Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs

Oh my word, these meatballs are SO good!! I love the broccoli rabe classics – orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage, broccoli rabe pizza or simple sauteed with garlic and oil — but I also really love thinking out of the box to find new ways to eat it. The slightly bold, earthy flavor of broccoli rabe pairs perfectly with salty cheeses, so I knew they would be awesome in my Sunday meatballs, and I was right!

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Turkey meatballs are great, but once in a while I really crave a good beef meatball. To keep them light, I used leaner beef and add lots of veggies (the kids won’t know) to the meat. The key to perfect meatballs, in my opinion, is not just having the perfect ratio of cheese, meat and bread, but also gently forming the meatballs so they are not packed too tight. Rather than frying them like my in-laws do, I broil them until they get browned then let them finish cooking in the sauce in my slow cooker. The results are tender, delicious meatballs worthy of a Sunday meal.

You can serve them over pasta or with Italian bread, but I love them over veggies to balance the meal and keep things light. Sure, spiralized zucchini or spaghetti squash would work, but why not serve them over more broccoli rabe – YUM! To finish it I like to add a dollop of ricotta and some grated Pecorino Romano cheese. Hope you enjoy!

Slow Cooker Broccoli Rabe Meatballs-4

Slow Cooker Beef Meatballs with Broccoli Rabe

Delicious, tender, meatballs made with lean ground beef and broccoli rabe in the slow cooker.


For the meatballs:

  • 1 bunch (about 20 oz) broccoli rabe, washed, stems trimmed off
  • 1 cup unpacked fresh whole wheat bread, crusts removed and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1-3/4 oz)
  • 3 tablespoons fat free milk
  • 1 lb 93% lean ground beef
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp fresh black pepper

For the Sauce:

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves smashed garlic
  • 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes with basil (I love Tuttorosso)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper



  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then add the broccoli rabe. Blanch for about 1-1/2 to 2 minutes, drain well and set aside in a colander to cool. Finely chop 3/4 cup of the florets and leaves (3-3/4 ounces) and set the rest aside for another use (I sauteed it with garlic and oil).
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine the bread with milk, tossing to coat. Let stand, tossing occasionally, until bread is completely moist, about 10 minutes. Squeeze bread between your fingers or mash with a spoon to make sure there are no dry spots; if there are dry spots that refuse to moisten, add more milk 1 tablespoon at a time until bread is moist throughout.
  3. Add the ground beef, chopped broccoli rabe, grated cheese, egg, fresh garlic, salt and pepper. Mix with clean hands, then gently form into 15 meatballs, about 1/4 cup each and transfer to a large baking sheet. Broil on the 2nd rack from the top until the top is golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. In a small skillet heat the oil over medium heat, and the garlic and cook until golden on both sides.
  5. Pour the crushed tomatoes into a 6-quart slow cooker. Add salt and pepper, bay leaf and the garlic. Gently place the meatballs into the sauce, cover and cook low 4 to 6 hours or high 2 to 3 hours.

Nutrition Information

Yield: 5 Servings, Serving Size: 3 meatballs plus sauce

  • Amount Per Serving:
  • Smart Points: 7
  • Points +: 7
  • Calories: 295
  • Total Fat: 11g
  • Saturated Fat: g
  • Cholesterol: 102mg
  • Sodium: 757mg
  • Carbohydrates: 18g
  • Fiber: 1g
  • Sugar: 7g
  • Protein: 27g

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What’s your favorite way to eat broccoli rabe?

Disclosure: This recipe is in partnership with Andy Boy. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Skinnytaste possible. All thoughts are my own.