Table of Contents
  1. If you need a festive appetizer, this is the recipe.
  2. Everything you’ll need to make this recipe.
  3. Here’s how to make this recipe.
  4. These pro tips will make this recipe a success.
  5. Frequently asked questions about this recipe.
  6. You'll love these other holiday recipes.
  7. Watch how to make this recipe.
  8. Have I convinced you to make this recipe?
  9. Holiday Pesto Meatballs Recipe

Whether these meatballs are made for a weeknight meal or a holiday cocktail party, their flavors will be a hit! Tender-textured chicken meatballs topped with pesto sauce and ricotta cheese are a winning combination that will be welcome around the holiday season!

If you need a festive appetizer, this is the recipe.

Can appetizers be meals, or can meals be appetizers? The answer is yes on both counts. A meatball is a great protein for a quick and flavorful meal but can also be easily utilized as an appetizer. The main difference is the size.

These meatballs are nothing short of perfection. When breadcrumbs and milk are combined, they form a paste. The paste, called a panade, is worked into the meat and traps in moisture. The result is a tender and juicy meatball every time.

The meatball mixture is the first step, and the second is the sauce. These are finished with a pesto and ricotta sauce that tastes like it took work but utilizes any homemade or store-bought pesto and ricotta. They’re super easy, flavorful, and perfect for a holiday party or a weeknight meal!

Oval white baking dish filled with baked meatballs sprinkled with pesto and Parmesan cheese sitting on marble surface with red and green Christmas napkin with greenery along the top.

Everything you’ll need to make this recipe.

  • Breadcrumbs trap moisture and help create a tender and moist meatball. Use fresh bread and blend in a food processor.
  • Whole milk mixes with the bread, which soaks in the milk to form a paste. Whole milk has more flavor than lower-fat milk and makes a richer meatball.
  • Ground turkey or chicken is the perfect meat for a tender and simple meatball. Either type of meat has neutral flavor and works well as a carrier for the pesto cheese sauce.
  • Eggs work to bind together the mixture and create structure.
  • Grated Parmesan cheese acts as a seasoning with a nutty and salty flavor.
  • Olive oil is necessary for both flavor and to bind together the meatballs. Chicken and turkey are both low-fat, and the olive oil adds just enough richness.
White marble surface filled with all ingredients needed to make pesto meatballs including raw ground meat, breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese, pesto sauce, olive oil, egg, and more.

Here’s how to make this recipe.

  1. Prepare the meatball mixture. In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with the whole milk. Mix the two ingredients together, using a fork, until the breadcrumbs have soaked up all of the milk and look like a paste. In a separate bowl, add the ground turkey, soaked breadcrumb mixture, beaten egg, garlic granules, onion powder, black pepper, salt, and grated Parmesan cheese. Mix together all of the ingredients, slowly adding in the olive oil while mixing.
  1. Shape the meatballs. Once the meat mixture is fully combined, use a scoop to portion out each meatball. Roll each portion in your hands to form a circular ball shape and place it on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
  1. Pre-bake meatballs. Once all of the meatballs are on the baking sheets, drizzle them with a bit of olive oil. Place them in the oven and bake at 400°F for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the meatballs are fully cooked (165°F internal temperature), remove them from the oven and remove any excess fat that pools around them while baking. Add the baked meatballs to a 9×13 baking dish and set aside.
  1. Prepare the pesto mixture. In a bowl, combine together the ricotta and pesto until fully mixed. Then spoon the mixture on top of the baked meatballs in the baking dish. Sprinkle over the shredded mozzarella cheese and grated Parmesan cheese.
  1. Bake the meatballs. Place the baking dish in the oven and bake the meatballs at 400°F for 12 to 15 minutes. In the last minute or two, you can add a little bit of extra browning by turning on the broiler, but this is optional. Once baked, remove the meatballs from the oven and let them cool slightly before serving.

These pro tips will make this recipe a success.

  • In these meatballs, it’s best to beat the egg before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. If the egg was left unbeaten, it would be rather hard to mix with everything else. So beating it outside of the mixture and then adding it is the key to success.
  • One of the best ways to mix together the meatball mixture is with your hands. Even though meat can feel unpleasant, hands are one of the best tools for getting an evenly mixed combination. 
  • Adding olive oil on top of the meatballs before they go into the oven will give them additional flavor and help them roast. It’s a quick extra step that makes a big difference in both taste and texture. 
Baked meatballs with cheese sprinkled all over the top with one meatball cut in half showing soft interior texture.

Frequently asked questions about this recipe.

What type of breadcrumbs work best in this recipe?

Either fresh breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs will work. I’ve used both, and they both have great outcomes.

What size meatball works best for this recipe?

One ounce works best for a cocktail meatball. You can use a 1-ounce cookie scoop, which equates to 2 tablespoons.

What would be good to serve alongside these meatballs?

These meatballs are perfect as an appetizer or can be served as a meal. I would serve them alongside a salad, potato casserole, or roasted vegetables as a meal.

How long do these meatballs last once baked?

Stored in the refrigerator, any leftover meatballs will last for up to 10 days.

Spoon scooping up a meatball from the rest of meatballs in white baking dish with cheese pulling.

Watch how to make this recipe.

More holiday recipes

Have I convinced you to make this recipe?

I hope you make this recipe and put some food on your table. Leave a comment and share a star rating so you let others know how much you love this recipe. This helps show others that this is a recipe they too can make, enjoy, and love!

Oval white baking dish sitting on marble surface filled with baked meatballs topped with melted cheese with holiday-themed napkin to the side.

Holiday Pesto Meatballs

5 from 8 votes
Whether these meatballs are made for a weeknight meal or a holiday cocktail party, their flavors will be a hit! Tender-textured chicken meatballs topped with pesto sauce and ricotta cheese are a winning combination that will be welcome around the holiday season!
Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Servings 18 meatballs

Ingredients

  • ½ cup breadcrumbs (about 1 slice of bread)
  • ¼ cup whole milk
  • 1 lb ground turkey or chicken
  • 1 large egg beaten
  • ½ tsp garlic granules
  • ½ tsp onion powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup pesto
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Instructions
 

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs and milk. Stir together and work into a paste, and set aside.
    ½ cup breadcrumbs (about 1 slice of bread), ¼ cup whole milk
  • In a large bowl, combine the ground turkey, breadcrumb panade, beaten egg, garlic granules, onion powder, black pepper, salt, grated Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Mixture together until all the ingredients are incorporated with no streaks or pockets of breadcrumbs.
    1 lb ground turkey or chicken, 1 large egg, ½ tsp garlic granules, ½ tsp onion powder, ½ tsp black pepper, ¾ tsp salt, ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tbsp olive oil
  • Use a 1 oz cookie scoop (2 tbsp) to create small meatballs. Roll the meatballs between hands until they are smooth, and set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Once all the meatballs are prepared, drizzle with an additional 1 ½ tbsp olive oil and place them in the preheated oven. Bake until the meatballs begin to brown and the internal temperature reaches 165°F, 25-30 minutes. Once baked, remove the meatballs from the oven.
    2 tbsp olive oil
  • In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta and pesto. Stir together until smooth. Remove any pooled drippings from the meatballs, which sometimes create a collar around the meatball, and place the meatballs in a 9×13 baking dish. Dollop the prepared ricotta pesto mixture over the meatballs and sprinkle with the mozzarella cheese. Return to the oven and bake until the cheese is melted and the ricotta is warmed through, 12-15 minutes.
    1 cup ricotta cheese, 1 cup pesto, 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

Notes

  • In these meatballs, it’s best to beat the egg before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. If the egg was left unbeaten, it would be rather hard to mix with everything else. So beating it outside of the mixture and then adding it is the key to success.
  • One of the best ways to mix together the meatball mixture is with your hands. Even though meat can feel unpleasant, hands are one of the best tools for getting an evenly mixed combination. 
  • Adding olive oil on top of the meatballs before they go into the oven will give them additional flavor and help them roast. It’s a quick extra step that makes a big difference in both taste and texture. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1meatballCalories: 169kcal
Course Appetizer
Cuisine American
Difficulty Intermediate
Method Baking

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Kaleb

I’m Kaleb! I'm not a chef, professional baker, landscaper, or designer, but I like to play each on Knollgate Farm. Come join me on my journey and let's learn together!

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5 Comments

  1. I so like everything you do! Especially when you are outside. Your recipes are delicious and easy! Thank you, Kaleb!!

  2. 5 stars
    Kaleb This was amazing!! I made them to bring to my Moms for Christmas Eve Dinner, she made lasagna. I added some Thin Sliced Sun-dried Tomato to it before topping with the mozzarella, it was outstanding and festive looking. I put some of the Pesto Ricotta mixture in about 1/2 cup of chic broth and placed on the bottom of the dish and nestled the meatballs in it. dolloped the mix (minus the broth) on top of each as you said, and it turned out Fantastic!!! I also used Ground Chicken and Ground Turkey mixed but did the rest as you said… I will be making these meatballs again!! Thank you

  3. 5 stars
    What a great, flavorful dish that couldn’t be easier to make! It was a creative and tasty recipe to make with staples that I keep on hand – frozen cocktail meatballs, a jar of pesto, mozzarella, etc. Fortunately, I had a cup of ricotta leftover from making a recent lasagna. I baked the meatballs first and since they were unseasoned, I added the spices that would’ve gone into the homemade meatballs and added them to the ricotta pesto mixture. Everything came out perfect and hubby enjoyed them while watching today’s football playoff games. This recipe is a keeper!