June 24, 2024


Food Moments

Pesto “Parmesan” Turkey Meatballs (Dairy & Egg-Free!)

4 min read
Turkey meatballs on a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce

Skillet and bowls of turkey meatballs over pasta

These turkey meatballs? They’re the real deal, friends! Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside, and super flavorful thanks to dairy-free pesto and “parmesan”! Plus, they’re simple to make (just 9 ingredients) and freezer-friendly. OH yes, winners all around!

They’re perfect for meal prep and suitable for our friends who are sensitive to dairy, gluten, or eggs. Put ‘em in soup, put ‘em on pasta, or eat ‘em on their own! Let us show you how it’s done!

Breadcrumbs, basil pesto, dairy-free parmesan, onion, garlic, salt, oil, red pepper flakes, and ground turkey

How to Make Turkey Meatballs

These Italian-inspired pesto meatballs begin with sautéing onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cooking these ingredients instead of adding them in raw removes the “bite” of onion and garlic, reduces the water content (yes to meatballs that hold together!), and evenly distributes the spiciness.

Sautéing onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes

We combine the sautéed veggies with ground turkey, basil pesto, breadcrumbs (we used gluten-free panko), DIY dairy-free “parmesan,” and salt. That’s right — so much flavor!

Mixing ground turkey with basil pesto and other seasonings

The breadcrumbs and “parmesan” also dry out the meatballs just slightly so they hold together but are still juicy on the inside.

Pesto turkey meatballs on a plate before cooking

After rolling into balls, we cook the meatballs in a skillet so they get brown and crispy on the outside. We also tried cooking them in the oven, but the stovetop method is much tastier!

Using metal tongs to flip a turkey meatball in a skillet

We hope you LOVE these turkey meatballs! They’re:

Crispy on the outside
Tender on the inside
& SO delicious!

They’re also versatile and pair well with everything from soups to pasta, salads, and beyond! Try them with our Creamy Tuscan White Bean & Kale Soup (1 Pot!), Spaghetti Squash Pasta with Basil Pesto, Rosemary Roasted Root Vegetable Panzanella, or Easy 1-Pot Marinara Sauce plus your favorite pasta.

More Recipes For Pesto Lovers

If you try this recipe, let us know! Leave a comment, rate it, and don’t forget to tag a photo @minimalistbaker on Instagram. Cheers, friends!

Turkey meatballs on a bowl of pasta with marinara sauce

Prep Time 15 minutes

Cook Time 20 minutes

Total Time 35 minutes

Servings 6 (three-meatball servings)

Course Entree

Cuisine Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free (optional), Italian-Inspired

Freezer Friendly 1 month

Does it keep? 2-3 Days

  • 2 Tbsp olive or avocado oil (DIVIDED)
  • 3/4 cup very finely diced white or yellow onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup dairy-free basil pesto (homemade or store-bought — see notes for brand recommendations)
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs (gluten-free as needed // we like Ian’s)
  • 1/4 cup dairy-free “parmesan” cheese (we recommend homemade)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 pound ground turkey (or ground chicken)
  • Heat 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and sauté until fragrant — about 1 minute. Transfer the onion mixture to a large bowl and let cool slightly. Wipe out the skillet and set aside for later.
  • Add the pesto, panko breadcrumbs, dairy-free parmesan cheese, and salt to the bowl, and stir to combine. Add the turkey (or chicken) and use your hands to gently combine everything into an even mixture, being careful not to overwork the meat, which can cause it to become tough.

  • Shape the mixture into 18 (~1 ½-inch) meatballs (adjust accordingly if altering the default number of servings) and place on a large plate.

  • Optional (to help the meatballs have a more round shape): cover and chill in the freezer for 15 minutes or the fridge for 30 minutes.

  • Heat 1 tablespoon (15 ml) oil in the skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the meatballs, working in batches if necessary, and cook, turning frequently, until firm, browned, and crisp on all sides, and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F (74 C) — about 10-12 minutes. Reduce the heat as necessary to prevent burning.

  • Leftover cooked and cooled meatballs can be stored in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or the freezer for 1 month. Reheat in a 375 degree F (190 C) oven for 10 minutes or until warmed throughout.

  • If you want to freeze before cooking, shape them into patties (which cook more evenly from frozen than meatballs), then cook directly from frozen in a lightly oiled skillet over medium heat until browned on both sides and the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F (74 C) — about 5-6 minutes per side.

*Store-bought dairy-free pestos we’ve tried and enjoy: Le Grand Garden Pesto and Trader Joe’s Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto.
*Adapted from The Spruce Eats.
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with olive oil, Le Grand Garden Pesto, Ian’s panko breadcrumbs, homemade dairy-free parmesan cheese, and without optional ingredients.

Serving: 1 (three-meatball serving) Calories: 318 Carbohydrates: 6.3 g Protein: 22.3 g Fat: 23.1 g Saturated Fat: 3.9 g Polyunsaturated Fat: 3.5 g Monounsaturated Fat: 7.2 g Trans Fat: 0.12 g Cholesterol: 79 mg Sodium: 398 mg Potassium: 321 mg Fiber: 0.8 g Sugar: 1.4 g Vitamin A: 667 IU Vitamin C: 10 mg Calcium: 47 mg Iron: 2.3 mg

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