Chicken Meatballs

meatballs-3

I know I’ve been AWOL for a week or so, but I have a really good excuse.  See, I had to make these meatballs.  Well, that’s not entirely true.  I had to cater a baby shower…and these were on the menu. So technically that is true.  As soon as I get my pictures in order I will be posting about the shower, including some other yummy-scrumptious recipes.  But seeing as how I made these twice in three days (they are that good), I figured it was my duty to share them first.  But I feel I should warn you that they are made with ground chicken.

Gasp.  I know, right.

I’ll be honest: I never thought I’d ever buy ground poultry.  I mean, I make fun of folks who eat turkey burgers, because, really, what’s the point of eating a burger (B is for beef, people.  Or possible buffalo. Or bison.  Not turkey.) otherwise?  No judgements here – eat what you want – but for me personally, I like my ground meat red, and previously on the hoof.   So, when I was hunting for a killer meatball recipe, no one was more surprised than me that I chose one with ground chicken.  They also have pancetta, which helped make them more legit – let’s be honest, I’d eat a tire if you put pancetta on it.  And the recipe described them as tasting “cheesy”, even though there is not a single shred of cheese in them.   By that point in my research I was fully on board, and trying to think of which Publix I can go to where no one I know will see me buying ground chicken.

yes, I know that's bacon and not pancetta, but I used it all up in another recipe and had to use it's only slightly less awesome relative in my second batch.

yes, I know that’s bacon and not pancetta, but I used it all up in another recipe and had to use it’s only slightly less awesome relative in my second batch.

meatballs-2

The first batch I made for the shower I didn’t photograph, so you’re seeing my second batch which I made for dinner last night – much to Jacob’s delight.  He claimed they were awesome, and that’s a high compliment for someone who usually just says “Meh.  It’s OK.  I’d eat it again.”  Seriously.  He’s like the least excited eater ever.  Also, almost everyone who attended the shower requested the recipe, so I feel pretty good declaring them the Best Meatballs Ever.  They only take about 20 minutes to put together, and then another 15-20 to bake, depending on how large you make them, so it’s not a huge time investment, and are you really still here?  Why aren’t you out at a grocery store where no one knows you buying ground chicken (unless you routinely use ground poultry, in which case feel free to shop at your usual place).  They really are good people.  They don’t taste very chicken-y to me, more a general savory flavor, and they are very tender and moist.  I made the ones for the shower small, around 25 of them baked for 16 minutes, and the ones for our dinner were larger, only 12 and baked for 22 minutes.  So you can tweak them to suit your needs, but either way, you’ll be glad you tried them.

Baked Chicken Meatballs
Adapted from Gourmet via SmittenKitchen

Serves 4 as a main course, or more as appetizers

3 slices Italian bread, torn into small bits (1 cup)
1/3 cup milk
3 ounces sliced pancetta, finely chopped (you can swap in Canadian Bacon if you can’t find pancetta)
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large egg
1 pound ground chicken
2 tablespoons tomato paste, divided
3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F with a rack in the upper third of the oven. Soak bread in milk in a small bowl until softened, about four minutes.

Cook pancetta, onion, and garlic in one tablespoon oil with 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper in a large skillet over medium heat until onion is softened, about 6 minutes. (Alternately, as in “I thought of this after the fact”, I’d bet you could render the pancetta for a couple minutes and cook the onions and garlic in that fat, rather than olive oil.) Cool slightly.

Squeeze bread to remove excess milk, then discard milk. Lightly beat egg in a large bowl, then combine with chicken, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, pancetta mixture, bread, and parsley. Form 12 meatballs and arrange in another 4-sided sheet pan

Stir together remaining tablespoons of tomato paste and oil and brush over meatballs (I had to use a whisk to get it to mix) , then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 25 minutes.

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Chorizo and Mushroom Fideua

Apparently, Fideuà is the Catalan name for a traditional baked pasta dish.  Not something I was planning to make, but I was looking for something to use up some chorizo I had and all I kept getting were breakfast recipes, until Epicurious hooked me up with this one.  After a lifetime of avoiding mushrooms like the plague, I’ve recently decided that they’re pretty awesome, so I pretty much had to make this.  It’s pretty straightforward to make, and the flavors are pretty straightforward as well. A little earthy, a little spicy, a little vegetable -y (yes, I’m aware that’s not acceptable grammar, but just go with it) and a lot delicious.  It’s one of those warm, homey dishes that are good pretty much any time of day.  I really liked that you finish it in the oven – the slight crunchiness it gives to the noodles is a little surprising and really gives it some texture.  You don’t want them to shatter or anything, but just bake it until most of the moisture is gone and they will have a pleasant bite to them while still tasting like pasta should taste.  And you know what I realized while I was making it?  That the reason I love to cook is because it is the coolest thing in the world to take that pile of raw ingredients up there and turn them into this really delicious plate of food.

 

Chorizo and Mushroom Fideua

Adapted from Epicurious

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound onions, chopped
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 pound mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, diced
  • 3 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 5 ounces Spanish chorizo or other garlic sausage (such as kielbasa), cut into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
  • 3/4 pound fideo or angel hair pasta
  • Minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat olive oil in heavy deep paella pan skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until tender, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté about 5 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and stir just until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and green pepper and sauté a couple of minutes (2-3). Add chicken broth, wine, and chorizo. Bring mixture to simmer. Break pasta in half and add to pan. Cook until pasta is tender, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Set pan in oven and bake until all liquid is absorbed and pasta is crusty, about 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve.

 

A few notes:

Not all of us have a paella pan laying around. I mean, have you seen the size of my kitchen?  I used a large pot to do my sauteing and stovetop cooking, then I dumped it all in a large casserole to finish in the oven.  I know it’s not traditional, but it worked just fine.

3/4 lb onions is about 2 medium, or 1 1/2 large

 

 

Lasagna

This might just be the best lasagna ever.  It’s a little strange for me to be writing that, since until recently, I didn’t really like lasagna.  By that I mean that I refused to eat it because I didn’t think it looked good.  The only lasagna I would willingly eat was my Aunt Ruth’s, and I was only willing to try hers because she’s never made anything wasn’t delicious. So, while this was not my first attempt at the classic comfort food dish, it is the first time that I got excited about the results.
Although it takes a little time (it took me about an hour to get it in the oven, and then an hour or more to bake, but I wasn’t very organized about it, and you might be able to cut that down a little with some planning), it really isn’t that difficult to make.  You saute the vegetable in a little oil (carrots? in lasagna?  I was a little surprised to see them in the recipe, but I didn’t even know they were there when I was eating it), add the meat and cook through, then add the spices and let simmer for a few minutes.  I could have just eaten the sauce right out of the pan, it was so good.  I really like that it had both ground beef and sausage in it, and I chose the hot italian sausage, so that gave it a little kick.  You will have to spend some time breaking it up though, unless, like me, you don’t mind some rather large-ish sausage lumps in there.
While my sauce was cooking, I boiled the noodles, and got my pan ready.  Then you make the cheese filling with ricotta, parmesan, and a couple of eggs.  This was probably my favorite part of the lasagna; it was so light, and just cheesy enough without being too gooey, if that makes any sense.  Once you’ve got everything mixed in, then you get to assemble this monster.  Be prepared, because it will feed a small army, as my grateful co-workers found out later in the week.  It’s pretty straightforward – you just put a little sauce in the bottom of the pan, then layer on the noodles, ricotta mixture, sauce, and shredded mozzarella until you run out.  Then top with a little more mozzarella and parmesan, and you’re good to go.  
Let it bake covered for 40 minutes, then uncover and continue to bake for another 40 minutes (I only baked uncovered about 30 minutes or so, since I was impatient, and it was plenty hot, and the cheese was bubbly, but I have an atomic oven, so results may vary).  All in all, this was a very successful project, and I can’t wait to make this again.  The sauce was so flavorful, and the ricotta mixture baked up so well, that this may have just made the list of my favorite foods.
Three Cheese Lasagna with Italian Sausage
SAUCE
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 3/4 cup finely chopped peeled carrots
  • 2 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 8 ounces lean ground beef
  • 6 ounces spicy Italian sausages, casings removed
  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes with added puree
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

LASAGNA

  • 15 lasagna noodles (about 12 ounces)
  • 2 15-ounce containers part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces)
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained, squeezed dry
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 3/4 cups grated mozzarella cheese (about 1 1/4 pounds)

FOR SAUCE:
Heat oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, carrots and garlic; sauté until softened, about 12 minutes. Add beef and sausages to pan; sauté until cooked through, breaking up meat with back of spoon, about 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer until flavors blend and sauce measures about 5 cups, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Cool.

FOR LASAGNA:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Cook noodles in large pot of boiling salted water until almost tender, about 7 minutes. Drain; cover with cold water.

Combine ricotta and 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Mix in spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix in eggs.

Drain pasta and pat dry. Spread 1/2 cup sauce over bottom of 13×9-inch glass baking dish. Place 5 noodles over sauce, overlapping to fit. Spread half of ricotta-spinach mixture evenly over noodles. Sprinkle 2 cups mozzarella cheese evenly over ricotta-spinach mixture. Spoon 1 1/2 cups sauce over cheese, spreading with spatula to cover (sauce will be thick). Repeat layering with 5 noodles, remaining ricotta-spinach mixture, 2 cups mozzarella and 1 1/2 cups sauce. Arrange remaining 5 noodles over sauce. Spread remaining sauce over noodles. Sprinkle remaining 3/4 cup mozzarella cheese and 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese evenly over lasagna. (Can be prepared up to 1 day ahead. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.) Cover baking dish with aluminum foil. Bake lasagna 40 minutes; uncover and bake until hot and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Let lasagna stand 15 minutes before serving.