Turkey Zucchini Meatballs with Veggie Marinara {Slow Cooker}

Turkey Zucchini Meatballs with Veggie Marinara are moist turkey meatballs with grated zucchini cooked in a slow cooker with a rustic, veggie marinara.  Serve over orzo pasta or as a sub sandwich for the ultimate comfort food!

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The slow cooker has officially come out more often as I prepare for ultra busy week nights once my kids go back to school and start their fall sports.  I did use my slow cooker over the summer, but not as much as I would’ve liked.  Why?  Because you need to be more prepared with slow cooker meals so that you can get them cooking early, and I’m  not the best of planners in that department.  I’ve got to get better about planning meals ahead…I just do.  And it would keep me out of the grocery store a bit more, which is always easier on the pocketbook.

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My kids think I’m CRAYZEE when it comes to how often I go to the store.  I hear “how much do you need to buy this time?” and “you said it was only five things yet you have more like twenty-five.”  They know well and good that every single time I’m in the store, I’m buying more than what’s on “the list”.  I mean, I don’t want to be back tomorrow do I?  Yet come the next day, I’m almost always back at the store.  At this rate, I ought to have my own designated parking spot. 🙂

Let’s talk turkey now…turkey meatballs, that is.  There have been many meatball recipes floating around the blogosphere that have fueled the inspiration for these meatballs, but the one that completely and 100% inspired this dish was one from my friend Helen at Scrummy Lane.  Her Turkey Zucchini Parmigiana caused a light bulb to go off in my head, and I knew I had to create my own version.  I mean, what an idea to add grated zucchini to meatballs!  I figured zucchini had to make the meatballs even more moist and juicy, and they sure did.  Thanks for the inspiration, Helen!

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I went with a more classic marinara here, which is very different from my go-to sauces like my Pasta Sauce with Turkey Sausage and Mushrooms and my Meat Sauce with Red Wine and Mushrooms.  I knew I wanted a nice, rustic marinara with these meatballs, and it’s complete with small chunks of celery, carrots, and more zucchini.  This dish helps multi-task by getting more veggies on your plate, and helping those with zucchini gardens to utilize even more of it.  🙂

I browned the meatballs on the stove top before I placed them in the slow cooker with the marinara, because I love the crispy little crust on them.  You can certainly skip the browning process to save washing an extra skillet if you so desire, and just plop those meatballs in the slow cooker and get ’em cookin’.

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I chose to serve this over my favorite orzo pasta, but you can serve it over anything — spaghetti, spaghetti squash, or even creamy polenta.  And don’t forget the crusty bread to sop up all of that sauce.  These are the things that comfort food is made of  — warm, soulful, saucy meals with a little bread on the side.  It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂

If you’re hungry for more meatball recipes, here are a couple more you might like:

Baked Turkey Meatballs with Polenta Cakes by Cookie Monster Cooking

Meatballs Baked in Tomato Sauce by Tina’s Chic Corner

Meatball Sub Sandwich from Pick Fresh Foods

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Turkey Zucchini Meatballs with Veggie Marinara {Slow Cooker}
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Turkey Zucchini Meatballs with Veggie Marinara are moist turkey meatballs with grated zucchini cooked in a slow cooker with a rustic, veggie marinara. Serve over orzo pasta or as a sub sandwich for the ultimate comfort food!
Serves: (15) 2" meatballs
Ingredients
For the marinara:
  • 1½ tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped into ¼" chunks
  • 1 small carrot, peeled and chopped into ¼" chunks
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ large zucchini, chopped into ½" chunks
  • (1) 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes (I used San Marzano)
  • pinch of sugar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • salt, to taste
For the meatballs:
  • 1½ tablespoons canola oil
  • 1½ lbs. ground turkey (I used lean ground)
  • ¾ cup finely grated zucchini (about ½ large zucchini)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1½ tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs*
Instructions
Prepare the marinara:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan or pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrot with a pinch of salt, and sauté for 8-10 minutes or until the onion is translucent and the vegetables have softened. Add a bit more oil if the pan seems dry, and add the garlic and zucchini, and sauté 2 minutes more. Add the tomato sauce, sugar, bay leaf, basil, parsley, tomato paste, and salt, to taste, and stir to combine. Place in the slow cooker.
Prepare the meatballs:
  1. Combine the ground turkey with the zucchini, garlic, Worcestershire, salt, parsley, thyme, pepper, egg, and bread crumbs in a large bowl, being careful not to over mix or the meat will become tough. Form into about (15) 2" meatballs. Heat the canola oil in a sauté pan over medium high heat, and add the meatballs. Brown on the top and bottom, about 2 minutes per side, and remove from the pan. Place in the slow cooker with the marinara and cook on low for 2 hours or until cooked through. Enjoy over orzo pasta, spaghetti, or spaghetti squash!
Notes
Total time above includes cooking the marinara and the 2 hours to cook the meatballs in the slow cooker.

The marinara can be made ahead and stored in the fridge or frozen. You can also use your favorite store bought pasta sauce.

*You can substitute your favorite breadcrumbs for the panko, or use quick oats. Use gluten-free breadcrumbs to make these meatballs gluten free.

Recipe by Flavor the Moments.