When I was growing up, my mom was a waitress at a pizza restaurant that also served salad, sandwiches, and some pasta. They gave out funny plastic bibs when you ordered anything with marinara sauce (to children and adults), and I have fond memories of downing plates of spaghetti while wearing an over-sized bib. They also had the best meatball and spicy Italian sausage sandwiches. For some reason I was thinking about those sandwiches a lot last week and decided to make my own (but lightened up a bit, of course).
I follow a gluten-free diet most of the time, so I don't eat a ton of bread or meatballs (meatballs are traditionally made with breadcrumbs). I wanted to make a dish that could be made into a sandwich, but could also be enjoyed on its own. That's where this cheesy turkey meatball and pepper skillet comes in.
The meatballs can stand on their own, but the peppers make this dish feel complete. There are no breadcrumbs in the meatballs so they're totally gluten free, and I added mushrooms, which add a ton of moisture and flavor. The turkey is a little lighter than traditional beef or pork, but you can't tell. They're so so good. Oh, and cheese. There's so much gooey cheese.
Here's what you'll need for these cheesy turkey meatballs (and how much it'll cost).
- Ground Turkey ($2.88). We used 85% lean for some extra moisture.
- Mushrooms ($2.18). We used baby bellas, but any mushroom will work.
- Yellow or white onions ($2.00)
- Garlic ($0.92)
- Fresh basil ($1.98)
- Fresh parsley ($0.78)
- Parmesan cheese ($4.14). It's so much better if you buy fresh parmesan (on the block), and grate it yourself, but pre-grated is fine if that's all you have access to. Trader Joe's and Lidl both have great affordable fresh options.
- Bell peppers ($2.84). I used one orange and one yellow, but you can use whatever color you like. Green would work too--I just don't like cooked green peppers.
- Fresh mozzarella cheese ($3.98). Fresh mozzarella is so much better than shredded, but you can substitute shredded if you prefer.
- Marinara sauce ($4.58). We love Victoria Marinara Sauce or Rao's. We get both at Costco for a great price, but most grocery stores carry them too.
- Pantry/Typical Fridge Ingredients: eggs, dried Italian seasoning, salt, black pepper, crushed red pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and olive oil
Excluding the typical pantry and fridge ingredients, the ingredients for these meatballs cost around $26.28, or about $6.57 per serving.
You'll have leftover mushrooms, parmesan cheese, marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese.
Here's how you could use the leftover ingredients...
- Use the leftover mushrooms to make our super easy Beef and Broccoli with Peppers and Mushrooms
- Use the leftover parmesan and marinara sauce to make our One-Pot Creamy Turkey Lasagna Soup
Here's how you make these turkey meatballs.
The meatballs take the longest, so worry about those first. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and line a sheet pan with parchment paper (or spray it with nonstick spray). In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, finely chopped mushrooms and onion, egg, minced garlic, chopped fresh basil and parsley, freshly grated parmesan, Worcestershire sauce, Italian seasoning, salt, black pepper, and crushed red pepper. I find that it's easiest to mix it up with my hands--if that's not your speed, use a spoon.
Once everything is combined, form the mixture into the meatballs. We made 16, but that will vary based on how big your make yours--ours were about an inch and a half in diameter. Place them on the prepared baking sheet and into the oven for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, flip them and cook for another 20 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. The cook time will vary based on the size of your meatballs, so keep an eye on them and check the temperature frequently.
When the meatballs have about 15 minutes left, add olive oil and sliced onions to a cast-iron pan (or oven-safe nonstick pan) and cook for two minutes over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to prevent them from burning. Then add sliced bell peppers and cook for an additional five minutes. Add garlic and cook for a minute, then add marinara sauce and crushed red pepper and turn the heat to low.
Once the meatballs are done, put them into the pan with the peppers and sauce and cover them with fresh mozzarella. Then broil them on high for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted (check on them frequently--it happens fast!). I like to let the cheese get a little brown and crispy on the top, but that's up to you.
How do I serve these meatballs?
- By themselves! I eat a gluten-free diet 90% of the time, so I actually prefer eating these meatballs and peppers by themselves. The peppers make this dish feel like a complete meal, and it's super satisfying to me on its own.
- Make a meatball sub. These meatballs are perfect for throwing onto a loaf of crusty french bread or a baguette because they're already covered in sauce and cheese. The peppers make it complete. Toast the bread first!
- Over pasta. These meatballs and peppers would also be great thrown over spaghetti (obviously ;)).
Cheesy Turkey Meatballs with Pepper and Onions: FAQs
You can definitely use store-bought meatballs if you’d like to skip a step. We recommend following the steps on the bag to make sure they’re properly cooked if they don’t come pre-cooked. If you have time, though, we always think homemade is better.
Of course you can! We went with turkey to lighten this recipe up a bit, but you can certainly opt for other meats. One of our favorite combos is ⅓ ground beef, ⅓ ground veal, and ⅓ ground pork. Our local grocery store sells a combo pack of all three ground meats.
They’re killer by themselves, but if you want to add a side, we recommend serving them over noodles or (for a healthier option) cauliflower rice.