Whether you’re a reformed carnivore or you’re just trying to eat a little lighter, these zesty zucchini meatballs are recipe you’ll want to pull out time and time again. They’re healthy, flavorful and can be prepared in as little as half an hour using less than a dozen basic ingredients. Just grate fresh zucchini, combine it with flavorful herbs and breadcrumbs and bake until crispy and tender. The end result is a mouthwatering plant-based meal that will have you and your loved ones craving more.
- 3 medium-sized zucchini (about 1 1/4 lbs/560g)
- 1 cup (150g) seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup (45g) grated parmesan cheese
- 2 garlic cloves (crushed or minced)
- 3 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1 whole large egg
- 2 tablespoons (30ml) olive oil (use 1/2 cup/120ml for pan frying)
- Kosher salt, ground black pepper and other seasonings (to taste)
- 1 jar sauce for simmering (optional)
EditForming the Zucchini Meatballs
- Grate fresh zucchini into a large mixing bowl. Rinse the zucchini under cool water, then pat them dry with a paper towel. Line the mixing bowl with a thin hand towel or cheesecloth. Use a medium or fine grater to reduce the zucchini to small shreds, allowing it to collect on top of the towel.
- There are lots of beneficial nutrients in the zucchini peels, so leave them on.
- 3 medium-sized zucchini should be enough to make a little over a dozen meatballs.
- Squeeze the excess moisture out of the zucchini. Gather the corners of the towel and lift the zucchini out of the bowl. Hold the towel-wrapped zucchini over the sink and give it a squeeze. This will help extract any remaining water.
- You can also heat the zucchini in a pan for a few minutes to evaporate the extra liquid.
- Zucchini naturally has a high water content, which can ruin the flavor and texture of the finished meatballs.
- Combine the zucchini with the egg, breadcrumbs and herbs. Return the grated zucchini to the mixing bowl. Add one egg, two cloves crushed garlic, one cup seasoned bread crumbs, one half cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, three tablespoons chopped basil and a dash of salt and pepper to taste. Blend the ingredients until they’re distributed throughout the mixture.
- Together, the egg, breadcrumbs and cheese will serve as a binding agent to help the meatballs retain their shape.
- Crush the garlic cloves using a manual press, or pulse it in the food processor along with the basil to save time.
- Roll the mixture into golf ball-sized balls. Grab a small handful of the zucchini mixture and use the palms of both hands to roll them. Try to use roughly one ounce of zucchini per meatball. Make sure each meatball has been pressed firmly to ensure that they’ll hold together while cooking.
- The meatballs will shrink somewhat as they cook.
- If you find that your meatballs are falling apart, add a small amount of flour to the mixture and try again. The flour will soak up moisture and become slightly sticky.
EditCooking the Meatballs
- Preheat the oven to . Set the oven to convection and make sure the center rack is clear. Let the oven begin warming up while you finish preparing the meatballs.
- Keeping the temperature relatively low will prevent you from accidentally burning the cheese and breadcrumbs.
- Arrange the zucchini meatballs on a nonstick baking sheet. Lay out the meatballs in rows. Leave an inch or two of space between each to allow heat to circulate properly.
- Use a deep or rimmed baking sheet in case the meatballs slide around while in the oven.
- If you’re not using a nonstick baking sheet, grease it with cooking spray first.
- Brush the meatballs with a coat of olive oil. Dip a basting brush in the oil and lightly go over the tops of the meatballs. Oil will help the meatballs cook up nice and crisp and give them a crusty golden-brown exterior.
- Olive oil will provide the most complementary flavor to the seasonings in the meatballs.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes. Place the meatballs in the oven and set a timer. Keep an eye on them as they bake so they don’t get too done. If you wish, you can turn the meatballs over at the halfway point, though convection heat should help them cook evenly throughout.
- Remove the meatballs from the oven and use a pair of tongs or fork to gently nudge them over.
- Give the meatballs a few minutes to cool before serving them.
- Pan fry the meatballs instead. If you’d prefer your meatballs to have a crispier texture, or if you’d like to shave a few minutes off the cook time, you also have the option of frying them on the stovetop. Cover the bottom of a large skillet with half an inch of olive or canola oil. Drop in the meatballs and pan fry for 3-5 minutes on each side until brown.
- Set the pan fried meatballs on a layer of paper towels to absorb excess oil as they cool.
- Panko breadcrumbs hold up better to frying than other varieties.
EditServing Zucchini Meatballs
- Smother the meatballs in your favorite sauce. Transfer the hot meatballs to a saucepan and simmer them with tangy marinara or vodka sauce for 5 minutes. Or, enjoy them Swedish-style in a creamy sauce seasoned with black pepper, nutmeg and allspice. There’s really no wrong way to savor these marvelous meat-free morsels.
- Finish Italian meatballs with red pepper flakes or balsamic vinegar to coax more flavor out of the mild zucchini.
- Be careful not to stew or simmer zucchini meatballs for too long, as this can cause them to become soggy.
- Pair meatballs with nutritious pasta. Zucchini meatballs can easily become a complete meal with the addition of spaghetti, linguine or penne cooked perfectly al dente. Top with fresh oregano and extra grated parmesan and serve with crusty Italian bread.
- Go with whole wheat pasta to cut down on calories.
- While you’re at it, try making zoodles using a mandoline or spiralizer for an all-zucchini meal!
- Offer zucchini meatballs as an hors d’oeuvre. Vegetarian meatballs can make a perfect finger food for your next holiday party or get together. Simply bake or fry them, arrange them on a serving platter and stick a toothpick in each one. Their small sizes makes them easy to eat, and their rich, delicious flavor makes them hard to resist.
- Experiment with different dipping sauces, as well, such as a spicy currant jelly, smoky garlic ketchup or lemon-dill remoulade.
- At the supermarket, look for zucchini that’s dark green and firm to the touch.
- Store leftover meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator. They’ll stay fresh for up to 3 days.
- Add a can of garbanzo beans to make the meatballs more filling and up the protein content.
- If you suffer from a gluten intolerance, substitute blended oats and nuts for breadcrumbs.
- Enjoy zucchini meatballs with a julienne salad for a light lunch or a low-calorie snack to refuel after the gym.
- Pile your zucchini meatballs onto a toasted hoagie roll for a homemade vegetarian meatball sub.
- Keep your fingers clear of the blades on your grater or mandoline.
- Watch out for popping, splattering oil while pan frying.
EditThings You’ll Need
- Kitchen grater
- Large mixing bowl
- Hand towel or cheesecloth
- Nonstick baking sheet
- Roomy skillet (for pan frying)
- Basting brush