Considering that both chicken Parmesan and meatballs with marinara are popular choices, why commit yourself to just one? Here, Cook’s Country captures the best flavors of both dishes while minimizing the effort—and with fabulous results I must report. The Hubs is already planning to remake them for an upcoming retreat.
Starting with the meatballs, they use a flavorful mixture of Parmesan cheese, dried oregano, garlic powder, salt, and pepper to perk up the flavor of mild ground chicken. When shaping the meatballs, it’s a good practice to keep a small bowl of water nearby to dunk your fingertips in, it helps keep the mixture from sticking to your hands.
In place of a panade (a seasoned mix of starch and liquid), crushed Ritz Crackers (we used the garlic butter variety) and an egg are stirred into the ground chicken. This paste adds enough structure to skip the browning step (which helps meatballs hold together) and still have meatballs that hold their shape and remain tender.
The sauce is kept simple with seasoned crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce with a generous amount of fresh garlic, dried oregano, and pepper flakes. After a brief simmer, pour the sauce over the meatballs and top it with a crown of mozzarella (for its gooey meltability) prior to baking. When the saucy meatballs finally emerged from the oven, a sprinkle of savory Parmesan cheese, crunchy panko, and fragrant basil impart that familiar chicken Parmesan vibe.
You can make this dish ahead up to the point of topping with the shredded mozzarella. Cover and refrigerate until ready to bake. Bring to room temperature as you preheat the oven, then continue with the remaining directions. Remember, the dish will need to rest for 15 minutes before you add the panko/parm topping.
As there was already crushed crackers and panko topping involved, I opted to serve the meatballs simply with a side of fresh green beans and a tossed salad. But if you’re not concerned with carbs, or want to stretch the meal, you can add cooked pasta and some crusty bread to help sop up all of the wonderful sauce.
Chicken Parmesan Meatballs
- 5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 5 garlic cloves, sliced thin
- 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
- 1 15-oz. can tomato sauce
- 2¼ tsp. dried oregano, divided
- 1½ tsp. table salt, divided
- ¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
- 22 Ritz crackers
- 5 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (2½ cups), divided
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tsp. garlic powder
- 1 tsp. pepper
- 2 lbs. ground chicken
- 8 oz. whole-milk block mozzarella cheese, shredded (2 cups)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- ¼ cup torn fresh basil
- Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.
- Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, ¼ teaspoon oregano, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper flakes. Bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium-low; and cook until slightly thickened, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Place crackers in large zipper-lock bag, seal bag, and crush fine with rolling pin (you should have about 1 cup crumbs).
- Combine crumbs, 2 cups Parmesan, egg, garlic powder, pepper, remaining 2 teaspoons oregano, and 1 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Add chicken and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined.
- Divide mixture into 20 portions (about ¼ cup each). Using your hands, roll each portion into ball, and transfer to 13 by 9-inch baking dish.
- Pour sauce over meatballs, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake until meatballs register at least 160 degrees and mozzarella is melted and beginning to brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine panko, remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in bowl. Microwave until panko is light golden brown, 1 to 3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.
- Sprinkle meatballs with panko mixture, remaining ½ cup Parmesan, and basil. Serve.
Recipe from Cook’s Country