Little Ears and Small Balls

Who doesn’t love meatballs, other than vegetarians of course? These little mini chicken meatballs will steal your heart not only because they are charmingly quaint and fit in your mouth in one easy bite, but also they taste fabulous! We have to thank Giada De Laurentiis for the Orecchiette with Chicken Meatballs recipe. (Orecchiette means “little ears” in Italian.)


Now ground chicken can be somewhat difficult to handle. One trick I’ve learned is to keep a bowl of water at the ready so you can keep your fingers and palms moist as you roll the balls. If you have time or can make the mixture ahead, refrigerating it for a few hours can also make it easier, but it’s not necessary. I did not use any instrument other than my hands to form them—which made exactly 60 as the recipe indicated.

The second time I made them I took the suggestion of another reviewer and used chili garlic sauce instead of ketchup, which gives an ever-so-slightly spicy component rather than a sweet one—but that’s a personal preference.

The first go-around, the bocconcini mozzarella cheese ingredient was a bit of a mystery to us, as it was to the cheese monger at the store who also had never heard of it. So while we just bought a chunk of regular mozzarella, later we found out that Bocconcini, described by its Italian name which means small mouthfuls, are small mozzarella cheeses the size of an egg. We just diced our block into small cubes. The second time making this, I used the small mozzarella balls.

In the end, it was such a nice change to have a light, brothy sauce instead of a heavy one. And of course it will make a noticeable difference if you can incorporate homemade chicken stock as opposed to the boxed or canned store-bought varieties. But it’s not a deal breaker if you don’t have any because there is a lot of flavor in the meatballs themselves.


Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: intermediate
  • Print


  • 1 pound orecchiette pasta
  • 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup (or chili-garlic sauce)
  • 3/4 cup grated Romano
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, hot
  • 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 8 ounces bocconcini mozzarella, halved
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. (My orrechiette directions indicated 15-18 minutes, so go by your package instructions for al dente.)
  2. In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently stir to combine.
  3. Using a melon baller (or your hands), form the chicken mixture into 3/4-inch pieces. With damp hands, roll the chicken pieces into mini meatballs.
  4. In a large (14-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes longer.
  5. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer until tomatoes are soft and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  6. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and add the Parmesan.
  7. Toss to lightly coat orecchiette, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Add the meatball mixture, mozzarella cheese, and 1/2 cup of the basil. Gently toss to combine. Garnish with the chopped basil.

Adapted from a recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

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