Monday, August 16, 2010

Ninette is Back: Chicken Pesto Meatballs

Oh man, these pesto meatballs are a hit.  If you haven't made anything from this blog, this is the one to try.

Even though our recent house sale and house purchase did not go smoothly, one of the real blessings that came out of the experience was housesitting at my friend Christine's for the month of July.  Christine is elegant, kind, intelligent, generous, and balanced ... in fact, she and her family are the kind of people we should all strive to be. 

In addition to Christine's house being the most lovely, warm, and comfortable house one can imagine, the house had a vegetable garden from which we could take what we wished.  I never had a vegetable garden before, so I reveled in going outside and cutting lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, green peppers, and herbs, including basil.

The fun thing about having a garden is that things keep growing!  This is common sense, I know, but the joy I felt from going out and getting some basil and then going out a couple days later to find more basil waiting for me was immense.

How true that small things can make such a big difference.

Thanks to the bounty of the basil plants, I made lots of pesto.  Bright and flavorful, pesto is versatile and can go practically anywhere.  It's like summer's version of the LBD (Little Black Dress).

I would take a spoonful and add pesto to vinaigrette, slather it on chicken breast destined for the grill, and toss it with hot pasta.  I would fold some pesto in eggs for a savory omelette and mix it with cooked chicken and a tad of mayo for chicken salad.  All delicious.

Then I thought, what about pesto chicken meatballs?  That sounds good.  Good for appetizers with those little toothpicks with the frilly plastic on the ends, good in sauce, and good sliced and layered with spinach in a white lasagna.

And yes, these are good.  So so good.  You must make them.

Chef's Tips:

  • When I make meatballs, I usually eyeball the salt, pepper, and other spices.  The easiest way to do this is to spread the meat out on a cookie tray in a layer the thickness of a hamburger and salt and pepper the top as you would your own cooked food.  This goes for the other spices, breadcrumbs, etc. as well.  I teach my kids this trick as everyone knows how to salt and pepper their own food at the dinner table, so this is a way to take cooking larger amounts and make it more accessible.  Once you get a hang of this, you can eyeball ground meat in a bowl and know how much salt to put.  If it's a measurement, it's probably about 1 tsp. kosher salt to one pound of ground meat, but I still have to test this ratio out to be sure.
  • Before I roll the meat into balls, I cook a small test sample in a skillet and taste the mixture first.  That way, if I want to adjust the seasonings or the texture of the meatball, I can do it easily.
  •  With the ground chicken meatballs, you want the mixture to be on the moist and sticky side.  This will make them harder to roll, but they will stay moist during the cooking process.  Be sure to wet our oil your hands so the mixture doesn't stick.  Otherwise, your meatballs will look like porcupine balls.

Pesto Chicken Meatballs
(makes about 35 meatballs)

1 lb. ground chicken
1/3 cup pesto sauce, homemade (recipe below) or store-bought
1 small-medium onion, cut in fine dice
1/2 cup-3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I take bread and shred it in the food processor or you can use panko)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
Splash of milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix ingredients together until just combined and seasonings are distributed.  Mixture will be on the "wet" side.

Heat up a small skillet on the stove and put a little piece of the mixture.  Cook and then taste.  Adjust your meatball mixture as needed.

Using a tablespoon a a general measure, roll your meatballs and put them on a Silpat-lined cookie sheet or non-stick cookie sheet.  These will be cocktail-size meatballs.  Wet your hands beforehand or coat with oil, so the meatball mixture doesn't stick to your hands as much.

Cook the meatballs for 15 minutes or until cooked (you can cut into one and see if it's cooked all the way through).

Heat a large skillet over medium heat until hot.  Add some olive oil and add the meatballs.  Brown and serve.

Pesto Sauce
2 cups basil leaves, picked from their stems and loosely packed
1/3 cup fresh parsley
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 extra virgin olive oil or more

Rinse basil thoroughly to rid it of any dirt. I use my salad spinner to do this and/or I soak the basil in a large bowl of water so the dirt will fall to the bottom of the bowl.

Bring a pot of water to boil. Add the basil and blanche, cooking less than a minute or so, or until the color turns a little darker. Cool immediately in an ice water bath or under cold running water.

Use the salad spinner to dry the blanched basil and or wrap in a dishtowel remove any excess water.

Blend the basil and the rest of the ingredients except for the oil in a mini-food processor or blender. Slowly drizzle in the oil until a paste forms.

TO TOAST PINE NUTS: Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add pine nuts and cook, stirring, until you can start smelling the nuts and they get a little brown. Keep an eye on the nuts and stir as they can burn.


Pam said...

The meatballs and the pesto sauce sound like a perfect pair!

Ravenous Couple said...

we know what you're going through...trying to purchase our first how now...def. not as fun as blogging but more time consuming and nerve racking!

Trissa said...

Welcome back Ninette! You were gone for a very long time and we missed you. I am so looking forward to seeing what you come up with in your kitchen!

Anonymous said...

Look delicious! Do you think I could put chicken breast in a food processor instead of using ground chicken?

Ninette said...

Hi, I've never tried it, but I'm sure you could as long as you're careful and pulse it until it's the right texture. You don't want to end up with mush. I found this link: Also, you can substitute ground turkey or pork. Beef will work too, but they will be heavier.

The Urban Baker said...

who doesn't like a good meatball! I always love a dollop of pesto in my soups, why not in my meatballs? yum!

Anonymous said...

Sounds really good. will try them. I've made asian ground turkey "meatballs" & instead of frying them in oil, I flatten them a little like a mini hamburger & cook them in a non stick skillet with just a touch of oil.

cusinera said...

I love pesto on my toast but to put on meatballs, absolutely a fantastic idea...=)

Pretty. Good. Food. said...

Oh man this looks delicious! And your photographs are beautiful! Everything here looks great!
I recently launched my own blog, I'd love for you to check it out and let me know what you think! :) Thanks!

Biz said...

I am going to try making these for my Mom's 70th birthday this weekend as appetizers to pass around - I'll let you know how it turns out!

Kathryn said...

Those meatballs look so tasty! I recently made sweet and sour meatballs for a hawaiian party- you can find the recipe here:

The Blonde Mule said...

I made these over the weekend for a book club meeting & they were awesome! Thanks!


Anonymous said...

Pesto freezes great too. You can freeze it in an ice cube tray or just put 2 TBL. dollops in a small muffin tin or wax paper lined cookie sheet freeze, take out and then wrap in individual saran wrap "balls" inside of a freezer bag. You can enjoy "fresh" pesto all winter long too!

dining room tables said...

My family loves meatballs a lot. This is something new to them. I hope they will really like it.

dasunrisin said...

I have made these twice, and they are thoroughly awesome. They come out just like the picture. Father in law loved them last night! Thank you for this recipe.

Anonymous said...

Could you do this as a meatloaf?

Ninette said...

I've never tried it, but it wouldn't hurt to try making a meatloaf out of it.

Anonymous said...

Just made this for a local non-profit as one part of the appetizer reception. These went over VERY well. People just LOVED them! Job well done, Ninette!

Anonymous said...

Oh My God! I used ground turkey and they were simply divine!! My husband loved them and said the spaghetti sauce really made them pop! This is a huge keeper! I never eat left overs...until today!! Thank you!!