Chicken Meatballs

I was doing a little spring cleaning of my Flickr photostream recently (hoping maybe it’d inspire me to tackle my house next…) when I came across these chicken meatballs. I didn’t think it was possible I’d forgotten to share them with you so I clicked over to the blog to double-check, but sure enough, they’d slipped through the cracks. I decided to remedy that mistake this week because these meatballs are simply too good not to be shared!

When it comes to ground meat, I rarely buy anything but turkey, but I’ve been discovering some great uses for ground chicken too. These meatballs might just be the best yet though. They’re baked, which makes me happy, as I really prefer not to stand over a skillet with oil splattering on me when possible. And though ground chicken sometimes gets a bad rap as dry, these meatballs are anything but. The ingredient list is short, too, but you’d never guess it given how much flavor is packed into these. It’s the first time I’d ever used pancetta in meatballs and to be honest, I’m not its biggest fan, but it just works so well here! When Deb blogged about these, she said they tasted almost cheesy, and we agreed. Weird, but true, as there’s no cheese anywhere in the meatballs :) We enjoyed these so much we just ate them as is, though if that’s not your thing I’m sure they’d be great with pasta, on a sub roll, or even as an appetizer if made in mini form.

Baked Chicken Meatballs
adapted from Gourmet (via Smitten Kitchen)

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small pieces (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 oz pancetta, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 lb ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided*
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 F with a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Add the bread to a small bowl and pour the milk over it. Allow the bread to soak in the milk until softened, about 4 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the pancetta to a skillet and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the pancetta begins to brown and the fat renders, about 6-8 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the pancetta to a paper towel-lined plate. Drain all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the onion, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper and cook until the onion has softened, about 6 minutes. Remove the onion and garlic to the plate with the pancetta and allow to cool slightly.

Squeeze the bread to remove excess milk then add the bread to a medium bowl (discard the extra milk). Add the egg, chicken, 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, the parsley and the pancetta mixture. Use your hands to gently combine the ingredients. Form the mixture into 12 meatballs and set in a 9×13 baking dish.

Stir together the remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and the oil then brush over meatballs (the paste/oil won’t combine in any cohesive manner, just do the best you can). Bake in the upper third of the oven for 20-25 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through.

Makes 12 large meatballs