I have learned that I can sneak almost anything into a batch of meatballs and my kids will still devour them. The boys are meatball fiends and seem to electively ignore any detectable fleck of green inside- amazing! Lately, I've been taking advantage of this phenomenon to smuggle all sorts of nutrients into their little systems. These zucchini flecked chicken meatballs were joyfully gobbled by the whole family a few nights ago, without one complaint about the "gross green stuff" from the peanut gallery.
These meatballs are brightly flavored with pesto sauce- you can use either homemade or storebought. Chicken and pesto have an affinity for each other, so I have chosen ground dark meat chicken for this recipe, but you could also use turkey or even beef. The zucchini is not just there for green goodness, but also adds texture and helps the meatballs stay moist as they bake.
You could serve these a number of ways- they are great hot off the baking sheet! I'm even imagining making smaller balls and serving them as a springy appetizer along with some marinara for dunking- yum! However, we love to enjoy them simmered in a pesto laced tomato sauce and then tossed with pasta. This couldn't be easier- I just pour a 24 oz jar of marinara (Rao's is my favorite) into a large pot, and stir in 1/2 cup of the same pesto you used for the meatballs. Add 1/2 cup water and bring that to a simmer. Next, nestle the meatballs into the sauce and cover to reheat gently for 10 minutes or so. In the meantime, cook your pasta (I like these with penne but spaghetti would be great too) and then toss the cooked and strained noodles with the meatballs and sauce. Garnish with parm and basil and enjoy!
prep time: 15 min. cook time: 30 min. serves: makes 12-14 large meatballs
1 lb ground dark meat chicken (or turkey)
1 zucchini, grated on a box grater (about 2-1/2 packed cups)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup prepared pesto, store bought or homemade
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1-1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
For the sauce, if making:
1-24 oz jar marinara sauce
1/2 cup prepared pesto sauce
Preheat the oven to 375°. Place all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl and use your hands to gently mix until everything is well combined. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking oil (line it with foil first for easier cleanup). Roll the mixture into 2-1/2” meatballs (about 14-16 total) and arrange them on the baking sheet. Drizzle the tops with more olive oil and bake them 20-30 minutes, or until the internal temperature reaches 165° and they are lightly browned on top. Remove them from the oven and serve as desired. *I love to simmer a 24 oz jar of marinara with 1/2 cup of pesto and 1/2 cup water, then add the meatballs to the sauce to reheat with the lid on for 10 min. Toss with your favorite pasta!