Zucchini Beef Meatballs




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zucchini beef meatballs with pasta marinara

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.

zucchini beef meatballs with pasta marinara

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.

Zucchini Beef Meatballs with pasta marinara in a white bowl with parmesan cheese

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.

Zucchini Beef Meatballs with pasta and marinara sauce

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.  

Mixing zucchini beef meatballs

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.

 

zucchini beef meatballs ready for the oven on a baking sheet

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.  

Zucchini Beef Meatballs with pasta and marinara sauce

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.

A plate of zucchini beef meatballs on pasta with marinara sauce

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 with pasta marinara
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3.47 from 30 votes

Zucchini Beef Meatballs

Zucchini Beef Meatballs made with ricotta cheese are soft, pillowy, and utterly delicious.  I like to serve them with pasta marinara for a lightened up comfort meal that got raves from all.
Course dinner
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
refrigeration 20 minutes
Yield 4

Ingredients

  • 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

spaghetti

  • 3/4 lb spaghetti cooked al dente
  • 1 jar of your favorite marinara sauce heated

garnish

  • grated Parmesan cheese
  • fresh basil leaves

Instructions

  • 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.

Notes

As an alternative cooking method you can brown the meatballs and then finish cooking them in the marinara sauce.

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.

 

Thanks for pinning!

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14 Comments

    Leave a Reply

  • Reply
    Jacqui
    October 2, 2019 at 9:26 pm

    5 stars
    So delicious! I will never make meatballs any other way! This one is moving into our repeat menu!

  • Reply
    patricia
    July 3, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    Just made them uncooked can I freeze them now or should I bake them first? thank you for all your wonderful recipes.

    • Reply
      Sue
      July 3, 2019 at 3:31 pm

      You can do it either way Patricia, just depending on how much work you want to do when you defrost them.

  • Reply
    Kristin
    May 7, 2019 at 10:47 pm

    5 stars
    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.

    • Reply
      Sue
      May 8, 2019 at 7:56 am

      Thanks Kristin, I’ll feature your comment on the post!

  • Reply
    angiesrecipes
    April 15, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    A great idea of adding zucchini in meatballs! This is such a wonderful meal!

    • Reply
      Sue
      April 16, 2019 at 7:30 am

      Thanks Angie, they were yummy!

  • Reply
    Michael
    April 15, 2019 at 8:49 pm

    Where’s the like/love button for these wonderful & true comments

  • Reply
    2sisters Recipes
    April 15, 2019 at 6:45 pm

    I love this idea! Never thought to use zucchini into the mix but now I have to try this recipe! Thanks Sue!

    • Reply
      Sue
      April 15, 2019 at 7:20 pm

      It’s a great trick, and it works!

  • Reply
    Laura
    April 15, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    Sue, I love this recipe! I totally support stretching out our animal proteins, although that’s sometimes an uphill battle with my carnivorous family. I like this type of dish since I don’t really have to mention to them the meat has been reduced. (Shhh!) This seems like such a simple way to add flavor and nutrition to a classic dish! Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Reply
      Sue
      April 15, 2019 at 1:05 pm

      It’s so true, Laura, parents have such power to start their kids out in the right direction just by what they serve… and maybe you can eventually let them in on the secret (like when they’re 30 years old!)

  • Reply
    Tricia
    April 15, 2019 at 12:49 pm

    These look so juicy and tender Sue. I can’t wait for our garden zucchini so I can give these a try. We also like to eat a little less meat these days. Great way to enjoy without the guilt!

    • Reply
      Sue
      April 15, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      This would be over the top with homegrown zukes!