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Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs with Pesto

Styled close up of cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on top of pesto on plate, garnished with grated cheese and whole basil leaves.
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Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs with Pesto are moist and flavorful with the fresh, bright flavor of robust basil pesto. Your whole family will enjoy these tender meatballs that pair perfectly with your favorite pasta, vegetable side, crusty bread, or fork heading right into your mouth! Read on for more.

Styled close up of cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on top of pesto on plate, garnished with grated cheese and whole basil leaves.

What Inspired This Recipe

I’m always trying to find different ways to combine ingredients and also make things easier in the kitchen. In my go-to meatball recipe, I use chopped garlic and herbs and two different types of grated cheese, and I generally pan-fry the meatballs. It is an amazing recipe that everyone loves very much. But, sometimes, you just want to streamline things and not do all the chopping or frying. This simplicity was the inspiration for these pesto turkey meatballs. All the meatball flavor is packaged nicely in powerful basil pesto and almost no prep work is involved. Plus, by baking the meatballs, cooking takes way less time and does not create a big mess in the kitchen!

For more baked meatball recipes, that also happen to be gluten-free, check out Turkey Meatballs with Zucchini and Meatballs without Breadcrumbs (Made with Oats).

Overhead view of three cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on plate with green beans in tomato sauce and basil garnish, topped with grated cheese.

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

  • No-Fuss: With pesto sauce as the main flavoring in these turkey pesto meatballs, there’s no need to gather, measure, and prep lots of other ingredients. Easy peasy!
  • Flexible Recipe: You can switch out the ground turkey for chicken, beef, pork, veal, or lamb–whatever meat you prefer! And, you can also easily make this recipe gluten-free by substituting oats for the bread or breadcrumbs. Check out the “Frequently Asked Questions” section below for more details on this.
  • Great for Meal Prep! I almost always double (at least) this recipe when I make it. This way, I have some meatballs immediately and then lots of meatballs for the future. Just place the meatballs in a freezer bag or container once cooked and cooled, and they will hold for up to three months in the freezer. It’s a great way to have homemade meatballs ready in a pinch!

I hope that this will become one of your favorite meatball recipes!

Styled close up of cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on top of pesto on plate, garnished with grated cheese and whole basil leaves.

If you’d like to try a delicious, meatless meatball, check out Sicilian Eggplant Meatballs (Polpette di Melanzane)–so amazing!

For a pan-fried meatball recipe, check out my Homemade Italian Beef, Pork and Veal Meatballs.

Ingredients for Turkey Meatballs with Pesto

⁠To make these meatballs with pesto, we’ll be using the following ingredients:

  • Ground Turkey: I suggest a lean/dark ground turkey blend because the fat content will contribute to super moist meatballs. Having said this, you can use whatever blend you would like. If you use 100% lean ground turkey, the meatballs will not have as much moisture as a blend, but still be delicious.
  • Pesto: Besides the turkey, this recipe is all about the pesto! With delicious ingredients like fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil, pesto adds a savory punch and is, basically, all the seasoning that you will need for these delicious turkey meatballs. You can use either homemade or store-bought pesto for this recipe.
  • Onions: Because I like the texture that onions add to the meatballs, I have included them in this recipe. But, to really streamline the steps (or if you have picky eaters), they can definitely be omitted and you will still have a super-delicious meatball! All the flavor in the meatballs really comes from the basil pesto.
  • Bread: I love using day-old bread that is small-diced then soaked in milk in my meatball mixture because it contributes to a light meatball, but you can also use breadcrumbs (just reduce the amount a bit, as noted in the recipe). Because of the high moisture content of the pesto, a bit more bread is needed than what is typical. And, in case you are wondering, the bread/breadcrumbs is both a binder for the meatball mix and is also there to absorb the juices from the meat as it cooks, keeping all that flavorful goodness inside. And, quantity is important here–too much and your meatballs will become a bit heavy and tough.
  • Whole Milk: I use whole milk to moisten the bread and add overall moisture to the meatballs. (Many people think it’s the eggs that add moisture, but their role is different. Keep reading . . .)
  • Eggs: The role of eggs in meatballs is very important! They are there to bind the meat, bread/breadcrumbs and other ingredients together so that they do not fall apart or become too flimsy during the cooking process.
Overhead view of ingredients for easy baked turkey meatballs with pesto.

Check out one of my best “Insider Tips” for making the best meatballs here, as featured in Appetito’s online Italian Food and Drink Magazine.

How to Make Pesto Turkey Meatballs, with Pro-Tips!

Here are the main steps for how to make these Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs:

  • Gather and prep all ingredients. Preheat oven to 425˚F and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. Then, combine the bread and milk together in a bowl and mix until well-combined. Let this mixture sit for about 3 minutes.

  • Mix in the onions (if including), pesto, eggs, salt and black pepper, and stir well.
Bowl of diced bread with bowl of milk about to be poured into it.
Onions about to be added to bowl with soaked bread and egg.
  • Then, gently fold in the ground turkey and mix lightly until all ingredients are well-combined. Be careful not to over-mix as doing so may result in tough meatballs.
    • PRO-TIP: It’s really important not to overwork the ground meat, as it could then toughen up. So, mix all non-ground meat ingredients together in a separate bowl until well-incorporated and then fold this mixture gently into the ground meat. Mixing is still involved, of course, but much less with this technique as opposed to if all of the ingredients were added and mixed together at the same time.
    • PRO-TIP: Always pan-fry a small amount of the meatball mixture and taste test to check seasonings and texture before portioning the whole batch. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
Bowl with pesto and other prepped ingredients about to be mixed together.
Bread mixture on top of ground turkey in glass bowl.
  • Using a portion scoop or measuring cup, portion mixture into approximately 3-ounce portions, about a heaping ¼ cup each (or whatever size you like), and roll them into round balls.
    • PRO-TIP: Wet your hands a little to make rolling easier.
Portion scoop in bowl with turkey meatball mixture.
Overhead view of fifteen portioned raw pesto turkey meatballs on parchment-lined sheet pan.
  • Place meatballs on a parchment-lined sheet pan at least ½” apart from each other. Roast the meatballs for about 20-25 minutes, depending on size. Rotate the sheet pan once about halfway through the cooking process. The meatballs are finished cooking when they have reached an internal temperature of 165˚F. Use a stem thermometer to test the internal temperature.
    • PRO-TIP: If you’d like a browner meatball, lightly spray the tops of the raw meatballs with oil before placing the sheet pan in the oven.
  • Serve the meatballs immediately plain or tossed with a bit more pesto and topped with some grated cheese for extra flavor. You can also add the meatballs to a pot of sauce and serve them with pasta.
    • PRO-TIP: Double the recipe and freeze half for another time. The meatballs freeze beautifully for up to 3 months.
Close up of meat thermometer in cooked turkey meatballs.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about these Turkey Meatballs with Pesto: 

How can you tell when turkey meatballs are finished cooking?

Use a stem thermometer for a foolproof way to determine if the turkey meatballs are done cooking. The meatballs are finished cooking when they have reached an internal temperature of 165˚F.

Why are my turkey meatballs tough?

Tough or heavy meatballs can be a result of using too many breadcrumbs, overworking the meatball mixture or overcooking the meatballs. To avoid this, use bread instead of breadcrumbs, mix all non-ground meat ingredients together in a separate bowl until well-incorporated and then fold this mixture gently into the ground meat, and pay close attention during the cooking phase. Take the temperature of the meatballs about 2/3 of the way through cooking to closely monitor their progress.

How do I keep the turkey meatballs from falling apart?

Using the proper ratio of eggs to breadcrumbs and other ingredients should ensure your meatballs do not fall apart. The recipe below is fully tested, so just follow it and you should have firm, but not tough, meatballs.

Can I freeze pesto meatballs?

Absolutely! In fact, I almost always double (at least) this recipe when I make it. This way, I have some meatballs immediately and then lots of meatballs for the future. Just place the meatballs in a freezer bag or container once cooked and cooled, and they will hold for up to three months in the freezer. It’s a great way to have homemade meatballs ready in a pinch!

Are turkey meatballs healthier than beef?

Ground beef and turkey are both nutritious meats that provide protein, fat, and multiple vitamins and minerals. Turkey is generally lower in saturated fat than beef, so this recipe may be a better choice for heart health. Click here for more information about ground turkey versus ground beef.

Overhead view of three cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on plate with green beans in tomato sauce and basil garnish.

I love eating these meatballs with a big bowl of Pasta with Broccoli or Spaghetti Aglio e Olio!

Serving Suggestions for Turkey Meatballs with Pesto

The serving possibilities are endless! These baked turkey pesto meatballs are great as an appetizer in smaller portions or as part of your main meal. Here are a few of my favorites:

Building a meatball parm sub with turkey pesto meatballs, tomato basil sauce, provolone and pecorino cheese on a long roll.
Building a meatball parm sub with turkey pesto meatballs, tomato basil sauce, provolone and pecorino cheese on a long roll.

Recipe Variations for Turkey Meatballs with Pesto

Here are a few great suggestions for twists and additions to this easy turkey meatball recipe:

  • Use a Different Meat: You can switch out the ground turkey for chicken, beef, pork, veal, or lamb–whatever meat you prefer!
  • Make them Gluten Free: Easily make this recipe gluten-free by substituting the bread amount with 1½ cups of either gluten-free rolled, old-fashioned, or quick-cooking oats. Check out my gluten-free Italian beef meatball recipe made with oats here.
  • Pan-Fry the Meatballs: If you prefer a crispier texture and browner color, you can pan-fry the meatballs. To do this, add enough oil to a large, non-stick skillet to cover the bottom of the pan by about ¼”. Heat the oil over medium heat and then gently transfer the raw meatballs to the hot oil. Brown multiple sides of the meatballs until an internal temperature of 165˚F is reached. Then, transfer them to either a paper towel-lined plate or a pot of sauce. Use either a pure (not extra-virgin) olive oil or a neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil, for the pan-frying.
  • Use a Different Pesto: For a completely different flavor, switch up the pesto. Pesto can be made with more than just basil and is often made with peppery greens like arugula and spinach, as well as herbs like parsley, sage and cilantro.
  • Stuff the Meatballs with Cheese! For something a bit richer and more decadent, try stuffing the meatballs with a bit of fresh mozzarella. Just poke a hole in each rounded ball, fill it with a small piece of cheese, close up the hole, and continue with the recipe. Stuffed meatballs will take longer to cook than un-stuffed meatballs, fyi.
  • Add Heat: Add ½ teaspoon (or more) red pepper flakes into the meatball mix to increase the spice level.
Close up of cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on fork with green beans in tomato sauce and basil garnish, topped with grated cheese.

If you like this recipe, check out Pesto Ricotta Pasta, Pesto Roasted Potatoes, Pasta al Pesto, Pesto alla Siciliana, Roasted Zucchini alla Scapece and Fried Italian Peppers.

Kitchen Tools & Cookware Needed

To make this baked turkey meatball recipe, you will need the following:

Overhead view of styled close up of cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on top of pesto on plate, garnished with grated cheese and whole basil leaves.

More Great Recipes to Try

I hope that you are enjoying my Italian food blog Mangia With Michele and all of my Italian recipes and Italian-American recipes!

If you’ve tried these Turkey Meatballs with Pesto or any other recipe on the blog, please let me know how it went in the comments below — I love hearing from you!

You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK and INSTAGRAM to see more delicious food and what might be going on behind the scenes!

Styled close up of cooked turkey meatballs with pesto on top of pesto on plate, garnished with grated cheese and whole basil leaves.

Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs with Pesto

Michele
Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs with Pesto are moist and flavorful with the fresh, bright flavor of robust basil pesto. Your whole family will enjoy these tender meatballs that pair perfectly with your favorite pasta, vegetable side, crusty bread, or fork heading right into your mouth!
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 45 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Italian
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 2 heaping cups small-diced, day-old bread, or 1½ cups plain breadcrumbs (See Note.)
  • ¾ cup whole milk
  • cups finely chopped yellow onion (optional)
  • ½ cup pesto, either homemade or store-bought
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 2 pounds ground turkey (See Note.)

Instructions
 

  • Preheat oven to 425˚F and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. Prep all ingredients according to specifications above.
  • Combine the bread and milk together in a bowl and mix until well-combined. Let this mixture sit for about 3 minutes.
    2 heaping cups small-diced, day-old bread,, ¾ cup whole milk
  • Then, mix in the onions (if including), pesto, eggs, salt and black pepper, and stir well.
    1½ cups finely chopped yellow onion, ½ cup pesto,, 2 large eggs,, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper
  • Gently fold in the ground turkey and mix lightly until all ingredients are well-combined. Be careful not to over-mix as doing so may result in tough meatballs.
    2 pounds ground turkey
  • Always pan-fry a small amount of the meatball mixture and taste test to check seasonings and texture before portioning the whole batch. Adjust seasonings if necessary.
  • Using a portion scoop or measuring cup, portion mixture into approximately 3-ounce portions, about a heaping ¼ cup each (or whatever size you like), and roll them into round balls. (Tip: Wet your hands a little to make rolling easier.) Place meatballs on a parchment-lined sheet pan at least ½” apart from each other. (Tip: If you’d like a browner meatball, lightly spray the tops of the raw meatballs with oil before placing the sheet pan in the oven.)
  • Put the sheet pan in the oven and roast the meatballs for about 20-25 minutes, depending on size. Rotate the sheet pan once about halfway through the cooking process. The meatballs are finished cooking when they have reached an internal temperature of 165˚F. Use a stem thermometer to test the internal temperature.
  • Serve the meatballs immediately plain or tossed with a bit more pesto and topped with some grated cheese for extra flavor. You can also add the meatballs to a pot of sauce and serve them with pasta.
  • To store, cool meatballs completely, then refrigerate the meatballs in an airtight container for up to 5 days or freeze them in a freezer container or bag for up to 3 months. The meatballs do not need to be completely thawed before reheating.

Notes

  • I used a 93/7 (lean/dark) ground turkey blend , but you can use whatever blend you would like. If you use 100% lean ground turkey, the meatballs will not have as much moisture as a blend. If you do this, I suggest reducing the amount of bread or breadcrumbs by 25%.
  • Diced bread is preferred to breadcrumbs as it results in a lighter meatball.
  • This recipe makes about 18 (3-ounce, uncooked weight) meatballs.
  • To pan-fry instead of baking these meatballs, add enough oil to a large, non-stick skillet to cover the bottom of the pan by about ¼”. Heat the oil over medium heat and then gently transfer the raw meatballs to the hot oil. Brown multiple sides of the meatballs until an internal temperature of 165˚F is reached. Then, transfer them to either a paper towel-lined plate or a pot of sauce. Use either a pure (not extra-virgin) olive oil or a neutral oil with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil, for the pan-frying.
 
Recipe by Mangia With Michele. Please visit my site for more great cooking inspiration!
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4 thoughts on “Easy Baked Turkey Meatballs with Pesto

  1. 5 stars
    Fabulous! Delicious! We loved it. I made my own pesto! Keeper!!

    1. Woohoo! So glad that you loved the Pesto Turkey Meatballs, Annette!

  2. 5 stars
    I love turkey meatballs! And, now I have another use for all that pesto I’ve been making this summer. Grazie!

    1. Thanks for the comment, Maria! Hope you enjoy the recipe.

5 from 2 votes
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