These turkey zucchini meatballs are stuffed with cheddar cheese and Italian seasoning then cooked on the stovetop in marinara sauce for an easy, flavorful dinner.
Nothing quite brings a sense of comfort to me as much as an Italian meatball dinner.
It conjures childhood memories of my grandparents house on a Sunday, lots of family, lots of noise (usually from whatever sports game was on the TV and the men yelling at it) and all of us leaving with a fully belly to rest up for the school week ahead.
*This post is sponsored by Cabot. All content and opinions are my own.
Those meatball dinners though were an entire day event.
There was sauce that simmered for hours, meatballs that took almost an hour to roll when you’re cooking for 10-12 people and a pot of water that seemed to take FOREVER to come to a boil for the pasta.
Not to mention, all the clean up that came along with it.
These turkey zucchini meatballs bring all the comforting Italian meatball memories of my childhood with the ease needed for life today.
They’re a leaner, healthier option than the beef/pork blend normally used, they incorporate over a cup of zucchini for a seasonal spin but they’re also stuffed with a cube of Cabot cheddar cheese for a fun gooey center that brings just a bit of that hearty decadence you want in a meatball dinner.
I’ve partnered with Cabot for over 6 years now (it all started with the Cabot Fit Team and the Beach to Beacon 10k race in 2013!) and have been fortunate enough to visit many of the farms and farmers in their Co-op.
Last month, I was able to visit one of the farms just 30 minutes from my house, Coon Brothers Farm in Amenia, NY, tour their facilities and check out some of their 700 milking cows to see first hand where some of the deliciously sharp Cabot cheddar comes from.
Cabot is a co-operative owned by over 800 farm families in the New York and New England area (100% of the profits go back to the farmers) and I always think it’s so cool to know that farms as close as 10 minutes from my house contribute to the product I see on the shelf in the grocery store and use in the food I make like these cheddar stuffed turkey meatballs.
Some other fun facts about Cabot:
- they’re a certified B corporation (and the first dairy co-op to achieve that)
- their cheddars are naturally 100% lactose free!
- 2019 marks their 100th year as a co-op
If you’ve never tried their cheddars, I encourage you to grab some of the “seriously sharp” (my favorite everyday cheddar) and I’m betting you’ll be blown away by the taste and quality of the cheese.
They make some fun flavored cheddars too! If you love spice, the hot habanero flavor is a must and I also really like their pepper jack for a lower key spice profile.
While my Italian heritage probably would’ve dictated I use mozzarella or parmesan, I think the sharp Vermont cheddar I stuffed inside the zucchini turkey meatballs worked deliciously.
I love how as the meatballs cooked in the skillet the cheddar centers get all gooey and melted.
When you cut or bite into each meatball it’s a fun decadent surprise.
How To Make Italian Turkey and Zucchini Meatballs
The first step in making these cheddar stuffed meatballs is combining the meatball ingredients in a large bowl:
- ground turkey
- grated zucchini
- Italian seasoning
You want to mix the ingredients together very well so everything is evenly incorporated.
If you don’t have a pre-mixed spice blend, you can easily make your own Italian seasoning!
Next, cut the 4 ounces of cheddar cheese into 32 cubes and set aside.
Form the meatball mixture into a ball shape and then stuff a cube of the cheddar cheese into the middle. Cover the cheese with the meatball mixture all around so that it’s in the center of the meatball then place the prepared meatball on a plate or tray until you’ve done this with all the meatball mixture.
The recipe makes about 28-32 meatballs. I use a medium cookie scoop to help keep each meatball similar sized and portion out about 1.5 ounces of the mixture for each turkey meatball.
Making each the same size is important so that they cook through in the same amount of time.
Cooking the meatballs
Once you’ve formed all the meatballs, place a large skillet (at least 12″ to fit all the meatballs at one time) over medium heat and add the olive oil.
When the oil is hot, arrange the meatballs in the skillet and brown them on each side, carefully turning each one as they cook.
After the meatballs are browned, you’ll add your favorite jarred marinara/tomato sauce (or you can make your own with this easy 20 minute tomato sauce recipe), reduce the heat to a medium-low simmer and let the meatballs cook in the sauce for another 5-7 minutes until they’re cooked through.
Some of the cheddar might start to ooze out of a couple meatballs, no big deal!
I like to garnish the skillet with some freshly chopped parsley for color and brightness before serving.
Looking for a baked meatball recipe instead? Try this venison meatball recipe!
What To Serve With This Healthy Italian Meatball Recipe
To go with the theme of these turkey zucchini meatballs and keep things on the lighter side, I love serving them with some spiralized zucchini noodles.
I love my spiralizer for making quick work of any zucchini or summer squash (I used both here) but you can also use a julienne peeler to get noodles if you like too. Use regular zucchini or round zucchini, they taste the same!
This handy little tool is the perfect way to make veggie noodles without buying a larger countertop appliance.
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.02/25/2024 12:40 am GMT
The turkey and zucchini meatballs can also be served over pasta (any shape will work!) for a more traditional feel and probably what I would do in the winter time to make this a little heartier.
Keeping frozen zucchini on hand makes this recipe quick and easy any time of the year.
Is This Gluten-Free?
These Italian style turkey meatballs can easily be made gluten-free by using gluten-free breadcrumbs (all Cabot cheddars are naturally gluten-free as well) if that’s a dietary concern for you.
Or, use oat flour or rolled oats instead like we do in our bomb meatloaf recipe.
Can I Make These Ahead of Time/ Meal Prep?
What I love most about this turkey zucchini meatball recipe is that it makes a comforting Italian dinner a possibility for a weeknight meal.
You can easily meal prep the meatballs over the weekend and keep them refrigerated until the next day or two when you plan to cook them. That will get this turkey meatball dinner on the table in less than 20 minutes!
If you love this recipe for cheddar stuffed turkey and zucchini Italian meatballs, try these too:
Turkey Meatballs with Avocado Citrus Dipping Sauce
Greek Meatballs with Mint and Dried Apricots.
Chicken Parmesan Muffins are also a great option – part meatball, part meatloaf, part muffin!
Cheddar Stuffed Turkey Zucchini Meatballs
- 2 pounds lean ground turkey, 93/7
- 1 1/4 cup packed grated zucchini, squeezed of excess water (*see note)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 1 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 cup breadcrumbs, use gluten-free if necessary
- 4 ounces Cabot sharp cheddar cheese, cut into cubes (I cut into 32 small cubes)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 16 ounces jarred marinara sauce, use your favorite brand!
- chopped fresh parsley for garnish
- Combine turkey, zucchini, garlic, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning and breadcrumbs in a large bowl.
- Mix until thoroughly combined.
- Using a medium cookie scoop or spoon, roll about 1.5 ounces of the mixture into ball shape.
- Press a cube on cheddar cheese into the middle of the meatball and reform the mixture around the cheese so it’s completely wrapped. Set aside and repeat with the rest of the meatball mix. Makes about 28 meatballs at this size.
- Once meatballs are prepped (this can be done ahead of time and refrigerated until you’re ready to cook), add olive oil to a large skillet over medium heat.
- Once hot, arrange the meatballs in the skillet and cook until browned on each side.
- Once browned all around, add the marinara sauce to the skillet and reduce heat to a low simmer.
- Simmer for about 5-7 minutes until meatballs are completely cooked through.
- Serve with pasta or spiralized squash noodles (as shown) and garnish with fresh parsley.
Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.
Gina Matsoukas is an AP syndicated writer. She is the founder, photographer and recipe developer of Running to the Kitchen — a food website focused on providing healthy, wholesome recipes using fresh and seasonal ingredients. Her work has been featured in numerous media outlets both digital and print, including MSN, Huffington post, Buzzfeed, Women’s Health and Food Network.