Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs

Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs

With a hint of fall now in the air, we’re looking forward to cozy, home-cooked dinners. So, for the next few weeks we’re featuring easy pastas — delicious recipes you can throw together when you want something comforting. First up, these turkey and ricotta meatballs from Julia Turshen’s new cookbook. Here’s how to make them…

Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs
From Julia Turshen’s Small Victories

The first thing I ever cooked for my wife, Grace, were these meatballs. I made the mixture at my apartment, then packed it up with a box of pasta, ingredients for sauce and a pot (she told me she had only a skillet) and took it all to her apartment… which soon became my apartment, too. The not-so-small victories here are getting someone to marry me (!), and also making meatballs that are a cinch, as well as light and tender. I’ve found that by adding a generous amount of ricotta cheese in the mixture you can skip the usual bread crumbs and eggs, which also makes this recipe gluten-free. Yet another (small) victory is baking the meatballs instead of frying them. It’s much less messy and so easy — a win-win. Serve the meatballs with pasta or just on their own! Whichever way you choose, be sure to sprinkle them with plenty of grated Parmesan cheese.

Recipe: Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs
Serves 8, or 4 with lots of leftovers (makes about 30 meatballs)

You’ll need:

2 28-oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
7 garlic cloves; 4 thinly sliced, 3 minced
Kosher salt
1 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 lb ground turkey (preferably dark meat), at room temperature

Pour the contents of the tomato cans into a large bowl (set the cans aside) and crush the tomatoes with your hands (this is a messy but fun job, and a very good one for children). Rinse one of the cans with about 1/4 cup water, pour it into the second can and swish it around to get all the excess tomato out of the cans and then pour the water into the tomato bowl.

In a large saucepan or pot over medium-high heat, warm 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, add the sliced garlic, and cook, stirring, until it begins to sizzle, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and a very large pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the sauce simmer, stirring every so often, until it is slightly reduced and has lost any tin-can taste, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil on the baking sheet and use your hands to rub it over the entire surface of the sheet. Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine the minced garlic, basil, parsley, ricotta, Parmesan, turkey and 1 tablespoon of salt. Blend everything together gently but authoritatively with your hands (they’re the best tool for the job) until well mixed. Then, use your hands to form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs; the mixture will be sticky, so wet your hands with a bit of water to help prevent the meat from sticking to them. Transfer the meatballs to the prepared baking sheet as you form them (it’s okay if they are touching a little). Drizzle the meatballs with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and roast until they’re browned and firm to the touch, about 25 minutes.

Use tongs or a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs to the simmering sauce (discard whatever juice and fat is left on the baking sheet). Cook the meatballs for 10 minutes in the sauce (they can be left in the gently simmering sauce for up to 1 hour) and serve over prepared pasta.

Turkey and Ricotta Meatballs

Thank you so much, Julia! Your new cookbook is lovely.

P.S. More recipes, including delicious chicken parm meatballs and Boursin pasta.

(Recipe excerpted from Small Victories, by Julia Turshen, with permission of Chronicle Books. Photos by Gentl & Hyers. This series is edited by Stella Blackmon.)

  1. Kat says...

    Made this last night – these meatballs were amazing! The sauce needed a little doctoring (had to add a lot more spice / salt / bit of sugar to cut the acidity) and it didn’t thicken up too much despite 1.5 hours on the stove, but was still very tasty! Served with a bit of roasted brocc and it was a easy enough for a weeknight. Adding this to our rotation!

  2. Vanessa says...

    Made these for a friend visiting on a day with sub-zero temps and *EVERYONE* loved them! She asked to bring leftovers home! My husband said the meatballs were out of this world! My 15-month-old devoured two before I knew it!

    Full disclosure: I also forgot to add the parmesan to the meatballs (whoops!) so added them to the sauce instead. I kind of think it would’ve been even better had I gotten the cheese in with the meatballs but next time… next time.

  3. Morgan says...

    I have made these twice because they are tasty and easy. My four year old helps smoosh the tomatoes and roll the balls. Only comment, the meatballs get very browned on the bottom. I would stop and roll them throughout the cooking. This could be due to my oven, but nonetheless, I thought it would be helpful to mention.

  4. Kaitlin says...

    Just made these again and had some spare red wine hanging out so rinsed the tomato cans with that instead of water… it’s smelling delightful! I also forgot to pick up basil, so just chopped some arugula instead for a different take.

  5. Danielle says...

    Made these meatballs tonight. They’re so delicious. Very tender and great flavor! But I did find that the sauce did not thicken up very much — remained pretty runny. Just keep in mind.

  6. LL says...

    I thought this was a GREAT recipe! Unfortunately my kids did not. So I hope these freeze well because I don’t want to eat meatballs for the next week. :D

  7. Julie says...

    I love this recipe for so many reasons. First of all, it’s absolutely delicious and simple to pull together. I added twice the amount of garlic to the sauce which I thought added a lot of depth (especially since we are garlic lovers in our house). With an 11-month old at home, cooking can be a challenge, so I loved Julia’s time-saving and mess-saving instructions. For example, having you bake the meatballs instead of fry them (way less messy). And also how she has you crush the tomatoes by hand. Some recipes would have you pull out the food processor for that. Anything to reduce the amount of dishes I’m washing is a winner in my book! It’s clear, easy to follow, and delicious. I will definitely be buying the Small Victories cookbook!

  8. Laura says...

    I’m not a dark meat fan. Would white turkey meet work in this recipe?

  9. Kaitlin says...

    I made these last night and they could not have been yummier! Notes:
    I grabbed the ingredients from Trader Joe’s not realizing that they don’t have canned tomatoes, so I had a can of tomatoes in my pantry, but added a jar of the garlic marinara because you make do.
    They took a littler longer than I thought they would–the garlic slicing and herb cleaning/chopping, then the baking, then the simmering. I’d say, start making the meatballs, then put the oil / garlic on the stove, and while that’s heating make the meatballs (but make sure not to burn the garlic)
    Also, I had too many meatballs for my sheet pan, so I just grabbed my mini toaster oven pan for the extra 9 meatballs I had and put them on the lower rack. Worked like a charm!

  10. This look so yummy. I will make it tomorrow

  11. Erin says...

    I made these last night and they were delicious! Being celiac, I almost never make meatballs as most recipes call for breadcrumbs. The ricotta is a brilliant (and delicious!) alternative to breadcrumbs. Will definitely make these again and again!

  12. Chelsea says...

    Made this tonight, tiny little hands helping and all. It was delishous!

  13. megan says...

    This sounds delicious!!!

  14. Marcy says...

    These sound great!
    Can I ask a dumb question? So many recipes (a lot of Jenny R’s do too) say to get ground *dark* meat turkey. Where do you find that?!

    • Erin says...

      I live in Canada and it is available in all grocery stores here. Usually I get it at Costco. It comes in packs of 4 so I will use some and freeze some.

    • Ricka says...

      Whole Foods carries it, if there is one near you.

  15. Ruth says...

    These look delish! I have a 10.5 month old who would also probably gobble these up, like her parents. Yum! Definitely need to order Julia’s book pronto.

  16. Jade says...

    These look amazing! However, being in the UK, I can’t understand the measurements you have used for this recipe (and for all other recipes on the website that I would love to make!) In US recipes, how big is a cup size?! A bone china teacup? A Mug?! I have converted a recipe once before using an online conversion table and it didn’t go well! Love the blog Joanna, read it every day x x

    • Lauren says...

      I would say a “cup” is more like a tea cup than a mug!

    • Laura says...

      A cup is 250 ml :)

    • Jade says...

      Thanks Laura! X

    • Cat says...

      This always gets me too! You can get cup measures from anthropologie in the UK, and also in those stacking sets by Joseph Joseph – I still find it hard to judge how much of the ingredients to buy to get the right quantity.

    • Jade says...

      It’s tricky! Thanks anyway Cat, I’m going to order some! x

  17. Claire says...

    Last night, I was stressing over the fact that my 10 month old wasn’t getting enough animal protein. I don’t love the idea of feeding him chicken that can last on a shelf indefinitely but was stumped on what to make for him. I went to the store last night and bit the bullet. I got some organic (ok, “natural” was all I could find) ground turkey and ricotta chees thinking I’d figure out what to do with it later. Went to Eataly for lunch today, perused Small Victories and thought how silly it was I hadn’t bought it yet.
    Went to cupofjo while eating lunch eh voila! Synergy! :) Turkey and ricotta meatballs were our dinner destiny.
    The meatballs are delicious and so so easy. Will def be making again and again & I’m sure the boy will love it tomorrow! Thank you Jo and thank you Julia!
    Ps- purchasing small victories tomorrow :)

    • Claire says...

      PPS “ET” voilà – not eh!! ??

  18. Making these right now and my husband continue to come up from the basement saying it smells soooo good. 4 more min until the pasta is done, I can’t wait!!

  19. These look so yummy! This reminds me that I need to make the chicken parm meatballs that you had on the blog a while back!

  20. Are these meatballs freezable, either at the raw or roasted stage?

    • either way! I would recommend freezing them after roasting them (let them cool to room temp first) and then defrost in the fridge and warm in the sauce….

  21. Molly says...

    Oooh, I love this! My son is allergic to eggs so we had pretty much given up on meatballs, but we will definitely be trying this version soon!

    • oh yay!!! I’m so glad to hear this fills that void! this is the best news, fantastic!

    • Cat says...

      The book Gwyneth Paltrow wrote with Julia has lots of variations on classic recipes that avoid allergen ingredients x

    • Melissa says...

      We’re in the same boat – I made these tonight for my egg allergic son and he gobbled them down. Definitely try them! :)

  22. Yum these sound delicious. I love meatballs and am always checking out new recipes. This will be the next up.

  23. Does anyone have a really good brand of whole peeled tomatoes available in Los Angeles? The one that I’ve tried (can’t remember EXACTLY which one) wasn’t very tasty when I made the Spaghetti Sauce from the Food52 cook book. :( I think the tomatoes makes it or breaks it, esp in these cases! Thanks!

    • I really like Trader Joe’s brand of canned plum tomatoes, and my italian friends swear by Pomi (comes in a carton) for low acidity.

    • I really like Muir Glen!

    • Thank you!!! :)

  24. Anna says...

    I love how this recipe incorporates notes about how to bring little hands in to “help.” My daughter loves to help me in the kitchen, and I would love more ways to get creative with how she can help. Crushing tomatoes — yes! perfect.

    • aw, yay! so glad you caught that.

  25. Julia’s book is popping up everywhere! I work at a library and they purchased it for the collection – excited to read it!

    • oh i love hearing that, thanks!

  26. Meatballs are a go-to in our house. I love to try new recipes!

  27. The sauce recipe looks delicious! I don’t eat meat anymore, but I would definitely love to recreate this with a vegan meat alternative.

    Thank you for sharing :)

    xo Azu

  28. Kadija says...

    I’ll have to try these VERY soon! Both the simplistic tomato sauce recipe and meatball recipe you posted some time back have been my go-to time and time again ( they’re AMAZING and while I’m only 26, I feel like an Italian Nona cooking for her big family!) — it’s been great for birthday dinners, it’s easy to split up and freeze half for leftovers later… it’s just great! Thanks, ladies!

  29. These sounds wonderful! I am also completely inspired by the idea of giving someone a pout, pasta and a recipe as a housewarming gift! I’ve been making turkey, spinach and feta meatballs lately served over zucchini noodles and the toddler loves them! I will try these next!


  30. Lauren says...

    That top photo is gorgeous

  31. Y U M M Y !!! These look and sound incredible. I always use turkey for my meatballs. Although I use parmesan cheese in the mixture, I’ve never tried ricotta, which is even more amazing. Ricotta is one of my absolute favorite things. Thanks so much for sharing. Have a lovely day.

    XOXO, Amy @ Jeans and a Tea

  32. Nicole says...

    This cookbook is divine. I am reading it slowly, and plan on making as many of these recipes as I can this fall/winter. Yay for meatballs!

  33. cooper says...

    These look AMAZING! I was just looking for a use for the fresh basil plant I impulsively picked up at Trader Joe’s. One of the only foods my husband doesn’t care for are meatballs, but I have a feeling this recipe might just win him over! (If not, more for me, ha!)

  34. Yum, this looks delicious. I love a quick and easy pasta dish for busy weeknights.