spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti sauce and turkey meatballs

8 November 2010

It’s not pretty, but spaghetti and meatballs is real American comfort food. In the ’90s there used to be a place in New York City called the Royal Canadian Pancake House whose tagline was “Pancakes make people happy.” I say spaghetti and meatballs make people happy. This version makes me especially happy because it’s lighter than the traditional version and every bit as hearty and satisfying.

I haven’t cooked with ground beef for years. Maybe it was reading about meat processing during the mad cow disease scare a few years back that turned me off (just the phrase “animal byproducts” triggers my gag reflex). In any case, I’ve become a big fan of ground turkey, and I never miss the grease or gristle of ground beef. Also because I love sweets, I’d rather have a healthier dinner with room for dessert than indulge in a really rich meal.

This is a very simple recipe, so ingredient quality is key. Make sure the ground turkey is fresh, and good quality canned tomatoes are particularly important. I love Muir Glen organic tomatoes when I can find them. They’re more expensive, of course, but the dollar or two extra makes all the difference.

Saute onions.

Add tomatoes.

Break up tomatoes and add salt, pepper, a spoonful of sugar and a bay leaf. Cover and leave to simmer.

I needed fresh breadcrumbs for the meatballs, so I toasted a couple of loaf-end slices from the freezer and broke them up into my mini processor.

A few whizzes around, and voila, breadcrumbs.

Ground turkey in the bowl with seasonings – salt, pepper, parsley, bread crumbs, grated Parmesan and an egg.

All mixed for meatballs.

Add tomato paste and a bit of water to loosen up the sauce. Add a shake or two of crushed red pepper if you like a bit of spice. Form meatballs – about 1 1/2 inch in diameter – and place carefully in sauce.

Cover and simmer for another 30 minutes, turning once halfway through.

Serve it up, and enjoy the happy people.

Spaghetti sauce and turkey meatballs
A lighter version of classic American comfort food. Adapted from The original recipe calls for beef meatballs and twice the cooking time. If you start a pot of water for cooking spaghetti at the beginning, you can have this hearty, healthy meal on the table in an hour.

Tomato sauce ingredients

  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 28-ounce cans whole peeled or diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried basil (optional)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • Crushed red pepper, to taste (optional)

Meatball ingredients

  • 1 pound ground turkey (93% lean)
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons minced Italian flat leaf parsley
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan or grana padano cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 egg


  1. Heat olive oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven. Saute onions until soft.
  2. Add canned tomatoes, breaking up whole tomatoes with a spoon.
  3. Add salt, pepper, sugar, basil (if using) and bay leaf. Cover and reduce to simmer 20-30 minutes while you make the meatballs.
  4. In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, bread crumbs, cheese, salt, pepper, parsley and egg. Mix well.
  5. When tomatoes are soft and breaking down, add tomato paste and crushed red pepper, if using. Depending on how much the tomato sauce has cooked down, you may need to add water so the sauce is not too thick (1/2 cup to 1 cup). The sauce will continue to cook with the meatballs, so add enough water so that the sauce is slightly runnier than you want it at the end.
  6. Form meatballs, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and place carefully in sauce, leaving a bit of room in between meatballs. Should make approximately 18 meatballs. Cover pot and simmer for another 30 minutes, turning once.
  7. When meatballs are ready, taste the sauce and adjust seasonings if necessary. Feel free to add a bit more water if sauce is too thick.
  8. Serve with spaghetti cooked al dente and additional grated Parmesan.

Makes enough sauce for two pounds of dried spaghetti. Serves 6-8.


  • For cooking pasta, use at least a gallon of water per pound of pasta. It takes a stockpot with at least an 8-quart capacity to cook two pounds of pasta at the same time. Use two pots if necessary to avoid spaghetti sticking during cooking.

Click here for a printable version: Spaghetti sauce and turkey meatballs recipe for printing.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Anton Rukaj 19 September 2017 at 7:52 am

Ground beef is often used for this dish but I will try with ground turkey this time


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