Baked Chicken Parmesan Meatballs in Tomato Cream Sauce
As the ridiculous, unrelenting cold continues, so does our desire for warm, comforting food. As much as I love soup, I don’t really want to have it every single night – in large part, thanks to our toddler’s “playful” personality at the dinner table which makes for a gigantic mess when it comes to soup. That and her continued use of her hair as a napkin.
Anyway, I’m making a concerted effort to keep our dinner menus somewhat interesting but still satisfy our need for comfort food. Our freezer was stocked with ground chicken and to me, tomato sauce and melty cheese are always comforting. We didn’t eat these over the typical pasta but just enjoyed them on their own with some good bread and a big salad. They would be great over pasta, quinoa, on a sandwich or maybe even cut up and added to a pizza. We’ll call this the silver lining of the nasty weather.
Yield: 6-8 servings
For the sauce:
- 1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, liquid reserved
- 1 tbsp. butter
- ¼ cup finely chopped onion
- 1½ tbsp. tomato paste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1/3 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
For the meatballs:
- ½ cup dried panko
- 1/3 cup grated onion
- 1 tsp. dried parsley
- 1 tsp. dried basil
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
- ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 1½ lbs. ground chicken
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 4 oz. shredded mozzarella*
- 2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
- 2-3 tbsp. minced fresh basil (optional)
To make the sauce, add the tomatoes to a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth, adding a bit of the reserved liquid if necessary to smooth the mixture out. Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook about 1 minute, until it begins to soften. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and red pepper flakes and mix just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the tomato mixture, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook about 5-8 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream. Set aside.
To make the meatballs, combine the panko, grated onion, parsley, basil, Parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic and egg. Stir together with a fork just until blended. Mix in the ground chicken and knead together gently until evenly combined. Form the mixture into meatballs about 1½-inch in diameter.
Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs to the pan in a single layer (two batches may be necessary if you don’t have enough surface area.) Let cook, turning occasionally, until all sides are browned.**
Once all of the meatballs are browned, place them in the pan with the tomato sauce. Sprinkle the mozzarella and additional Parmesan over the top. Bake until the cheese is fully melted and bubbling and the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and garnish with the fresh basil. Serve warm.
*For best results, always use freshly shredded cheese. Pre-shredded cheese comes coated in things such as flour or cornstarch to prevent clumping and results in an unpleasant, gritty texture when melted.
**I added this browning step because we prefer the flavor and texture it adds, but if you prefer, you can skip the step of browning the meatballs entirely. Just add the shaped meatballs to the tomato sauce and bake until they are cooked through. You will probably need to increase the baking time.