Summer Entertaining Recipe: Turkey Pesto Meatballs with Homemade Tomato Sauce

updated Jan 29, 2020
Turkey Pesto Meatballs with Tomato Sauce
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(Image credit: Stephanie Barlow)

Here’s why you need to serve meatballs in the summer: they come together quickly, reheat in a flash, and make the perfect potluck dish. These meatballs are lighter than the traditional beef variety and burst with a kick of pesto flavor and Parmesan. Served with an incredibly easy homemade tomato sauce and individual toothpicks, they’ll be your entertaining staple year round.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

When hosting a big crowd, I tend to bulk up on the number of dishes to serve for appetizers. I want to cover every taste, from light gougères to empanadas and some cake pops, too. But as summer arrives, who wants to spend all day on the stove? These meatballs mean that even the most hungry guest will have something to enjoy.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Even more crucial, they can be made a few hours in advance (or even frozen and re-heated the day of the event) and kept warm on the stove or in a slow cooker. While many meatball recipes call for browning in a hot pan, I prefer to use the oven to cut down on time spent standing over a hot stove. Leftovers freeze beautifully with the simple but incredibly flavorful homemade sauce.

Turkey Pesto Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

Serves 4

Nutritional Info


For the sauce:

  • 2

    28-oz cans whole tomatoes in juice

  • 1

    small onion, chopped

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 2

    garlic cloves, chopped

  • Salt

  • Pepper

For the meatballs

  • 1 pound

    ground turkey

  • 1 cup

    panko breadcrumbs

  • 1/3 cup


  • 1/3 cup

    grated Parmesan

  • 2


  • Salt

  • Pepper


  1. To make the sauce, transfer tomatoes and their juices into a large bowl. Using your hands, crush the tomatoes to break up any large chunks. Set aside. Heat oil in heavy bottomed large pot and add onions. Cook onions, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Once onions are translucent, add garlic and cook while stirring for a minute (do not let garlic brown). Add tomatoes and juice, season with salt and pepper. Simmer, uncovered, until liquid reduces and slightly thickens, 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and season again.

  2. While the sauce cooks, prepare the meatballs. Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix the ground turkey, pesto, Parmesan, eggs, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until just combined. Be careful not to over mix. Wet your hands and form meatballs (about 1 inch) and place on non-stick baking sheets (or baking sheets spayed with non-stick cooking spray). Space meatballs evenly without crowding.

  3. Bake until browned on the bottom, about 10 minutes. Turn using tongs and bake an additional 5-10 minutes or until browned on the other side. Remove from oven and gently place in pot with simmering sauce. Be sure meatballs simmer in sauce until cooked through, about 10-20 minutes.

  4. Serve meatballs in sauce with toothpicks while warm.

(Images: Stephanie Barlow)