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Chicken Parmesan inspires meatballs

There’s never a mealtime misstep with meatballs.

Easy, thrifty, tasty. They can be mixed up a half-hour before dinner or pulled ready-made from the freezer. Flavored in any number of ways, they’re common across world cultures yet always taste familiar.

In case I haven’t made it clear over the years, I love meatballs. And judging by the number of food writers also swooning over meatballs, I’m in good company.

It’s been only nine months since I crafted a column with some internationally inspired meatball recipes. And my family’s all-time favorite recipe has been referenced numerous times in blog posts, podcasts and other formats.

It’s unlikely we’ll ever transfer our affections to a new meatball, but this one inspired by chicken Parmesan did jump out at me. If ground chicken is what I have on hand, this one would be worth a try.

The crunchy panko topping adds a new wrinkle to the typical meatball. The Japanese breadcrumbs also could be used in the meat mixture in lieu of the crackers. I use panko in my meatballs regularly with great results.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicken Parmesan Meatballs

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce

2 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

22 Ritz crackers

5 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (2 1/2 cups), divided

1 large egg, beaten

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds ground chicken

8 ounces shredded mozzarella (2 cups)

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

1/4 cup torn fresh basil

To make sauce, in large saucepan over medium, heat 3 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add the sliced garlic and cook until lightly browned, for about 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1/4 teaspoon of the oregano, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and the pepper flakes.

Bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until slightly thickened, for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F.

To make meatballs, place the crackers in a large resealable plastic bag, seal and crush with a rolling pin. (You should get about 1 cup.)

Combine crumbs in a large bowl with 2 cups of the Parmesan, the egg, garlic powder, pepper, remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and 1 teaspoon salt. Add the chicken and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Divide mixture into 20 portions about 1/4 cup each. Using your hands, roll into meatballs and transfer to a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

Pour sauce over meatballs, then sprinkle with the mozzarella. Bake in preheated oven until meatballs are at least 160 F and mozzarella is melted and beginning to brown, for 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a bowl combine the panko, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Microwave until panko is light golden brown, for 1 to 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

Sprinkle meatballs with panko mixture, remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and the basil. Serve in a bowl, stuffed into hoagie buns as a sandwich or on top of pasta.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Recipe from Cook's Country