warm through, about 2 minutes.
- If using regular spinach leaves, toss in the spinach and wait until the leaves wilt, about 2 minutes. If using baby spinach leaves, turn off the heat and either toss the baby spinach into the pot and turn off the heat or simply add the spinach to individual bowls and ladle the broth and meatballs and farro over the top.
- Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if desired. Serve immediately. (You can store any leftovers in a sealable container in the fridge. Rewarm the soup gently over low heat. Note that the farro will absorb some of the liquid, so if you prefer the original soupy consistency, add at least 1 cup chicken stock when rewarming.)
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
What a lovely marriage of health and flavor! Though I had my doubts about this turkey meatball soup, it actually had great flavor. That it is highly nutritious and full of warm comfort are just added benefits.
I followed the recipe directions and made mini meatballs consisting of 1 tablespoon meatball mixture each. I came out with 24 small meatballs, which were nicely browned after 12 minutes in the oven. I made the farro as directed on the package, simmering the grain for 25 minutes, which was perfect. I only cooked the farro, meatballs, and spinach in the soup for 1 minute because, as I expected, the spinach wilted in about 45 seconds.
I knew this was going to be a good recipe when I liked the turkey meatballs and hadn’t made the soup yet. The turkey meatballs have a nice lightness to them with a bit of a lemon zing from the zest. The overall lightness of this turkey meatballs soup had my husband calling this a summer soup. The meatballs are my favorite part of this recipe because they’re flavorful and light and could easily be eaten on their own.
I used ground turkey thighs and found that the meatballs were moist and tender. I used a tablespoon ice-cream scoop and ended up making about 40 meatballs. The 12 minutes of cooking time was spot-on for me. The meatballs don’t get a lot of color but are still cooked through. This recipe is straightforward except for a potentially tricky part with the farro.
Next time I make this recipe, I’m going to cook the meatballs (and likely the farro) the day before so the actual soup-making part is faster and more appropriate for a weeknight. I’ll just add the meatballs and farro a bit earlier than the spinach.
If this soup is all you’re having for the meal, I think you can get 4 to 6 servings out of this recipe.
This is a nice little soup which, happily, repurposed well as an office lunch. For me, there are two things that really set this recipe apart: 1. The quality of the stock you use 2. How you treat the spinach in the last step.
My freezer is a revolving door for stock. I add a quart on Monday, and it’s sure to be used by Thursday. With this strange phenomenon, I never have what I need to make a soup stock. I used 32 ounces high-quality, organic, low-sodium, boxed stock and added 2 cups water plus an ultra-amazing condensed roasted chicken demi-glace. I liked this combo. Don’t be afraid to mix it up.
After I combined the ingredients and the soup was simmering as the recipe describes, I placed the baby spinach leaves in the bottom of my bowl and ladled the rest on top. By the time I got to the table with our plates, the spinach was perfectly softened but still bright green and delicious. The greens brightened the soup and complemented the toothy farro perfectly.
I found that the recipe yielded 20 meatballs that were about 1 1/4 inches each. At this size, you can cut the meatball in half in your bowl with your spoon while eating. I like that rustic interaction, slowing the eating experience. The bake time for this meatball size was 20 minutes. Some might dispute that the meat was cooked at 15 minutes and yes, perhaps it was, but I wanted a bit more browning on the meatballs to add a nice depth to the finished product. (I highly recommend this. The deviation from the recipe had no negative consequences for the meatball tenderness.) The farro cooked in 20 minutes to just slightly beyond al dente, which is my preference for this grain.
For something that’s fairly easy to throw together, this soup yields a complex result with all the ingredients working well together. The brightness from the lemon was very pronounced in the meatballs, and it flavored the entire soup. The farro and spinach were wonderful. Everything worked together very well.
I used half white and half dark turkey for my meatballs.
Being that the meatballs were going to be in soup, I wanted them to be fairly small. I formed meatballs with 1 tablespoon meat mixture. That was the perfect size. After cooking a “tester’s” meatball, which is something that I always do to check for seasoning, I was rewarded with 27 meatballs for my soup. When I make this soup recipe again—and I will be making this again—I will use more water to cook the farro. It just didn’t have enough room in the pot to cook freely.
The other thing that I would change would be to cook the onion for awhile and then add the garlic. I find that onion often needs a “head start” or the garlic can get a bit too brown.
After sitting overnight, the farro absorbed quite a bit of the stock, making the soup thicker than it was originally. This recipe yielded dinner for 2 people on 2 different nights and a small bowl for lunch another day.
This turkey meatball soup is a great low-fat but satisfying version of Italian wedding soup. Using farro instead of pasta keeps the carbs low while upping the fiber—another plus! Poultry meatballs can sometimes lack a little oomph, but the lemon zest in this recipe really brightens the flavor, and the Parmesan cheese adds just enough richness.
Keeping the word “small” in mind, I scooped and leveled the turkey mixture rather than measuring a heaping tablespoon for each meatball, and I got 36 meatballs total. The timing for the meatballs (12 minutes) was spot-on.
The only thing I would change next time is the spinach. I’ll probably use baby kale leaves, which are a bit sturdier and would stay greener longer in the hot soup. I wouldn’t salt and pepper the soup right after the stock is added. I would wait until the meatballs are added, as they may add enough flavor to the soup. I would add the meatballs and farro to the soup (hold the spinach at this point), let it come back to a boil, then add the greens. I took the soup off the heat as soon as the spinach went in, gave the whole thing a stir, and set it aside for 2 minutes before serving.
This turkey meatball soup was the perfect bowl of comfort on a cold winter night. The meatballs on their own were outstanding. I adored the subtle lemon flavor and would be interested in trying other recipes incorporating these meatballs in a non-soup form.
The meatball mixture yielded 24 meatballs that were 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and they were perfectly cooked at 14 minutes (still a little underdone at 12 minutes). I loved the nutty flavor of the farro.
Fantastic, easy recipe. My only comment is that I would add a bit more oomph to it, probably white beans or potatoes, or I’d maybe substitute soba noodles for the farro.
I made the meatballs 1 1/2 tablespoons each, which yielded 15. The timing was accurate—mine took 12 minutes on the dot. If you’re making smaller bite-size ones, you’d want to cut the cooking time. Timing was accurate for the farro. I wonder why you can’t cook this in the broth since I’d do that if I was making the soup with noodles or rice.
A very easy-to-prepare yet cozy-for-a-family-dinner-on-a-cold-day soup. Everyone in my family enjoyed this turkey meatball soup, but the biggest compliment I received was on Monday morning when my daughter asked me to pack a thermos of this soup for lunch at school.
This turkey meatballs soup reminds me so much of Italian wedding soup with the farro standing in for tiny pasta such as orzo or ditalini and turkey meatballs replacing the beef and pork meatballs. The spinach is standard in both dishes. That said, this is a nice variation and makes for a hearty and warming meal.
For this type of soup, the turkey meatballs should fit on a soup spoon and be consumed in one bite. I used a tablespoon cookie scoop and the meatballs were about 1 1/4 inches in diameter—a bit larger than I would have preferred. The yield was 45 meatballs. Be careful not to over-bake them since turkey meatballs can get very dry and tough with too much cooking. 12 minutes was just about right for my meatball size.
The recipe makes about 3 quarts soup, serving 6 easily.
One suggestion would be to cut down significantly on the amount of lemon zest. I only used about 2 teaspoons zest, and the lemon flavor was a bit more pronounced than I would have liked.
I’m having trouble describing what I liked about this turkey meatballs soup without using all those overused words: whole-grain, healthful, one-bowl, clean eating, rustic…forget it. Just call it a weeknight WIN.
Even the shopping was easy: ground turkey comes in 1-lb packages, one package of farro was 1 cup, and my bundle of spinach was 6 ounces (after first adding 4 ounces, we threw in the rest). If I wasn’t using frozen homemade stock, I’d have grabbed 2 of those cartons for just the right amount.
Timing was spot-on too. I tried to outsmart the recipe by starting the farro while I was rolling the meatballs, but I should’ve trusted the recipe. The only real adjustment I’d make here is the amount of lemon zest in the meatballs. Though it was nice to have them play the highly-seasoned role in this mild soup, we thought the zest of a whole lemon was too overwhelming. Next time I’d cut it back to 1/2 lemon at the most, or eliminate it, and add some crushed fennel seeds, crushed pepper flakes, Italian herbs, even za’atar.
This soup made a couple one-bowl dinners for two of us. I guessed the farro would soak up the soup overnight, so I added 2 cups broth to the leftovers. The next night, the rewarmed soup was just as good, though the spinach wasn’t as vibrantly green. We threw in a bunch of chopped parsley to make up for it. Speaking of parsley, the topping possibilities to take this guy to the next level are endless. A shot of hot sauce, a swirl of pesto, a sprinkle of za’atar, grated pecorino or Parmesan or even feta cheese… I think we’ll be making this one again soon. I think I’ll try to cook the farro in the broth (onion, garlic, then broth, add the farro and the amount of water, cover and cook for the 20 minutes). And I’ll use za’atar in my meatballs and garnish with feta. I can’t wait.
Originally published January 10, 2021