Serves a Crowd

Tender Turkey Meatballs and Orzo with Whole-Lemon Vinaigrette

March  8, 2021
15 Ratings
Photo by Bobbi Lin
  • Prep time 20 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 6-8 people
Author Notes

Mayo is certainly not a traditional ingredient in meatballs. But it’s not an unusual choice, either, when you consider its parts: egg, oil, and a small amount of vinegar or lemon juice, all whisked or blended together. Because it’s a stable emulsion, mayo serves as an excellent binder for meatballs. It easily slips into the role played by eggs and bread crumbs. With mayo, the path to meatballs is simple: no eggs to crack, no bread to blitz into fine crumbs, no guessing at the amount of crumbs to work in (too puck meatballs! Too little...crumbly, fall-apart meatballs!). And a good quality mayo adds a lot of flavor in the process. Easier still, these meatballs are cooked on a sheet pan under the broiler, so they get golden brown without the mess and time required of frying. The recipe below calls for 2 pounds of turkey (enough to serve 6 to 8 people), but if you're cooking for a smaller crowd, the meatball recipe can be easily halved.

Together, the meatballs and orzo are bright, light, and lemony. The orzo is double dressed, first with mayo to add body and light creaminess (and prevent the orzo from sticking and clumping as it rests), and then by a whole-lemon vinaigrette inspired by Alison Roman’s recipe in Bon Appétit. —EmilyC

What You'll Need
  • Turkey Meatballs
  • 2 pounds ground turkey (dark meat recommended)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Finely grated zest from 1 large lemon (saving juice for the orzo)
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2 or 3 big pinches of red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing pan
  • Orzo with Whole-Lemon Vinaigrette
  • 1 pound orzo
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped shallots (from 1 small shallot)
  • 1 cup green olives, such as Castelvetrano, pitted and coarsely chopped or torn
  • 1 large lemon, quartered, seeds removed, and finely chopped (peel and flesh)
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 4 cups coarsely chopped greens (such as spinach, arugula, kale, or a mix)
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (from the lemon you zested for the meatballs)
  1. Turkey Meatballs
  2. Heat broiler and place top oven rack below heat source.
  3. In a large bowl, combine turkey, mayonnaise, garlic, lemon zest, parsley, Parmesan, salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes. Mix together with your hands until well combined.
  4. Line a large sheet pan with foil and, using your hands, rub olive oil over the entire surface.
  5. Shape turkey mixture into small meatballs, about 2 tablespoons each or 1 1/2-inches wide, and place them on the foil-lined sheet pan. It’s fine if they’re close together. Drizzle the meatballs with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Broil meatballs about 8 to 10 minutes, flipping them once, until they’re browned on both sides and cooked through. Remove from oven; cover with foil to keep warm.
  1. Orzo with Whole-Lemon Vinaigrette
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orzo, and cook according to package directions. Drain (do not rinse) and transfer to a large bowl. Immediately add mayonnaise, and stir until evenly incorporated.
  3. While orzo is cooking, make the whole-lemon vinaigrette: in a bowl, combine shallots, olives, and chopped lemon. Season with kosher salt and few grinds of black pepper. In a small skillet or saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add lemon-olive mixture, and cook, stirring frequently, until ingredients are warmed through and the shallots have softened but not browned, about 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the whole-lemon vinaigrette over the warm orzo and mayonnaise, and toss to combine. Add Parmesan and chopped greens, and toss again. Taste the orzo, and add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
  5. Gently toss in the meatballs, or place them on top of the orzo. Serve warm, with more grated Parmesan if desired.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Miss_Karen
  • Katlyn Gangl
    Katlyn Gangl
  • mrslarkin
  • Regine
  • EmilyC

Recipe by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.

13 Reviews

Emw August 18, 2022
We loved this! I was a bit leery of the combination of ingredients but everything combined was bright and great for summer
Miss_Karen March 19, 2022
I didn't have any turkey but, ground lamb was nice substitute. I agree, leave out the olives... This recipe is good without them.
NXL April 26, 2020
I'm not a meatball lover and chose to make this recipe to use up some ground turkey that was one of the meats available during Covid-19 shortages. These were pretty good and moist, and the cooking method was easy. I'd probably add some spice next time. The star of the dish was the lemony vinaigrette along with the olives. So much flavor that, again, they outshone the meatballs and made them seem bland.
thedaley January 2, 2019
So delicious! I have celiac so I love that these are naturally GF and are made from things I already usually have around the house. Adding this recipe to my rotation for sure
Katlyn G. August 31, 2018
So good! Will be making again!
EmilyC August 31, 2018
Oh good, thanks Katlyn!!
mrslarkin July 14, 2018
These meatballs are so delicious! Thanks for such a great recipe, Emily! Didn’t make the orzo this time, but I will soon. I didn’t have a lemon to grate, so I used half a navel orange. Really tasty.
EmilyC July 15, 2018
Liz! What a delight to get your note. Thanks so much for trying these. So glad you liked them!!
Kate December 1, 2017
Hi and thanks for sharing this recipe. I wonder whether you have any suggestions about substituting for orzo? orzo is not easily found in where I am based.
EmilyC December 1, 2017
Hi Kate! I think that virtually any type of pasta will work well here! It'd be delicious with linguine or fettuccine, or if you want to use a smaller pasta, something like orecchiette or shells. Hope you enjoy the dish!
Regine November 11, 2017
I made the meatballs but placed them on cookie sheet and then in freezer. I wanted to make them in advance for when I want to cook them. I, however, cooked one to see how it taste, and it is super delicious. It is well seasoned. The only thing is that I could have used 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 tsp salt instead of 2. I used table salt because recipe for the meat did not specify kosher salt which is less salty. So next time I make it, I will either use less than 2 tsp table salt or 2
tsp kosher. Regardless though, meatballs are delicious. I made 2 tbsp worth of meatballs. This gave me 28 meatballs.
EmilyC November 11, 2017
Hi Regine! So glad you liked the meatballs! I just updated the recipe to specify 2 teaspoons of kosher salt; thanks for pointing that out! And good idea to freeze a whole pan of them for later. Thanks for your note.
Regine November 12, 2017
Hi Emily. Thumbs up!! 0)
Looking forward to eating them. Will let you know how the orzo dish turns out when i make it.