Thursday, October 29, 2009

baked chicken meatballs

baked chicken pancetta meatballs

As it turns out, I’m a sucker for a good meatball. It’s a funny thing because ground meat has rarely done it for me; I’m certain I’m the lone American who doesn’t get in a frenzy over hamburgers or meatloaf. But something happens when you mix otherwise dull ground meats up with softened bread, herbs, seasonings and bits of extra ingredients, oof — I will swat your fork away to get at them first.

onion, garlic, pancetta
meatballs, ready to mix

I’ve found some good ones over the years, such as the only ones you should ever serve with your spaghetti and these guys, which, if you have not already, you should not wait until next summer to try, not to mention the ones I sneak into sliders and soup. But as I hadn’t tried these before, my meatball recipe collection — and possibly even my life — was woefully deficient.

brushing with tomato paste

Now I’m going maintain this space as a complaint-free zone, so I won’t tell you how long it took me to tackle this recipe or how many times we bought the ingredients and they went bad before I could even find a window of naptime to make them, and how even when I made them, I borked so many steps I had to do it again. It’s hard to step around the whining trap door sometimes, but I will because it’s not the point, which is that these are crazy good. They’re kick your heels up good.

They’re the best, and really only, reason I’ve found to enthusiastically welcome the purchase of ground chicken. So hurry. Get to this.

baked chicken meatballs
i snuck one

One year ago: Peanut Butter Crispy Bars
Two years ago: Cranberry, Caramel and Almond Tart
Three years ago: Bretzel Rolls

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Adapted from Gourmet

These were unbelievably good, quite possibly my new favorite meatball recipe; they pack a lot of flavor from a few ingredients and can I say this? I hope it sounds as good to you as it does to me: They taste … cheesy. Like you’d snuck a whole lot of melty goodness in there, even though there is none. In my book, that’s a high compliment.

These make for an excellent main course, but I will definitely be making miniature versions of them for a party, hopefully one day soon.

Gourmet suggests you serve these with pepperonata, a marinated roasted red pepper antipasto. We enjoyed it, but don’t think it’s in any way mandatory to get the most out of your meatballs. One cooking note, should you choose to make it at home: I’d suggest roasting the peppers whole — rather than in strips — and peeling them before slicing them for the dish. Perhaps it’s just a personal preference, but I found the strips of still-attached roasted pepper skin annoying to eat, and easily avoided. You can find the pepperonata accompaniment over here.

Serves 4, or more as appetizers or sliders

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped (you can swap in Canadian Bacon if you can’t find pancetta)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided*
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.

Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. (Alternately, as in “I thought of this after the fact”, I’d bet you could render the pancetta for a couple minutes and cook the onions and garlic in that fat, rather than olive oil.) Cool slightly.

Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan (I used a 9×13 roasting dish).

Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (the paste/oil does not mix in any cohesive manner, but just smoosh it on and run with it) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes (though mine took a good 5 minutes longer).

* I accidentally added a heaping tablespoon of the tomato paste into the meatball mixture the first time I made it, and ended up liking it better than without it. I’d use the tomato paste on top too. It’s good both places.


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