For whatever reason, we didn’t have meatballs much growing up. We had giant meatballs called hamburgers and really giant meatballs called meatloaf, but whether it’s because they were too much of a hassle to roll out by hand or whether it just never occurred to us that we should make them, the little ones weren’t really on the menu much.
Chicken Parmesan was, though. That was the first full meal I remember learning to make. When I was a kid, it was my dad’s go-to when company was coming over and he would make mountains of it. We’d be eating it as leftovers for a few days afterward. Despite the fact that it was my dad’s recipe and method, it was my grandmother (my mother’s mother) who guided me through it the first time.
I make my own sauce now and I still make my dad’s chicken parm, from time to time, in batches and freeze it so I don’t have to make a mess of my kitchen as often, but these Chicken Parmesan Meatballs from Dinner: A Love Story probably won’t last long enough to need freezing. With this being a fairly easy recipe, you could even leave out instructions for your middle schoolers to make this and have it ready when you get home from work, or at least ready to pop them in the oven.
I know I normally follow the recipes to a T when I do these, but I am my father’s daughter and if I come up with a twist I think I’ll like better, sometimes I can’t resist. In this case, I didn’t change the ingredients (OK, just slightly), just the way the ingredients are put together.
The recipe calls for fresh mozzarella and I used the block kind and cut about the same amount of cheese, weight-wise, maybe a little more, into cubes and set them aside.
Then I combined the ingredients for the meatballs and gently mixed. Ground chicken works like ground turkey and can get tough if you overmix it or mix it too aggressively. Gentle.
Form balls about the size of ping pong balls and, if you’re doing this my way, press a cube of cheese into the ball and roll to seal the cheese in. If you’re following Dinner: A Love Story’s method, make the meatballs about the size of a lacrosse ball, somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball. Brush each ball with some storebought (or homemade, if you have some handy) pasta sauce — I used Prego — and pop these in the oven. I used a cast iron skillet; she used a baking sheet and either will work.
Bake for about 15 minutes and add them to pasta if you’re using my way and top with a thin slice of fresh mozzarella and broil three to five minutes if you’re following D:ALS.
These aren’t breaded like chicken Parmesan, and they don’t really taste like chicken Parmesan, but they’re called this because of the ingredients. These are a very tasty alternative if you’re trying to cut calories and fat by using poultry as opposed to beef.
“But Kate,” you ask, “are they any good left over?”
Like it is with most homemade Italian food, yes, if not better left over. The picture up top is dinner from the night I made this, topping regular angel hair spaghetti. The picture right before the question I gave you in my head is from two days later, over a mixture of zoodles/squashles and angel hair pasta. Just as good. Give this a try for yourself!
For those with allergies/intolerances, this recipe is easily adaptable as long as you can still do chicken. Sub in gluten-free breadcrumbs or nutritional yeast instead of parmesan cheese and use vegan cheese on top or skip the mozzarella entirely. Food 52 has some replacement options for eggs in meat-based dishes as well.
If you liked this recipe, Jenny Rosenstrach, the blogger behind Dinner: A Love Story, has cookbooks for sale, Dinner: A Love Story, How to Celebrate Everything: Recipes and Rituals for Birthdays, Holidays, Family Dinners, and Every Day In Between, and Dinner: The Playbook.