Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta is one of the tastiest recipes you can have in your weeknight toolbox. Pop these juicy meatballs into the oven and they'll be done in twenty minutes-- as long as it takes to get the rest of the dinner together. This fun and exciting weeknight meal is ready in under an hour, but is definitely company-worthy.
Lemon slices roast alongside the meatballs, then are chopped and added to the sauce with briny chopped olives to give this simple dish huge flavor for the amount of effort it takes.
Our household is not yet ready to make the shift to an entirely plant-based diet, but we make incremental steps in that direction. This turkey meatball and roasted lemon pasta is chock full of zucchini. The turkey meatballs hold a lot of zucchini which lightens the meatballs. Reduce and replace the volume of turkey with even more zucchini if that's where your dietary choices are taking you. In the future I'll be experimenting with replacing the turkey with mashed beans for a completely meatless "meatball."
Making the Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta
Meatballs and sliced lemon roast together; Roasted lemon will go into the sauce; Prepping the vegetables for the sauce; Quickly saute the sauce while the meatballs roast and the pasta cooks; Toss the cooked pasta into the sauce with some of its cooking water.
First, form the meatballs and lay them out on a sheet pan with the sliced lemon which will go into the sauce after it roasts. The meatballs and lemon roast together while a pot of water boils for the pasta and a simple robust mediterranean sauce sautes. Then toss together the pasta and sauce with some of the pasta cooking water. Then top it off with the meatballs, and viola-- dinner is served.
What Wine Shall I Serve?
The mediterranean flavors in the sauce-- garlic, condensed roasted lemon, and Kalamata olives-- were perfect with the Willamette Valley wine producer Anne Amie2019 Pinot Gris. 15% of the Pinot Gris barrels in this vintage were fermented in neutral barrels and aged on the lees, giving it a soft, round mouthfeel not often found in a Pinot Gris. This very enjoyable wine is found within our 101-mile sourcing radius!
In general, a dry white wine with some citrus and minerality will be a perfect match. Experiment and have fun finding those that you most enjoy.
Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta
Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Total Time: 55 minutesminutes
Tucking a little zucchini into the meatballs lightens this hearty, comforting pasta dish that is loaded with delicious bright flavor. Less than an hour from start to finish makes it easy enough for a weeknight, but it's fancy enough for company.
1 cuppanko or purchased bread crumbsboth are available in gluten-free options
¾cupmilk, dairy or plant
1 ½cupsgrated zucchinisqueezed of moisture in a clean kitchen towel
1poundground turkey94% lean will be juicier than 99% lean
1 ¼cupfinely grated parmesan cheesereserve ¼ cup for serving. For dairy-free, replace this with 1-2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast.
1teaspoononion powder, optional
1largeor two smaller lemons, sliced 1/2›" thin
For the Pasta and Roasted Lemon Sauce
¾poundspaghetti or bucatinior gluten free pasta
extra virgin olive oil
3-4cupszucchini, diced in about 1/4" pieces
1shallot, finely diced
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
½teaspoonred pepper flake
1/2cupKalamata olives or other black olives, roughly chopped
roasted lemon slices, above, chopped into small piecesthe lemon slices will roast at the same time at the meatballs, so they are included in the above ingredient list
Chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil for garnish
Make the Meatballs
Line a sheet pan with foil and spray it with oil spray. Preheat the oven to 375°.
In a large mixing bowl stir together the panko and milk and let rest for 5 minutes while the crumbs absorb the milk. Add the squeezed grated zucchini, turkey, 1 cup parmesan, garlic salt, and onion powder, if using. Mix everything together with you hands until thoroughly combined.
Use an ice cream or cookie scoop to form the meatballs, rinsing your hands in cold water to smooth the balls and place them on the sheet pan. (This makes 12-14 meatballs, depending on the size of your scoop.) Place lemon slices around the meatballs on the foil-lined sheet. Bake the meatballs for about 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and the lemon slices have softened. Some of them may have browned edges.
When the lemon slices are cool enough to handle, stack them up on a cutting board and cut them into quarters. Set aside for the sauce.
Make the Pasta and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Sauce
While the meatballs are in the oven, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve one cup of pasta water.
While the water is boiling, place enough olive oil to amply cover the bottom of your largest skillet over medium-high heat. It may seem like a lot, but the oil will become your pasta sauce so be generous. When the oil is hot add the zucchini, shaking the pan to settle the zucchini in to the pan. Leave it to brown without stirring for 2 - 3 minutes. Stir the zucchini around and shake the pan again, and add the shallot, garlic, salt, and red pepper flake on top. Adjust the temperature if needed to allow the browning to continue without burning, stirring every 2 minutes or so until all the vegetables are lightly caramelized and cooked through, about 8 minutes total.
With the heat still on the skillet, add the Kalamata olives and reserved roasted lemon to the zucchini mixture. Use tongs to lift the al dente pasta into the skillet with the sauce. Add ½ cup of the pasta water and use tongs to mix the sauce and pasta together. As the water absorbs you may want to add the rest of the water, tossing the pasta and sauce together as it becomes silky and coats the pasta.
Serve the pasta and sauce on plates or bowls, and nestle in the meatballs on top. Garnish with the remaining parmesan and parsley or basil. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired.
For a dairy-free version, omit the parmesan from the meatball mixture and add 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast. You may also sprinkle some nutritional yeast as a garnish to the finished dish. For a gluten-free version, use gluten-free bread crumbs or panko, and GF pasta.For a vegan option, omit meatballs and just roast the sliced lemon alone.Double the meatball portion of the recipe-- The meatballs freeze well and can be added to any pasta and sauce, or make great meatball sandwiches.
Other Cool-Weather Pasta Recipes and Zucchini Recipes
Some evenings are just not made for fussing over dinner. After a long work day; kids' sports-music-dance-chess club-art-study group activities; community meetings; and who knows what, all cooks need some go-to quick, hot, hearty, tasty things we can make with our eyes closed.
This recipe got me through the flurry of raising my then-tween and teen-agers, and still is a completely comforting and serviceable years later. Over the years I've done a lot of "Making It My Own" improv riffing, and it's always forgiving and welcome.
A big plus to this recipe guideline is that it easily accommodates a range of dietary needs within a household. It's easy to make a burrito cheesy-gooey for one person and dairy-free for another, and it offers the same flexibility with gluten-free and vegan options.
If you're into left overs, plan to make some. It's a jump-start to a hearty Joe's Special egg scramble the next morning, or a great topping for a plate of Friday night nachos.
A few easy steps and on the table in 20 minutes.
In my real-world life, not every meal is a multi-course beautifully plated affair. Nope, some nights are just about getting it done, and that's good enough, especially when one of my adult sons still asks, "Hey, Mom, can I come over for spinach burritos?" That's a sign of a successful recipe.
1 ¼lb.ground beef, vegan ground meat substitute OR
315 oz. canspinto beans, drained plus 2 Tbsp. olive oil for the pan
6clovesgarlic, or 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1 ¼Cupsstore-bought salsa
14 oz candiced green chilies, or add another ½ cup salsa
8 to 10oz.fresh spinach
1Cupshredded cheddar cheese
8 mediumflour or GF tortillas
canola or other cooking spray
cilantro, additional salsa and sour cream for garnish
In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef or meat substitute, garlic, cumin, and salt.
If replacing the meat with canned beans, add 2 Tbsp. olive oil to the pan before adding the beans.
When the meat (or beans) and spices are well-browned, stir in in the salsa and green chilis.
Add the spinach leaves, two or three handfuls at a time, stirring them in until they wilt before adding the next few handfuls, until all the spinach is wilted and mixed through.
Heat a separate large skillet to medium high. Spray one side of each tortilla with the cooking spray (this will help them crisp up.*) Place the sprayed side down in the heated skillet, and sprinkle a little of the cheese down the center. (Omit the cheese for vegan/dairy-free options.) Spoon the beefy spinach filling down the center of the tortilla. Fold the edges over the filling, burrito-style. When the first side is browned, flip the burrito over to crisp it too.
Place the burritos on serving plates and garnish with additional salsa, green chilis, cilantro, and sour cream (omit for vegan/diary-free versions) as desired.
Make It Your Own:
add a chopped onion to the skillet when browning the ground beef
try this with ground chicken or turkey
experiment with adding chili powder and/or dried Mexican oregano
add a chopped stems from a bunch of cilantro with the spinach
fancy expensive salsa is not needed in this recipe, but have fun experimenting with different inexpensive ones.
bump up the heat with spicier salsa, or add a chopped jalapeno to the meet as it browns.
*This cooking spray tip is also how I soften corn tortillas for tacos and enchiladas. No need to pour oil into a skillet to do this task, just a simple shot of cooking spray.
You’re in the right place! I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.
Superpower: Dreaming up recipes that work, serving them to my friends and family, and writing little stories about how cooking them well is the same as loving well.
Inspiration: Ingredients! The fresh, colorful, fragrant, local, seasonal ingredients found in the Pacific Northwest are my creative medium.
Heroes: Local food and wine producers– the people who keep me, my family, and our community nourished and happy.