Make This Zucchini Meatballs Recipe with Your Summer Zucchini Harvest!
Zucchini is one of those summer crops that always seems to arrive in abundance. While I always love to throw it on the grill or turn it into a fresh summer salad, there’s only so much of it that a girl can eat, ya know? 🤪 This recipe for zucchini meatballs is a fun & easy answer to the inevitable end-of-summer “what can I do with a lot of zucchini?” dilemma.
Meatballs are always a good idea, IMHO, & these zucchini meatballs are the latest iteration I’m obsessing over. They’re meltingly tender, totally feel-good, & super simple to make. All you have to do is grate the zucchini, squeeze out any moisture, then fold it into the meatball mixture with garlic, fresh basil, Italian seasoning, & plenty of parmesan. Super quick & easy!
Many elements of this zucchini meatballs recipe are intentionally flexible & totally up to you. You can choose whether to make turkey zucchini meatballs or chicken zucchini meatballs (both are great options!). Then, once they’re baked, you have endless possibilities for serving. Simmer them in a simple tomato sauce or lemony pesto, pile them on top of pasta, stuff them in a sub, make fun sliders…truly whatever you want most! It’s a staple recipe you can make again & again with delicious results every time.
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Zucchini Meatballs Recipe Highlights
You’ll love these easy chicken or turkey zucchini meatballs because they are…
- LOW-KEY VEGGIE-LOADED. Mixing meatballs with grated zucchini is a fun & easy way to sneak in seasonal veggies. Totally feel-good meatballs!
- TENDER & JUICY. Baked zucchini meatballs yield meltingly tender results every single time. The key is using a smart list of ingredients & preparing them mindfully – keep reading for some game-changing meatball tips! 🤓
- QUICK TO MAKE. This zucchini meatballs recipe takes less than an hour & is so easy to prepare that you’ll turn to it again & again. A back pocket recipe perfect for any weeknight!
After all, the best way to eat your vegetables is in a meatball, right?! 😉 ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make these Zucchini Meatballs, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Key Zucchini Meatball Ingredients
Note: Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.
The secret to an amazing batch of meatballs is always to start with the best quality ingredients you can find. Since it’s such a simple recipe, invest in the best & let their flavors shine! Here’s what you need…
- Zucchini – Of course! Feel free to harvest from your garden or pick them up from your local farmer’s market. Regardless of where they come from, it’s best to use a small- to medium-sized zucchini for this recipe.
- Ground meat – Your choice here! Chicken or turkey zucchini meatballs are both delicious! Whatever you choose, be sure to shop for at least 93% lean ground poultry meat so the meatballs stay juicy & tender as they bake.
- Aromatics – A combination of grated onion, grated garlic, fresh basil, & dried Italian seasoning ensure the zucchini meatballs are super fragrant, while grated parmesan adds extra savoriness to each bite. Use Parmigiano Reggiano for next-level rich flavor!
- Panko breadcrumbs – These Japanese-style breadcrumbs are my favorite for meatballs thanks to their light & airy texture. If you happen to have homemade breadcrumbs on hand, feel free to use them instead!
- Eggs – You need to add eggs to meatballs to help all the ingredients bind together. A binder (like eggs) creates a classic ball shape & helps everything hold together while they cook. Without it, the zucchini meatballs crumble & fall apart – no good!
Meatball Meal Prep!
Like most recipes, taking the time to prep your ingredients in advance (aka mise en place) makes cooking way easier & more enjoyable. Before you even begin to make the zucchini meatballs, take a moment to grate the onions & garlic, chop the fresh herbs, & gather all your ingredients. These few minutes of prep make it that much easier to jump right in & power through meatball making! Check out the Recipe Notes, below, for more meal prep tips!
How to Make Zucchini Meatballs
If you’ve ever made a PWWB meatball recipe before (our Best-Ever Italian Meatballs & Cheesy French Onion Meatballs are particularly popular!), then this process will look familiar. If you’re new to making meatballs, don’t sweat it! These zucchini meatballs are super easy to mix & bake. Take note of some of the tips below – the tiny details are key to juicy & tender meatballs!
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Grate the zucchini. I like to grate my zucchini with a box grater placed directly over a clean kitchen towel. Once it’s grated, simply roll up the towel & squeeze over the sink. The water in the zucchini wrings out into the towel, eliminating some of its natural moisture. Why? ⇢ Grating the zucchini is the best way to incorporate the veggie into your meatballs. Since zucchini is full of moisture, it’s key to remove as much of that as possible – the water otherwise impacts the texture of the meatballs, making them more difficult to handle.
Mix the zucchini meatball mixture. Add the grated zucchini to a mixing bowl with grated onion & garlic, fresh basil, parmesan, panko breadcrumbs, egg, olive oil, & Italian seasoning. Use your hands to mix everything well. Add in the ground meat & gently mix the ground turkey or chicken into the rest of the zucchini meatball mixture until just combined. Why? ⇢ Overmixing compacts the meat, resulting in tough & chewy meatballs. Mixing all the add-ins first prevents overworking of the meat by limiting the amount of time you handle it.
Form the zucchini meatballs. Divide the zucchini meatball mixture into equally-sized portions about the size of a golf ball. Lightly roll each meatball in the palm of your hand to smooth it out a little. Don’t press down or compact the meatball too much – that destroys the light & airy texture we’re after! Tip! ⇢ Use a spring-loaded scoop to make uniform meatballs & limit how much you handle the meat. They’re great for more than just cookies!
Bake the zucchini meatballs. Lightly spritz the zucchini meatballs with nonstick cooking spray then bake at 400 degrees F for about 20 minutes. Why? ⇢ Greasing the meatballs helps them turn beautifully golden brown as they bake.
Tips & Tricks for Next-Level Zucchini Meatballs
Choose the right ingredients. Be sure to use at least 93% lean ground chicken or turkey, which helps ensure the meatballs stay juicy. Fresh basil (as opposed to dried) also makes a big difference in flavor, as do other key aromatics like onion & garlic.
Grate your onions & garlic. Grating the garlic & onion prevents that dreaded moment of biting into something solid in a tender meatball – the worst! Use a box grater to grate the onion & a microplane to grate the garlic into small, fine pieces.
Mix carefully! Overmixing yields tough, chewy meatballs, so minimizing how much you handle the meatball mixture is key. Little tricks like mixing the ground meat into the meatball mixture last & using a spring-loaded scoop to portion the meatballs make a big difference!
Bake then simmer. While some swear by pan-frying, I find pan-fried meatballs much tougher than baked meatballs (& without much of a pay-off in flavor). In my experience, baked meatballs cook more evenly & stay super tender. Sometimes I broil them as well for a nice golden finish. I always recommend finishing baked meatballs by simmering in a sauce to help the two components come together into a single, cohesive final dish.
Best Sauce for Zucchini Meatballs – a Choose-Your-Own Adventure!
As far as I’m concerned, meatballs are incomplete without a delicious sauce! The 2 are just meant to be together. 🥰 My favorite sauce for zucchini meatballs is either a simple tomato sauce or an herbaceous summer pesto. Feel free to buy store-bought sauce for convenience, but I highly recommend making your own if you have the time!
- This quick & simple San Marzano Tomato Sauce is my go-to for any Italian-inspired dish, including zucchini meatballs! Bright & sweet San Marzano tomatoes give the tomato sauce next-level flavor but the whole thing comes together really easily in just 15 minutes!
- The seasonal summer flavor of zucchini meatballs also pairs beautifully with homemade pesto. This walnut kale pesto is one of our faves, but a bright lemon basil pesto really highlights the best of summertime. Both are super quick to whip up in a food processor!
Remember, Simmer then Serve! ⇢ It’s key to give the zucchini meatballs a chance to simmer in whatever sauce you choose. Simmering brings the whole dish together, coating the zucchini meatballs in extra flavor. Pop the zucchini meatballs into a pot of simmering tomato sauce or add the homemade pesto to a saucepan to heat up with the meatballs. Easy!
Zucchini Meatball Serving Ideas
This easy meatballs recipe is like a choose-your-own-summer-dinner-adventure! There’s pretty much an infinite number of ways to serve them & all are fantastic choices. Go wherever your heart is calling. A few serving ideas to get you started…
- With a big bowl of pasta. Penne, linguine, rigatoni – your choice! Spaghetti & meatballs are a classic but I especially love bucatini, a spaghetti-like noodle with a long hole down the middle – its chewiness is to die for! Toss your choice of pasta with extra tomato sauce or pesto, top with a few meatballs, & you’re good to go!
- Over a bowl of zoodles, the ultimate dinner for a zucchini lover! Zucchini noodles naturally pair with turkey zucchini meatballs without going overboard.
- With a fresh salad like a classic Caesar or summer greens tossed with our bright & zippy All-Purpose Vinaigrette. Don’t forget to serve with a hearty slice of crusty Italian bread to soak up any extra sauce!
- As a meatball sub. Stuff a sub roll with meatballs, extra sauce, & top with a gooey cheese like mozzarella. Toss the whole thing right under the broiler for just a few minutes, until the cheese is nice & melty.
- As sliders for a fun party app, because everyone loves meatballs! A platter of zucchini meatball sliders is perfect for an end-of-summer backyard gathering!
I can’t wait for you to try this Zucchini Meatballs recipe! It’s a simple & delicious way to use up your end-of-summer zucchini harvest, & it yields perfectly juicy & meltingly tender results every time. I think you’ll love them as much as we do!
If you do give them a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations! ♡ Happy cooking!
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More Meatballs, Please!
If your summer CSA box or garden is overflowing with zucchini, quick & easy Zucchini Meatballs are the perfect recipe to try!
Start with your choice ground poultry – chicken or turkey, just make sure you’re working with at most 93% lean – & fold in tender grated fresh zucchini, aromatics like onion, garlic, & fresh herbs, & some standard meatballs add-ins like breadcrumbs & egg. For zucchini meatballs, it’s best to use small- to medium-sized squash, which are a little more flavorful & a little less watery.
Once mixed & formed, simply bake until juicy & tender & serve them however you like. While tomato sauce & pasta (pictured) is always a good idea, these zucchini meatballs are also great with pesto sauce (super summery & fresh!), served on a salad, or stuffed inside a roll for meatball subs or sliders. The options are endless, so be sure to refer to the blog post, above, for lots of inspiration to get you started.
- nonstick cooking spray
- 1 pound 93% lean ground turkey or chicken
- 1 medium zucchini, grated (approx. 1 cup grated)
- 1/2 medium yellow onion, grated
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
- 1/3 cup grated parmesan
- 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 large egg
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning
- optional: up to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- kosher salt & ground black pepper, to season
- for serving, as desired: quick pesto or simple tomato sauce, cooked pasta or crusty Italian bread, a simple green salad or Caesar salad, grated parmesan, thinly sliced basil, etc.
- Prep: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, ensuring a rack is positioned in the center of the oven. Lightly spray a rimmed baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Gather & prep all ingredients according to the Ingredients List.
- Grate the zucchini: Set a box grater over a clean kitchen towel & run the zucchini along the sides, grating it into fine pieces. Roll the towel up & squeeze as much of the excess liquid from the zucchini as possible. Transfer the grated zucchini to a large bowl.
- Mix the zucchini meatballs: To the large bowl with the grated zucchini, add the grated yellow onion, garlic, basil, grated parmesan, panko breadcrumbs, egg, olive oil, Italian seasoning, & crushed red pepper flakes (if using). Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt & ground black pepper as desired. Use your hands to mix well. Once the breadcrumb mixture is combined, add in the ground turkey or chicken. Using your hands, mix just until combined – take care to avoid over-mixing.
- Form the zucchini meatballs: Divide the zucchini meatball mixture into 15-18 equal portions, then gently roll each into a meatball slightly larger than the size of a golf ball, rolling just until smooth – take care to avoid pressing the meatballs together too compactly. For quickness & ease, I like using a spring-loaded scoop. The mixture yields 15-18 1 1/2-inch meatballs. Arrange the meatballs on the prepared baking sheet.
- Bake the zucchini meatballs: Lightly spritz the zucchini meatballs with cooking spray for a golden finish, then transfer the baking sheet to the oven. Bake 18-22 minutes, until cooked through.
- Serve: Serve the zucchini meatballs immediately as desired. You can toss them into a quick pesto or simple tomato sauce, then serve them with pasta or in a meatball sub, etc. Enjoy!
- Ingredient Notes:
- Ground turkey or chicken: The secret to seriously juicy & tender zucchini meatballs is using the right poultry. Whether you decide to use ground chicken or turkey, it needs a decent fat content, otherwise the meatballs will dry out. Look for at least 93% lean, though if you can find 90-92%, that’s even better! If you’re purchasing from your grocery store’s butcher counter, ask for ground turkey/chicken thigh or dark meat.
- Storage & Reheating: Transfer cooled zucchini meatballs to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stovetop until warmed through, adding a splash of water or chicken stock as needed to help them steam up & loosen any sauce that may be on the meatballs.
- 15-20 Minute Meal Prep: Nearly all of the active prep work for this recipe comes from prepping & forming the zucchini meatballs. Take care of some of this in advance & you can jump straight in to cooking during the week:
- Mix & form the zucchini parmesan meatballs according to Step 2-4 of Recipe Directions, above. You can roll out the meatballs immediately or save the rolling for dinnertime; either way, the mixture will keep for up to 3 days in an airtight container in the refrigerator. (15 minutes active for meatball mixture prep, 5 minutes active for forming the zucchini meatballs)
Keywords: zucchini meatball recipe, hidden veggie meatball recipe, grated zucchini in meatballs
Recipe by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by KJ & Company, Kate Poskochil