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.