Turkey Pesto Meatballs

July 3, 2015

Turkey Pesto Meatballs
I worked at a pizza place in Ocean City (MD) during the summer right before I started college.
It was called "Circus Pizza" and it was owned by an Italian guy and his Russian wife. 
They ran the place like it was their own home. They offered honest Italian dishes and a really good thin-crust pizza. They were both adorable and arguably the best employers I've worked for.
One night after service was over and everyone had gone home, I started making tomato sauce for the next day in one of those huge commercial mixers. Brilliant me decides that if the sauce takes 10 minutes to mix on speed 1, it should only take 1 minute to mix on speed 10.
I patted myself on the back for coming up with such a smart idea and happily turned the dial to 10. Only for a second.


That is exactly how long it took for the entire contents of the mixing bowl to empty themselves all over the prep area and all over myself (I had tomato sauce in my hair, ugh!)
There was sauce everywhere. The place was covered from floor to ceiling in tomato sauce.
I spent the next two hours cleaning the kitchen up, but there was no relief in sight.
All of a sudden Italian boss comes back to the pizza place (he had forgotten his phone or something) and enters the kitchen to find me covered in tomato sauce still trying to clean up the mess.
I wanted to die.

Rather than trying to come up with a lame excuse, I decided to be honest about it and explained him what happened.
To my own surprise, instead of getting angry, he started laughing hysterically.
I remember him saying "Don't worry boss, don't worry boss. As long as we clean this mess before my wife gets here tomorrow morning, no one will get hurt!"
So we started cleaning.
Luckily, the walls were painted with a waterproofing paint so it wasn't too hard to clean them.
After about an hour the kitchen was spotless. Talking about cleaning ninjas!

Turkey Pesto Meatballs with Zoodles
The next day the Russian wife comes up to me and says "The kitchen is immaculate. I don't think it's ever been this clean, you did an amazing job!" and hands me a couple of twenties from her purse.
I accepted them - how I could not to, unless I confessed my crime to her.
As I was feeling guilty about it, the following night I took Italian boss out for drinks (with his wife's money). We laughed about the tomato sauce accident so much, it hurt.
To date I still laugh every time I make tomato sauce. A funny thing to remember.

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

Anyways, at Circus Pizza they used to make pesto meatballs served in tomato sauce spooned over spaghetti.
Customers raved about it.
For real. They were that good.
This is my version of their recipe. A tad lighter, still delicious.
They are a far cry above the usual meatball (and you can thank the pesto for that), but don’t take much work beyond the usual meatball.
They are also lighter than the traditional beef variety and burst with a kick of pesto flavor, Parmesan, and paprika.
Served in a toothsome tomato sauce = awesomeness!
And you know what's even better? If you spoon them over pasta, or better yet, zoodles. You guys know me loves me some zoodles, right?

Turkey Pesto Meatballs

Turkey Pesto Meatballs                                                                                              Print this recipe!

Note. You can use any pesto you want: basil pesto, kale pesto, avocado pesto, avocado-spinach pesto, etc.

Serves 4

1 lb / 453 gr ground turkey
4 tablespoons of pesto (any kind of pesto)
4 tablespoons almond meal (or GF breadcrumbs)
4 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
2 cups marinara sauce (make your own marinara sauce with this recipe)
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
Ground black pepper to taste


In a large bowl combine ground turkey, pesto, almond meal (or breadcrumbs), grated Parmesan cheese, paprika, red pepper flakes (if using), salt, and pepper.
Scoop one heaping teaspoon (or one tablespoon for larger meatballs) of mixture and with dampened hands roll into balls.
Lightly grease with a drizzle of olive oil a large nonstick skillet over medium-high and pan fry meatballs (in batches if necessary) until underside is golden. Turn them and cook until browned on both sides.
Pour in marinara sauce. Simmer on low heat for about 10 to 15 minutes or until meatballs are cooked through and sauce has reduced.
Garnish with parsley and Parmesan cheese, and serve!

Nutrition facts

One serving yields 368 calories, 20 grams of fat, 17 grams of carbs, and 30 grams of protein.


  1. I guess you only have to make a mistake like that once! How hysterical! Great looking meatballs and love the almond flour twist too.

  2. Those meatballs look unbelievable. Have a great 4th of July weekend Mike!

  3. Hilarious story, Mike! It's difficult to surprise me though since that happens to me quite often:) And what a recipe! I've never incorporated pesto in meatballs, and this sounds awesome! Could you throw at me a few, please?

    1. You want me to throw some meatballs at you? Really? ;)

  4. Mike, the story is indeed quite funny but your Turkey Pesto Meatballs look so enticing - what a fabulous recipe to post!
    Thanks for sharing both the recipe and the story!
    Wishing you a very Happy Fourth of July!
    All the best from very, very hot Europe,

  5. Hahaha! I love the logical thought process of your pre-college mind, Mike! So, did he ever tell his wife?

    Your version of their pesto turkey-balls sound awesmazing (btw, I probably owe your nephew royalties for the number of times I've used that word)! That paprika and pesto and chili flake combo is magical!

    1. I'm sure he did tell his wife after all. It was just too funny not to...

  6. This story is hilarious!! I love pesto in everything...so, bet this dish is awesome!

  7. I laughed out loud! This looks awesome- pesto is the best- and I love the bright colors in the photos!

  8. Beauties! I love that story, pretty darn funny. Especially having the wife come in and had you cash!

  9. I love how you used almond meal instead of bread crumbs! The addition of pesto to the meat add so much moisture and flavor; LOVE this recipe!

  10. Hi Mike, what a great story, isn't funny how some people really touch your life and you always remember them. Love these meatballs. Have a great fourth!

  11. I'm pretty sure i'd like your version better. Plus it just looks pretty. Let's have you start delivering, ok? I'd order! haha

    1. I just placed your order, it'll be there in 5. OK?

  12. That's so funny. From a numerical point of view it made kind of sense :)
    I love your boss, there should be more like him.
    Love pesto and turkey by the way, great combo!

  13. Such a great story, no wonder you laugh when you make tomato sauce! I can't wait to try putting pesto in my next batch of meatballs!

  14. Made these today for my weekly meal prep and sampled one - delicious!

  15. Hi Mike! I recently found your blog and have loved all the recipes I've tried! I made this tonight because my 5 year old son requested "meatpalls" for dinner. He ate 2 full plates and said "I'm pretty much killing dinner tonight!" Pat yourself on the back! This is one picky kid! Thanks for all the yuminess you're bringing our way! :)