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~ Caprese Chicken Meatballs w/Mozzarella & Sauce ~

IMG_4389A Summertime caprese salad.  It's classic Italian, and, it's my favorite way to enjoy our Summer garden. Nothing compares to same-day-picked tomatoes and basil leaves served with fresh mozzarella cheese, a drizzle of fruity olive oil, and, some freshly-ground sea salt and pepper. That said, in my food world, for most food, I can find a way to enjoy its flavors in every season, so, come Fall, a warm bowl of caprese-style ground chicken meatballs simmered in a warm, garlicy, homemade crushed-tomato and basil sauce served with a few bocconcini (small, fresh mozzarella balls) along with some spaghetti is Italian-American caprese-style comfort food.

IMG_4414A bit about fresh mozzarella cheese: Mozzarella is a unique Italian cheese known for its soft, moist texture and delicate, fresh taste of milk.  Traditionally it's made from the milk of the water buffalo, although cows milk versions are used more and more due to the limited amount of water buffalo milk available.  It's been made by hand in home kitchens throughout Italy for centuries.  It got popularized in the 20th Century when refrigeration escorted in refrigerated trucks that were able to deliver this delicate cheese long distances.  Fresh mozzarella is sold in various sizes, but, it's always packed in a brine. (On a personal note, while I have access to fresh buffalo milk mozzarella, I prefer the taste of the cows milk mozzarella.)

IMG_4379It's time to make some full-throttle caprese chicken meatballs:

IMG_3795For the chicken meatball mixture:

2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, medium-diced, 6-7 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups 

2  large garlic cloves

1/2  cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

1  extra-large egg

1/2  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

2  cups soft fresh breadcrumbs from 3 ounces soft potato bread or rolls, or almost any type of soft white or the soft center of rustic Italian bread, torn into pieces (Note:  When making bread crumbs, 1 ounce of bread produces 1/2 cup of crumbs.  I hesitate to talk in "slices" because size and thickness varies so much from manufacturer to manufacturer.)

3/4  cup whole milk

1 1/2-2  cups plain, dry breadcrumbs

1-3 quarts tomato-basil sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand (Note:  Three quarts of sauce is enough to simmer all 3 dozen of the meatballs at the same time.  To cook in batches, plan on 1 quart of sauce per dozen meatballs.), for simmering meatballs

For serving:

1  pound spaghetti per 1 dozen meatballs, cooked al dente, as package directs, 4 servings spaghetti per pound

3  dozen bocconcini, fresh mozzarella balls about the size of cherry tomatoes, (Note:  For every meatball I serve per person, I serve one bocconcini per meatball.

minced fresh basil and fresh basil sprigs, for garnish

IMG_3800 IMG_3802 IMG_3807 IMG_3812 IMG_3815~Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken pieces in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the onion, garlic and basil chiffonade.  Using a series of 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken, along with the onion and basil.  Add the egg, dried basil, sea salt and pepper to work-bowl of processor.  With processor motor running for 10-15 seconds, incorporate the egg and spices throughout the now finely-ground chicken.  Place in a large bowl.

Note:  You will have a little over 2 1/2 pounds chicken mixture.  The mixture will resemble the soft "sticky" consistency of a meatloaf mixture rather than a typical burger mixture.  This is intentional. Because ground chicken is naturally dry when it is cooked, extra moisture must be added to the poultry mixture at the outset, and, it was done in the form of onion, garlic and fresh basil.

IMG_4264 IMG_4267 IMG_4273 IMG_4278 IMG_4287 IMG_4291~Step 2.  Wash and dry the processor work bowl. Place the bread in the work bowl.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs. Transfer to a medium bowl and add the milk.  Stir to combine and set aside for 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to give the bread time to absorb all of the milk.  Add the bread mixture to the chicken mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula (or your hands) thoroughly combine the two mixtures.

IMG_4293 IMG_4297 IMG_4300 IMG_4304 IMG_4313~Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and preheat oven to 350°.  Place the dry breadcrumbs in a shallow soup- or salad-type bowl.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure and working one-at-a-time, scoop, drop and roll each meatball around in the dry breadcrumbs until it is lightly and evenly coated.  As you work, place meatballs, side-by-side on pan. There will be about 3 dozen (36-38) standard-sized meatballs.

Note:  Even though the chicken mixture is quite sticky, the coating process is not messy.  The dry breadcrumbs keep the meat mixture from sticking to your hands while rolling them around.

IMG_4315~ Step 4.  Bake meatballs on center rack of preheated 350º oven for about 25 minutes, or until an internal temperature of 162º-165º is reached.  If you have an instant-read meat thermometer, now is the time to use it.  Safe temperature = safe-to-eat poultry.  That said, because I am going to simmer my meatballs in sauce, which will further cook them,  I remove them from the oven when an internal temperature of 158°-160° is reached.

IMG_4329 IMG_4330 IMG_4334 IMG_4341~Step 5.  In a 14" chef's pan, bring 3 quarts of your favorite tomato-basil sauce to a simmer over medium heat.  Add all of the meatballs to the pan.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially-cover the pan and simmer meatballs for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow meatballs to steep while cooking spaghetti according to package directions.

Note:  I cooked all of my meatballs all at once today.  To cook them in batches, use a smaller pan and one quart of sauce per dozen meatballs.  To freeze meatballs, do it prior to cooking in the sauce, then, once the sauce is simmering on the stovetop, drop frozen meatballs into the simmering sauce.  When the sauce returns to a simmer, cook the meatballs as directed. 

What?  No Parmigiano-Reggiano?  No.  It's just caprese baby!

IMG_4386A whole lot of caprese-heaven on a plate:

IMG_4404Next up:  The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub.

IMG_4451Caprese Chicken Meatballs w/Mozzarella & Sauce:  Recipe yields approximately 3 dozen (36-38) 1 1/2"-round ground chicken meatballs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid

IMG_3854Cook's Note:  The difference between meatballs (a diminutive form of meatloaf) and any type of burger is:  bread or breadcrumbs. Meatballs contain breadcrumbs, burgers do not.  For a variation on the same caprese theme, this time a moist, juicy, chicken 'burger (containing no breadcrumbs) check out my recipe for ~ Grillmarked: Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers w/Balsamic Mayo ~. Unlike my chicken meatballs, which are baked in the oven, they're made in a grillpan on the stovetop.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)


Marilyn -- That is correct (add the onion, garlic and basil to the processor). Thanks for catching that and I hope you enjoy your meatballs -- we had meatball subs for the PSU game yesterday! ~ Mel.

HI Mel!
Making the chicken meatballs for dinner tonight. I'm assuming the garlic cloves are added to the food processor with the chicken, onion, and basil?

Thanks, my friend, for another delicious recipe.

💗 Marilyn

Janice -- you truly made my day today with your comment. "You get it", or, "you get me", whichever comes first I am so happy to know you! ~ Mel.

I would never have thought to make "Meatballs " using chicken.
My Mother always used the traditional beef and pork...she saved the veal for Stuffed Cabbages. This recipe looks like a welcome change to the usual MB's and Spaghetti. The fresh Mozzarella and Basil...well double yum!!!!!

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