“These are very good meatballs!” My wife loved these pesto turkey meatballs possibly more than standard beef or pork meatballs. They are lighter and the pesto flavor is very delicious.

My kids also loved them although they, of course, requested that the pasta and meatballs be separate because pesto pasta obviously should not touch pesto meatballs. So it goes.

I thought these were a really nice change-up from my normal meatball routine and the pesto flavor really came through in the meatballs. Bonus is that they stored VERY well and reheated perfectly for a quick after-soccer-practice meal.

Let’s dig in!

Homemade vs. Store-bought Pesto

I’ve done an entire homemade trial on pesto and (SHOCKER!) homemade pesto is better than store-bought pesto. The flavors in homemade pesto are brighter and more intense than the jarred pesto you’ll find in supermarkets.

That said, I’m not one for gate-keeping. If making your own pesto is stopping you from making this recipe, then snag a jar of store-bought pesto and use it! You’ll have great results still.

How to make this homemade pesto

I changed up this pesto slightly from my standard pesto version. To be honest, I kind of wing pesto many nights, using what I have in the pantry.

I don’t normally add onion to pesto, but I did in this case because I thought it would go well with the meatballs. Also, I used sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts, but either would work. Sunflower seeds are a really good substitute for pine nuts and they are much cheaper.

I used my food processor to make this pesto really quickly and drizzled in enough olive oil to pull it all together into a rough pesto paste. You won’t need all of this batch for the meatballs so save some for the pasta as well.

pesto making in a food processor.

Ingredients for turkey meatballs

Let’s run down the ingredients I used in these baked turkey meatballs!

  • Ground turkey. This is the base. Use lean ground turkey.
  • Breadcrumbs. Sometimes I’ll use fresh bread for meatballs if I’m making larger meatballs but for this version standard breadcrumbs work well.
  • Pesto. Obviously the homemade version is best since it has onion, garlic, and fresh basil, but store-bought is fine as well!
  • Eggs. Eggs will bind the meatballs together and make sure they hold their shape while they bake.
  • Seasoning. I added an extra pinch of salt to my meatballs but you could add other seasonings as well like Italian seasoning, red pepper flakes, or even chili powder.
Making the turkey meatballs.

Crunch Time Tip For Taste-Testing Meatballs

I’m a big fan of tasting as I cook because how the heck else do you know if what you are making is good?!

This can be tricky with things like meatballs though since you obviously don’t want to eat raw turkey meat.

What I do to test a new version of a meatball is to spoon off a portion of meatball mixture and fry it in a skillet with some oil. This cooks really quickly and then you can taste the meatballs for seasoning. After testing my meatball mixture, I decided to add an extra pinch of salt and pepper.

meatball taste test.

Tips for baking meatballs

Once you have your pesto turkey meatballs mixed together, portion them out into tablespoon-sized balls and shape them into round meatballs.

For baking meatballs, I want to keep my sheet pan as clean as possible and avoid sticking so either:

A) Line the baking sheet with parchment paper.

B) Spray the baking sheet well with nonstick spray.

The meatballs will need to bake for 20-25 minutes and should reach an internal temperature of 165˚F. I actually still use an instant-read thermometer to test the meatball temperature.

Baked Pesto Turkey Meatballs.

What to serve with these pesto turkey meatballs

These pesto turkey meatballs are very flexible!

As a starting point for serving, you will have some pesto leftover if you made a homemade batch and you can mix that in with some cooked orzo to make a light pesto orzo which goes well with the meatballs.

These meatballs would also go very naturally with this pesto carbonara pasta or you could serve them with this pesto quinoa salad!

They would also go well as an appetizer maybe with a spicy ranch dip!


There are some really natural options for substitutions here. I would encourage you to get creative! Meatballs are intended to be a flexible meal option.

  • You can substitute other meats for the turkey, but lean meat will work best. Ground chicken or very lean beef are other options.
  • Substitute panko breadcrumbs for a crunchier breadcrumb.
  • Change up the pesto ingredients to fit your needs. Maybe a mint pesto or a pistachio pesto would work well?!
Plate of orzo with turkey meatballs.


Good news! These pesto turkey meatballs keep really well in the fridge for up to a week. They reheat well in the microwave. You want to heat them really well, probably 90 seconds on high, to re-warm them all the way through.

Serve the leftovers over pasta or you can get creative. I made a sandwich out of my leftover meatballs one day!

Pesto turkey meatballs on a plate.

Baked Pesto Turkey Meatballs

5 from 1 vote
Author: Nick Evans
Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
These baked turkey meatballs are mixed in with a homemade pesto which gives the meatballs a delicious flavor and also keeps them from drying out. So good served over pesto orzo and leftovers keep really well!


Homemade Pesto:

  • 3 ounces fresh basil
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • ¼ medium white onion, chopped
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  • cup olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper

Turkey Meatballs:

  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • ½ cup fresh pesto
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup breadcrumbs
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 pound orzo, for serving


  • To make the pesto, combine garlic, basil, and chopped onion in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Then add seeds, parmesan, salt, and pepper, and pulse the processor while you drizzle in the oil until the pesto forms a rough paste. If it seems very dry, add more olive oil by the tablespoon.
  • Portion out half of a cup of the pesto for the meatballs and save the rest to toss with the pasta for serving.

To make meatballs:

  • Preheat oven to 375˚F. In a medium bowl, combine ground turkey, pesto, egg, and breadcrumbs. Season with salt and mix together well with your hands until the mixture is uniform. It should hold its shape. If it is too wet or soggy, add another 1/4 cup of breadcrumbs.
  • Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray it with some nonstick spray. Roll out the meatball mixture into about tablespoon-sized meatballs and place them on the baking sheet. You should get about 30 meatballs out of the batch.
  • Bake meatballs at 375˚F for 20-25 minutes until they are cooked through, reaching 165˚F in the center of the meatballs. Flip the meatballs halfway through baking.
  • While meatballs bake, you can make pasta (I like orzo with these meatballs). After the pasta is cooked, save 1/2 cup of pasta water. Toss pasta with reserved pesto and pasta water to form a light sauce.
  • Serve baked turkey meatballs over pasta garnished with parmesan cheese and fresh basil.


Serving: 5meatballs | Calories: 628kcal | Carbohydrates: 72g | Protein: 36g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 4g | Monounsaturated Fat: 11g | Trans Fat: 0.02g | Cholesterol: 78mg | Sodium: 903mg | Potassium: 541mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 881IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 190mg | Iron: 4mg
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Italian

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Here are a few other great recipes to try!