Herbed Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce
I’ve been pretty tightly wound this past week, which is mostly due to starting my latest private chef gig.
(For the sake of simplicity and my Friday Night Lights theme, we’ll call this client “Smash” going forward.)
The truth is, cooking for a new dude is pretty terrifying. I don’t know his personality, preferences, or dealbreakers. I’m not sure how much food he’s going to need, whether he wants to have heart-to-hearts while I cook, or if he actually cares about respecting certain mild food allergies he may have. Does he own the basic kitchen essentials, or will I have to get creative until they can be purchased? (The first time I cooked for TR, I used a plate as a cutting board and stabbed open a can of tomatoes in the presence of his assistant, who was both horrified and impressed.) Most importantly, is he going to laugh at all my jokes???
I’ll obviously figure these things out in due time, but until I get comfortable, I’m forced to cook in “first date mode.” By that I mean that I’m making all my most foolproof Dude Diet-friendly recipes, sweating smiling a lot, and generally trying to make Smash fall head-over-heels in love with my culinary skills. As you can imagine, it’s very stressful.
On top of getting to know Smash and his food feelings, I have to physically get myself to his kitchen, which requires a 30-minute DRIVE. I’m sure that may seem like a perfectly reasonable commute to most of you, but it’s currently the bane of my existence. Because, in case you didn’t know, I’m a terrible driver.
And when I say terrible, I mean truly fucking horrible. People honk at me a lot, I’m perpetually on the verge of tears/death, and my highway driving is pretty much a solo reenactment of the freeway freakout scene in Clueless. (i.e. There’s a lot of screaming involved in the Lincoln Tunnel, and then when I get to my exit, I dry my eyes and tell myself, “You did wonderful. It’s alright, baby. Relax, relax, relax.”)
I have all kinds of totally legit excuses for my despicable driving, but I’ll bore you with those at a later date. My point is, when I get home from Smash’s, I’m exhausted, and all I want to do is celebrate the fact that I made it back to NYC in one piece. This requires a goblet of wine, my roommate to cuddle me like this, and something delicious in the refrigerator that I can re-heat before passing out.
Last week, that something delicious was Herbed Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce…
I LOVE a good meatball, and these ones are bomb. Light, moist (sorry!), and seasoned with plenty of fresh herbs and crushed red pepper, they’re epic little nuggets of extreme joy and happiness. The secret is the healthy amount of ricotta cheese in the mix, which adds unbelievable fluffiness and eliminates the need for flavorless breadcrumbs. Magic.
And the sauce! The sun-dried tomatoes provide extra sweetness and intensity, and as the sauce simmers, it thickens and deepens considerably in flavor. It’s the perfect partner for these cheesy, herbed meatballs, as it highlights their subtle savory notes without overshadowing them. I’m aware that the last statement sounds absurdly pretentious, but it’s true. Work with me here.
I’m also pleased to inform you that Herbed Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs are studs on the nutrition front, friends. They’re packed with lean protein, low in fat (you’re going to bake them versus browning them in oil), and they just happen to be gloriously gluten-free. Plus, the homemade tomato sauce is bursting with antioxidants, and it’s much lower in sugar and oil than the jarred stuff. Hallelujah.
Personally, I’m all about piling my balls in a bowl, topping them with a sprinkling of Pecorino Romano and some fresh basil, and calling it a day. But as always, you do you. They’d be delightful over pasta, quinoa and faro, or even on a bed of sautéed spinach if you want to keep things extra light. I also like the idea of nestling these bad boys in a hoagie roll, topping them with fresh mozzarella and popping everything under the broiler for a couple minutes. Fancy chicken meatball subs for the win!
What I love most about Herbed Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs is how well they re-heat. They’re definitely one of those meals that taste even better the next day, after they’ve had lots of time to marinate in that awesome sauce. So make a giant batch when you have a little free time (there’s less than 30 minutes of hands-on prep), and then devour them on busier weeknights (something to look forward to) and/or take them to work. I can’t imagine a sassier desk lunch.
I’ve only just realized while writing this post that I should probably make these for Smash ASAP. I feel like they’ll really take our culinary relationship to the next level…
Herbed Chicken Meatballs in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce: (Serves 4)
1 pound ground chicken
¼ cup Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/3 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ Spanish onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil, drained and chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
Grated Pecorino Romano
Fresh basil, sliced
Preparing your Herbed Chicken Meatballs in Sun-Dried Tomato Sauce:
-Pre-heat your oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside.
-Place all the ingredients for the meatballs in a mixing bowl.
-Using your hands, mix the ingredients until just combined. Please don’t over-mix, people! We want these meatballs to be all light and fluffy. (I know using your hands to squish meat is kinda gross, but just go with it.)
-With damp hands, mold heaping tablespoons of the chicken mixture into balls and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. You should have about 14 meatballs.
-Bake the meatballs for 22 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through.
-While the meatballs are in the oven, you’re going to whip up the sun-dried tomato sauce. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a medium Dutch oven or saucepan. When hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté for 3-4 minutes until the onions become translucent.
-Add the crushed tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes and crushed red pepper, and simmer gently for 15 minutes.
-Transfer the sauce to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. (You can also use an immersion blender if you like.) Taste the sauce and season with salt.
-Return the sauce to the Dutch oven/saucepan along with the meatballs. Cover with a lid and gently simmer for 45 minutes. (You can also bake the meatballs in the sauce, covered, at 300 degrees for the same amount of time, if you prefer). The sauce will become very thick…this is a good thing.
-Serve meatballs warm topped with Pecorino Romano and fresh basil.
GET IN THERE.
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