Athlete Food Meatballs

In the final miles of a 100 mile ride my training partner, Bill, started talking about how he’d help his grandmother cook the big Italian meals his family had for the holidays.  They made their own pasta, sauce and- probably what brought up this conversation in the first place - my favorite pre-race staple, meatballs.  (BTW, What is it about long days of training that makes you want/talk about/fantasize the most savory, sumptuous foods?  Ever crave frozen yogurt while riding or running or swimming?? Didn't think so!)  As we passed a northern Jersey deli one afternoon, he started in about his grandmother’s meatballs and how she made them with raisins. For months now as I've turned the last pedal strokes toward home I have imagined what "my grandmother's meatballs" taste like as I get more and more hungry. 

I asked Bill if he thought his mom would share the recipe for our blog, and she generously emailed the recipe a few weeks ago. (Thank you!). It looks just like I imagine a recipe that's been handed down from generation to generation should. The measurements, when she gives them, are vague—"a handful" of herbs, "some" Parmigiano-Reggiano. The instructions are 17 words. These basic instructions are actually easier for me, an enthusiastic non-cook, to understand than more detailed recipes. But I still wimped out and asked Bec to make them for me.

Bec knew she wouldn't be able to replicate Bill's Italian grandmother's cooking. So she put an Athlete Food spin on the meatballs. She substituted lighter ground turkey for the traditional ground round and omitted the breadcrumbs so the meatballs work with her gluten-free diet. And in true Athlete Food fashion, she made the meatballs mini so they would cook faster. Instead of browning the meatballs and then finishing them in a pot of homemade meat sauce like Bill's grandmother did, she used a no-fuss baking sheet method Melissa recommended.  

I ate these meatballs twice with spaghetti and red sauce the week before the NYC Ironman. I also ordered some from a local Italian restaurant, and although nearly $30, they were nowhere near as good!  Bec's healthy modifications on this classic recipe was a perfect blend in what I needed for training:  not only satisfying but filling and healthy. I trained 6 hours a day for the Ironman. Not many healthy things can cover that kind of epic calorie loss.  Still room for that FroYo for dessert though!   —Laurel

PS - Bill's mom also gave us her sauce recipe.  It included 3 kinds of meat AND the meatballs.  We are still working on the AthleteFood version of that one.  Might just have to be "eat in moderation".

Athlete Food Meatballs

Time: 20 minutes, plus 25 minutes for the meatballs to bake

Serves 2 pasta dinners and 2 meatball subs


1/2 teaspoon olive oil

1 cup jarred tomato sauce or Summer Tomato Sauce, plus more for pasta

1 egg

1/4 cup fresh parsley, oregano, or a mix of both, chopped

1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

3-4 grinds black pepper 

1/4 cup currants (or raisins)

1/2  pound white meat or lean ground turkey

1/2  pound dark meat ground turkey


Preheat the oven to 350º F.

Grease a large rimmed baking sheet or roasting pan with the olive oil. Spread 1 cup of tomato sauce on the baking sheet.

Lightly beat the egg in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the herbs, cheese, Kosher salt, pepper, and currants (or raisins). Use your hands to incorporate the ground turkey. 

Scoop tablespoons of the meatball mixture onto a large piece of aluminum foil. Roll each portion between your hands to form balls. Transfer the meatballs to the baking sheet and coat in the sauce: either roll each one around in the sauce or spoon sauce over each meatball. Bake for 25 minutes.

Make ahead: The meatballs keep for 3 days in the fridge, 2 months in the freezer.