You can hardly call slow cookers a technological marvel. They’re pretty simple – a heating element, a heavy ceramic pot and maybe a timer. But here we are, nearly 50 years after they were invented and they’re still as popular as ever. Why? Because they’re amazing. You put food in them, and a few hours later – without actually doing any work yourself, or even having to be present – it’s done and you have a hot meal on the table. I have to say I don’t use my slow cooker nearly as much as I could (and probably should). But I have used it for a whole host of foods – soups, stews, sauces and even desserts. And now, Slow Cooker Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs.
Sure, now there’s the Instant Pot that everyone is going crazy for, but will they stand the test of time like the good old fashioned slow cooker? You tell me. I’ve never tried one (I’m generally a very late adopter of new technology – my mom had a smartphone way before I did). Are they worth all the hype?
I was inspired to make meatballs and the accompanying marinara sauce in my slow cooker after reading a recipe in The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook. Then, in my regular fashion, I altered it to fit with the tastes of my family as well as my nutritional preferences. The meatballs are full of flavor, thanks to the use of Italian Sausage, but lower in fat and calories because they’re made with ground turkey. They’re also gluten free because they don’t use any breadcrumbs or bread as a binder. Just egg and cheese (which adds even more flavor).
The sauce, while incredibly simple, is also flavorful. I love the use of red wine in this recipe and I find it really adds to the flavor – I don’t recommend omitting it. However, I don’t often have an open bottle of red wine (Hubby and I are usually beer drinkers), and I usually find a substitute for red wine in other recipes. You can use half red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar and half water to make up the volume of red wine in a recipe (in this case, half a cup). However, I can’t vouch for the results in this recipe, as I have always went ahead and opened up a bottle of wine – I find it’s not really that hard to make the leftovers disappear if I put my mind to it. 😉
Making hearty turkey meatballs that are full of flavor is easy, and doesn't require standing by the stove for hours thanks to your slow cooker!
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 3 small onions (or 1 large onion)
- 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
- 6 medium cloves garlic
- 1 Tablespoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 ounce Parmesan, shredded
- 2 Tablespoons minced basil
- 8 ounces Italian turkey sausage (see note)
- 1 pound ground turkey
- 2 ounces Mozzarella, shredded
- 1 ounce Parmesan, shredded
- 2 large eggs
- 2 medium cloves garlic
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 pound spaghetti
Heat oil in dutch oven over medium high heat. Stir in onion, tomato paste, garlic, oregano, red pepper flakes and salt. Cook until softened, and edges are beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes. Transfer half of the mixture to a large bowl.
Slowly stir the red wine into the remaining half of the onion mixture, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Add the crushed tomatoes and stir. Transfer the sauce to your slow cooker.
Add sausage, ground turkey, Mozzarella, Parmesan, eggs, garlic and salt to the bowl containing the onion mixture. Mix well with your hands and/or a potato masher. Form into roughly 1.5" balls (you should have about 24) and arrange on a large plate.
Microwave the meatballs on high for about 5-7 minutes, until the outsides are firm and fat has begun to render. Transfer the meatballs to the slow cooker, nestling them into the sauce. Discard the rendered fat.
Turn the slow cooker on low temperature, and cook for 4-5 hours until sauce is slightly thickened and reduced. Stir in Parmesan and basil.
Cook spaghetti according to the instructions on package. Serve meatballs and sauce over spaghetti.
If you can't find Italian turkey sausage, regular Italian sausage made from pork is fine as well.
**Recipe adapted from: The Complete Cook’s Country TV Show Cookbook
Slow Cooker Spaghetti and Turkey Meatballs Nutrition Notes:
The above nutrition info uses both ground turkey and turkey Italian sausage. You can use regular pork Italian sausage if you wish, but the resulting dish will be slightly higher in total and saturated fat as well as calories. The nutrition info also uses whole wheat pasta, which is what I generally use at home. You can certainly use regular spaghetti, but the fiber content of the dish will be lower. Unlike many other meatball recipes, these ones are gluten free. Just make sure to serve them with gluten free pasta if you are making them for someone following a gluten free diet.