Zucchini Beef Meatballs made with ricotta cheese are soft, pillowy, and utterly delicious. I like to serve them with pasta marinara for a healthier, lightened up comfort meal that gets raves from all.
I love recipes that combine meat and plant based ingredients to help me stretch the amount of animal proteins in my meals.
Cutting down on red meat is good for all of us and good for the planet, so this is an important concept. Not everybody wants to go completely vegetarian or vegan, but we all can benefit from shifting the balance a little from animal to plant based foods. And guess what? I often prefer recipes that replace some of the meat with veggies or grains. They’re lighter but gain flavor and texture from both partners…it’s a win win.
These soft pillowy hybrid zucchini beef meatballs have a lovely soft but still meaty texture that you just can’t get with an all-meat or an all-veggie ball.
Think of this as the lighter and brighter version of your favorite comforting spaghetti and meatballs. Add a nice shower of real Parmesan cheese, some fresh basil leaves, and you won’t miss the extra meat one bit.
Every blog has its themes, and one of mine here at tvfgi has to be MEATBALLS! I adore them in every size, shape, and flavor profile.
What are the secrets to making tender meatballs?
Choose your meat wisely. I like to buy meat with a minimum of 20% fat.
One of the secrets to tender meatballs is to add in some type of filler or fillers to the meat itself. That can be egg, breadcrumbs, rice, mashed potato, quinoa, or even zucchini, like I’ve done here. The fillers loosen the density of the meat, add moisture, and flavor.
Be sure to add some type of herb which will brighten and add vibrancy to the meat.
Add-ins like onion should be very finely minced.
I like to mix meatballs and meatloaves in my stand mixer ~ I know it sounds funny but I find it does a thorough yet gentle job, even better than I can do with my hands, and spares me the mess. Use the paddle attachment and put all the ingredients into the bowl at once. Be sure to lightly beat any eggs first. Mix on a slow speed until everything looks well combined, then form into balls.
These lightened up meatballs make such a nice change from the same old spaghetti and meatballs, which I have nothing against, but sometimes you just need to change things up. I think you could experiment with other veggies, too, like cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, etc.
I like to serve these zucchini beef meatballs with regular or thin spaghetti, cooked just to the al dente stage, so there’s a great texture balance between the chewy pasta and the fluffy meatballs.
These Zucchini Beef Meatballs were lightly adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living.
Reader Rave ~
“This is a keeper!!! I added lemon zest because I add it to just about everything, and made pesto for the pasta because I am sick of cleaning red sauce off the stove. This was one of the best dinners we’ve had in a long time.” ~ Kristen
Zucchini Beef Meatballs
- 1 lb ground beef
- 7 ounce zucchini trimmed and grated (about a packed cup)
- 1 large egg lightly beaten
- 3/4 cup ricotta cheese
- 3 heaping Tbsp minced fresh! parsley
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp fresh cracked black pepper
- olive oil for brushing
- 3/4 lb spaghetti cooked al dente
- 1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce heated
- grated Parmesan cheese
- fresh basil leaves
- Put the zucchini in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze out the excess moisture. Add it to a bowl along with the beef, egg, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. I like to use my stand mixer with the paddle attachment to mix ground meat for meatballs and meatloaves, I find it does a perfect gentle job of mixing everything well without compacting the meat. You can also do this with clean hands. Whichever method you chose, mix the ingredients so they're well blended together without over mixing.
- I use my 1 1/2 inch cookie scoop to scoop out the meat mixture and roll into 20 balls. Place on a cookie sheet and lightly brush the balls with olive oil. You can refrigerate the meatballs at this point if you like. I like to refrigerate for about 20 minutes to allow them to firm up.
- Meanwhile preheat the oven to 375F
- Cook the meatballs for about 10-15 minutes, then finish under the broiler to get some nice caramelization. A thermometer should read 160F when they're done.
- Serve hot over spaghetti and your favorite marinara sauce, with a shower of Parmesan cheese.
- Makes 20 meatballs, serves 4.
Make these zucchini beef meatballs your own ~
- Try using ground turkey or ground chicken in place of the beef.
- Instead of ricotta you can use cooked quinoa, cooked rice, or another grain.
- You can use basil instead of parsley for a great flavor boost.