With half of the meatball contents being butternut squash, a generous amount of herbs and garlic, and the other half egg and beef, these beef and butternut squash meatballs are so satisfying and moist. Perfect for the paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, and whole30 folks.
This time of the year, I can’t help but wanting to celebrate the beautiful butternut squash. I am all into the idea of incorporating more vegetables in a meat entrée for my picky-eaters. And my family just loves delicious meatballs! Well, these were all reasons for me to improvise the butternut squash meatballs on my little Connor’s 4th birthday last winter. Meatballs in marinara sauce are his favourites, but trust me Connor is not easy to please when it comes to eating vegetables.
I put a healthy and seasonal twist on a classic Italian meatball recipe, making it also paleo-friendly, gluten-free and dairy-free. This is an ORIGINAL recipe of mine, and a big hit in my family! The meatballs are loaded with vegetables and truly delicious. Another butternut squash season is upon us. It’s only fair to share the best paleo meatballs recipe with loved ones. I promise it will be worth your while!
Butternut squash is the true star of the show. The moisture content and starchiness of the squash are what make the meatballs tender. If you have made meatballs in the past you would know – squeezing a mass of ground meat with seasonings into a ball shape does not automatically make it tasty. Instead it will be rough and dry like sandpaper going down the throat. Typically breadcrumbs, cheese, and sometimes rice are added to meatballs to make them tender. In Asian cuisines, corn starch, flour, water and even tofu are often added to the meatball mixture to achieve the same goal.
Did you know that you can totally use butternut squash instead? When I thought of this idea, I immediately knew it would work. The natural aroma and sweetness of the butternut squash pair perfectly with Italian herbs, beef and tomato sauce. I appreciate the depth of flavour enhanced by the butternut squash. In my opinion, these butternut squash meatballs taste yummier than the traditional ones. It has become a dish we make repeatedly in the family ever since.
Now if you happen to have a different kind of winter squash waiting to be eaten in your pantry, go for it! It will work just fine in this recipe as long as it’s starchy with a rich flavour. Most winter squashes are interchangeable in recipes. But I wouldn’t go as far as spaghetti squash – to me, they just aren’t flavourful enough.
You can also try substituting with pumpkin, but make sure you give my recipe a try as-is first! The measurements below are based on the use of butternut squashes because we love them and they are very easy to find locally anywhere. If you make with a substitute, you may need to watch out for the meat to squash ratio depending on the moisture content of your squash. I would love to hear your results, so be sure to leave me a comment below.
The Best Paleo Meatballs: Butternut Squash & Beef Meatballs in Marinara
- 2 1/4 cups ground beef, approx. 1 lb.
- 2 1/2 cups butternut squash, approx. 1 lb.
- 1/2 tsp rosemary
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp basil
- 4-5 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 egg
- 5 cups marinara sauce
- Remove seeds and skin of the butternut squash. Make sure to use the smaller setting of the shredder to finely shred the squash. You want the strands of the squash to be very thin so that they can be well integrated with the meat after mixing. The amount called for in the recipe is based on shredded butternut squash with seeds and skin removed.
- I love the flavour of rosemary, thyme, oregano and basil. Either fresh or dried will work. I usually chop them down very fine or pulverize in a spice grinder if the herbs are too coarse, especially the rosemary. If you don't have a collection of individual herbs, you can use an Italian mix instead.
- Finely mince 4-5 cloves of garlic.
- Mix everything except for the marinara sauce listed in the ingredients section above, to make the mixture of the meatballs. At this point, the mixture should be as soft as possible without losing the shape when made into meatballs. Firmer mixture results in less tender meatballs once cooked.
- Shape meatballs by hand to roughly 1.5 inch diameter size and place in a baking dish. The meatballs should not be touching each other. I usually make 20 meatballs with the amount of ingredients in this recipe.
- Bake the meatballs in a pre-heated oven at 375ºF for 20 minutes.
- Pour your favourite marinara sauce over the meatballs. If you use an unsalted plain tomato sauce, you can add more salt, herbs and minced garlic to taste.
- Bake the meatballs at 375ºF for another 40 minutes.
- Calorie calculation is based on 1 serving.
- See recipe video above.