The key to the greatest meatballs, unfortunately, is using tender, fatty ground meat….which is why many of the best recipes include both ground beef and ground pork (and sometimes ground veal). All that fatty richness goes straight to my backside and sometimes I just want a lighter version of meatballs.
My first several attempts at healthy-tizing meatballs were all just not good enough – the super-lean turkey or chicken would yield meatballs that were dry, chalky and kinda rubbery-tough. [Though Buster and Coco thought they were pretty darn delish. Lucky dogs.]
After experimenting with different ingredients to amp up the juiciness, tenderness and flavor of lean meatballs, I’ve discovered 2 ingredients that made the biggest difference: silken tofu and grated onion.
First, the grated onion: the more you break down an onion (and garlic!) – the more flavor you’ll get. Chopped onion is great, but I really like my meatballs to have a smooth and tender bite. Grating the onion on the large holes of a grater releases all of the flavor and moisture in the onion. Try it and see all of the onion-y liquid that grating results in!
The second secret ingredient is silken tofu, which adds healthy protein, moistness and most importantly tenderness to the meatballs. It has a natural neutral flavor – and just takes on the flavor of all of the other ingredients in the recipe. The great thing about silken tofu is that you literally cannot tell that it’s in there! The tofu also acts as a binder for the meatball – no egg needed.
*Disclosure – I create healthy recipes for my client, Mori-Nu Tofu. While I’d love if you’d use their tofu – you can use any brand of silken tofu for this recipe 🙂
Also, instead of browning the meatball first, I let it slowly cook in the sauce straight. Browning is great for flavor, but it also makes the lean meatball really tough and chewy. No browning. Just snuggle in the tender meatballs into the slowly simmering tomato pasta sauce to cook gently.
The healthy meatballs, combined with the world-famous Marcella Hazan tomato sauce recipe makes an easy dinner that comes together in about 30 minutes.
Watch the video and see how I make Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce!
Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce Recipe Video
Healthy Spaghetti and Meatballs with Tomato Sauce Recipe
Servings: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 25 minutes
Cornflake crumbs are a special product found next to the bread crumbs. If you do have regular cornflake cereal, you can just put them in a bag and smash them until they become small crumbs. The tomato sauce recipe is from the famous Italian American cooking teacher, Marcella Hazan, who only uses 3 ingredients: crushed tomatoes, half an onion and butter. Just cut an onion in half, peel and discard the outer papery skin. Place this half-onion (no need to chop any further) into the pot. The onion that is cooked in the tomato sauce will be removed once the sauce is cooked - the onion will have transferred all its flavors into the sauce!
You can use any Mori-nu tofu, we prefer the silken tofu.
For a dairy-free version - use soy cheese.
3 tablespoons butter
1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to package directions
For the Meatballs
1 pound lean ground turkey or chicken
6 ounces soft or silken tofu (we recommend Mori-nu brand)
1/2 onion, grated on large holes of box grater
2 garlic cloves, finely minced or grated
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
1/2 cup corn flake, bread or panko crumbs
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt (if using regular table salt, use 1/2 teaspoon)
freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese
To make the sauce, in a large saute pan or soup pot, add the crushed tomatoes, onion and butter. Cover and bring to a simmer.
In the meantime, prepare the meatballs. In a large bowl, mix together all of the meatball ingredients thoroughly. Use a melon baller and your hands to form meatballs.
Once the sauce comes to a simmer, turn the heat to low and add in the meatballs. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Discard the half-onion. Serve the sauce sauce over the pasta, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
Also, take a second to check out Mori-nu’s “Tofunize Your Summer” Sweepstakes! You and your friends could win healthy silken tofu!!