There are meatballs, and there are meatballs. The difference on how they are made can make or break a dish. Some meatballs are flavorless, dry, and basically taste like mini versions of a bad microwave meatloaf. They don’t make your belly tingle with warm and nourish your palette, they feel more like a giant meat rock sitting on the bottom of your stomach. These are meatballs you do not want. Not even worth the chew. But then there are meatballs, roasted in the oven or fried in a pan, a beautiful golden brown, fat sizzling, creating an aroma trail that has everyone trying to sneak a peek into the pan. Fragrance is the name of the game with these meatballs, Italian herbs and spices, plenty of garlic, these little balls of heaven are the type of meal that makes you feel at home. The sole definition of “comfort” food.
It doesn’t matter what you pair them with, drenched in rich tomato sauce, sprinkled with Parmesan, swirled in noodles and zoodles alike. They will be at home tucked into a warm Italian loaf, or sliced thin and baked on a pizza snuggled next to a dollop of ricotta, and sharp bite of onion. These meatballs are the ones you want on a chilly fall day, or a blustery winter evening. Or maybe chilled and tossed in a Mediterranean salad at the peak of summer.
My grain free baked turkey meatballs are those meatballs. About five years ago, I set on a mission to create the perfect, grain free, healthy, baked meatball. A meatball that wasn’t too distinct in flavor profile that it JUST had to be all about spaghetti. A meatball Italian in taste, but complimentary to several dishes. These meatballs are fatty, rich, fragrant, and impossibly addicting. My favorite way to enjoy them lately has been pairing them with my current favorite tomato sauce and zoodles, but I have enjoyed them with a raw zucchini and cucumber salad, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with red pepper flakes, and fresh basil. I have been making these bad boys ever since discovering the secret to replacing those breadcrumbs.
I know. It sounds strange to most of us, but it isn’t really, since we were using nuts long before processed flours. By turning unsalted walnuts into a breadcrumb texture, you receive the reassurance your meatballs won’t fall apart, but achieve a level of luxurious succulence that just usually doesn’t translate in ground turkey. The texture is not at all grainy as you may assume, and it does not at all taste like walnuts. What stands out the most in these meatballs are the array of spices and herbs that create layers with each bite. Garlic, thyme, oregano are just some of the standouts, and when you pop these into the oven, your home will smell incredible. You won’t be able to keep hands off of them. And you can use these in absolutely any way you would like. That is the magic of these, they pair well with any type of Italian or Mediterranean flavored dish.
To create them couldn’t be simpler, the most involved process is diggin your hands into the overly wet mixture. To start preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and lightly grease a cookie sheet with olive oil. Take about 1 cup of unsalted walnuts into a food processor, and pulse until they resemble a coarse breadcrumb. You want to make sure there are absolutely NO hard, large pieces, it should be fluffy and well pulsed. But you do not want to over process so it begins to create walnut butter. You will need exactly one cup of processed walnuts, so if you yield a little less, make sure to add a few more in the processor to fill the cup.
Now that you have the walnut crumbs ready, whip together two eggs in a separate dish and set aside for a moment. You want to whip the eggs separately because they incorporate into the meat mixture more easily. You could easily just dump them in the bowl whole, it will just take longer to stir the meat together. Once the eggs are mixed, mix your spices all in one small bowl, including the salt (again this is easier to mix to ensure everything is dispersed evenly, but you could just dump them all in the bowl as well). In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, spices, and whipped eggs. Mix well. The mixture will be extremely wet. This is to ensure the meatballs are not dry.
Once the mixture is well mixed (it will look paste-like), start forming the meatballs! I like to weigh mine out, to make sure they are evenly cooked, but I also have eyeballed about an ounce to an ounce and a quarter as well. I think the 1.25ish ounce meatballs are better since they are a little more meaty. You are roughly looking for about 16-18 meatballs. To make the forming easier, grease your hands with a little olive oil or water. This is messy work, I won’t lie. But it only takes like five minutes depending on how fast you work!
After setting up the rows of little meatballs, set on the cookie sheet, pop them in the oven and bake them for about 15-18 minutes, I suggest checking them after about 13-14 to ensure they do not overcook, as some ovens can actually be hotter. Mine always take about 15 minutes. Let them cool, dump them in with some sauce to simmer for a moment or two, or add them several other dishes! My flavor pairing recommendations are zucchini noodles and pasta sauce (pictured to the right), regular pasta, gluten free or chickpea pasta, cold veggie salad like cucumber and zucchini, fresh basil, sliced and in lasagna or on top of pizza, ricotta cheese, burrata, parmesan, provolone (maybe a sub sandwich), on a pita bread with a creamy yogurt sauce, and about anything else your heart desires!
Truly one of the better turkey dishes that comes out of my kitchen, that you can manipulate into several different meals, because every dish should taste exceptionally delicious.
Grain Free Baked Turkey Meatballs
Author: Allie Brendel
The perfect baked turkey meatballs. Aromatic spices, rich, and meaty, they are simple and healthier than their beef/pork counterpart.
Makes: 16-18 meatballs (1 ounce each)
- 1 pound (16 oz) 85% lean ground turkey
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup walnuts (ground in food processor)
- 1.25 teaspoons of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper
- 2 teaspoons of garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons ground oregano
- 2 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon of thyme
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all of the spices in a separate bowl (including the salt). It is always best to grind the thyme down for a smooth texture, you can do this in a mortar and pestle, or just leave it.
- Mix the eggs together in a small bowl (you can add them directly in the bowl, but they mix better if they are already whisked).
- In a large bowl, mix together the turkey, eggs, walnuts, and spices. Mix well, this is an extremely wet mixture.
- Lightly grease a cookie sheet with olive oil, and start creating the meatballs.
- Since this is such a wet mixture, make sure to wet your hands with a little water or olive oil. Scoop about an ounce of the mixture, and lightly form it into a ball. You will be able to scoop these and place on the sheet, because it is so wet, it will look shaggy.
- This will make about 16-18 meatballs. Bake in the oven for about 15-18 minutes until they are nicely browned and cooked through.
- Pair with pasta sauce, or slice and top a pizza with ricotta. Use them in a meatball sub. They are so good to make for meal prep! BEST grain free baked turkey meatballs, promise.