These Meatloaf Meatballs have all the flavors and textures of my version of meatloaf but made into meatballs. Served with a homemade marinara sauce, you can’t tell that I used ground turkey instead of beef or pork. Healthier and absolutely delicious, this is a winner of a meal!
Last night I was rummaging through my freezer, looking for something that I could use to make dinner when I saw a package of ground turkey meat. Hmmm, what would I make with that? I was thinking of Asian lettuce wraps, but The Artist suggested meatballs … he is always craving Italian food!
So how about meatballs with a little twist? I love my meatloaf but didn’t have enough ground meat to make that so what if I used the same basic technique as my meatloaf but turned it into meatballs instead? A new recipe, a spin on an old favorite, and we had a wonderful meal tonight!
Many years ago, I found a meatloaf recipe from Chef Paul Prudhomme that changed the way I looked at cooking. In his cookbook “Seasoned America” he stated that he could take any traditional comfort foods from across the country and apply his local seasonings, creating a whole new Cajun/Creole version. That was the moment that I realized that I didn’t have to be limited by recipes, but that they were merely a guideline and a starting point. That is when my cooking truly began to soar.
Traditional meatloaf is usually made with ground beef and sometimes some pork. If you are looking for a healthier meal, consider using ground turkey or chicken for all or part of the protein. If you want to maintain the original flavor, keep some beef or pork. They are more strongly flavored than either chicken or turkey and will be the dominant flavor in the final product.
My meatloaf contains sautéed vegetables that help stretch the meat and add tremendous flavor and texture. To make it into meatballs, be sure you cut the veggies in small pieces so they will hold together.
I cannot say this often enough – recipes for savory dishes are not meant to be followed precisely. Look for ways to change the ingredients; try different seasonings, consider using wine in place of some of the liquid and see if you like it, maybe include some fruit for a change of pace. You might find that you like it better than the original recipe!
To appease The Artist’s yearning for pasta, I served these meatloaf meatballs over gluten-free tagliatelle, but you could use whichever pasta you prefer. The classic presentation of course is over spaghetti, but don’t limit yourself. Fettuccine, penne, pappardelle, etc. would all be great too. You could forget the pasta and make yourself a meatball sandwich if you like!
I hope you enjoy these meatloaf meatballs as much as we do – I can’t wait for the leftovers tomorrow!!
Have a fabulous weekend!
Key Ingredients for Meatloaf Meatballs and Marinara:
- Sauce: olive oil, onion, garlic, basil, oregano, crushed tomatoes
- Red wine or water, sugar, grated Parmesan cheese
- Meatballs: shallot, celery, green onion, red bell pepper, thyme
- Rosemary, garlic powder, onion powder
- Ground dark turkey, dried breadcrumbs (GF if needed)
While I served these meatballs with a tomato-based marinara sauce, they would also be fantastic with a brown butter-sage sauce!
How to make Meatloaf Meatballs and Marinara:
- Sauce: Sauté the onions in hot oil; stir in garlic, basil, & oregano then add the tomatoes and wine, salt, pepper, and sugar; stir well
- Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 to 90 minutes
- Stir in half the fresh basil leaves (cut into thin strips); if you want a smooth sauce, use an immersion blender to purée it
- Meatballs: Sauté the shallots, celery, onions, and bell peppers until softened; remove from heat to cool
- Combine the turkey with the seasonings, mixing with your hands until blended evenly; add the cooked vegetables and mix them into the seasoned meat
- Add the breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper; roll the mixture into 2 tbsp meatballs and fry them in batches until well browned; keep warm in a low oven while you finish frying the rest of the meatballs
- Pour 2 to 3 cups of marinara sauce into the skillet and add the cooked meatballs to re-heat gently; serve over cooked pasta with grated Parmesan and chopped fresh basil
If you wind up with leftover marinara sauce, put it in resealable plastic bags, lay them flat on a baking sheet, and freeze until solid. They will stack perfectly in your freezer and you’ll have pasta sauce any night of the week!
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Use gluten-free breadcrumbs (my favorite brand is Schar or you can make your own with day-old or lightly toasted gluten-free bread that is then crumbled) and gluten-free pasta. You can also serve this sauce over cooked rice or mashed potatoes if you prefer. Or turn them into a meatball sandwich by serving on a gluten-free hoagie roll!
- 2 to 4 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled, halved lengthwise
- 2 tsp dried basil
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 2 (28 oz) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 (28 oz) can diced tomatoes with the juices
- 1-1/2 cups red wine or water
- 1 tsp each salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp sugar, if needed
- About 10 to 12 fresh basil leaves, optional
- Grated Parmesan cheese
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
- 3 stalks celery, minced
- 2 green onions, minced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and minced
- 1/2 tsp dried thyme leaves
- 1/4 tsp chopped rosemary
- 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1 lb ground dark turkey (at cool room temperature)
- 1/4 to 1/3 cup dried breadcrumbs (gluten-free if needed)
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Olive oil, for frying
- Prepare the Marinara Sauce: In a large Dutch oven or deep heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil over medium heat. When oil is shimmering stir in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and translucent but not browned, about 3 minutes.
- Stir in the garlic, dried basil, and oregano. When you can smell the garlic, but before it browns, add the tomatoes and wine. Add salt, pepper and sugar; stir to combine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook slowly for at least 30 minutes and up to 90 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Near the end of cooking, stack basil leaves and slice horizontally into very thin strips. Stir half into the sauce and use rest for garnish. Add water if sauce becomes too thick. If you like a chunky sauce, serve as is, or for a smoother consistency, purée with an immersion blender. Taste and adjust seasonings.
- While the sauce cooks make the meatballs.
- Make the Meatballs: Preheat oven to low, about 170°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
- In a 10-inch skillet, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When shimmering, add the minced shallots, celery, onions, and bell peppers. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are softened, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly.
- Place the ground turkey in a medium bowl. Add the thyme, rosemary, garlic powder, and onion powder. Stir until completely blended. Add the cooked vegetables and olive oil in the pan. (Do not wash the pan.) Use a wooden spoon to work the mixture until everything is evenly distributed. Add the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper. Use your hands to mix ingredients together until everything is evenly combined.
- Pinch off a small amount of the meat mixture and fry in a little hot oil. When it is cool enough, take a bite to judge your seasonings. Make any changes that are needed before forming into meatballs.
- Form small meatballs, about 2 tbsp of meat mixture in each one, rolling them gently between your palms until compacted. Keeping them small allows them to cook all the way through without overcooking the exterior.
- When all the meatballs have been formed, heat a couple of tbsp of oil in the skillet over medium heat. Cook the meatballs in batches, making sure not to crowd the pan, using tongs to turn them so that all sides are well browned. When each batch is done, transfer them to the lined baking sheet and keep warm in the oven while you finish cooking the remaining meatballs.
- To Finish: When all the meatballs have been cooked add a couple of cups of the marinara sauce to the skillet. Return all the meatballs to the sauce and cook over a low simmer until warmed through.
- Serve the meatballs and sauce over cooked pasta sprinkled with some Parmesan and chopped fresh basil or you can enjoy them as a meatball sub by serving them on a hoagie roll.
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