Herby chicken meatballs pair perfectly with a spicy arrabbiata sauce for a quick, hearty weeknight meal.
Chicken meatballs can be juicy and perfect in tomato sauce when prepared correctly. When not prepared correctly, they can turn into the toughest rubber balls you’d ever imagine. Trust me; I know this for a fact.
The key to good chicken meatballs is adding extra fat to the mixture, not adding too many breadcrumbs, and not overmixing the meatballs.
To avoid overmixing, I’ve found that I like to blend all the stuff–like eggs, breadcrumbs, cream, cheese, and spices–in a food processor and then sprinkle it over the ground chicken. I find it easier to work into the mixture evenly without overmixing. It also makes the meatballs come together in a flash since all the chopping and dicing happens in the food processor. I’ve done it by mixing everything together by hand in the bowl, and both ways are totally fine. When I’m in a time pinch, I break out the food processor though.
How to make these chicken meatballs in arrabbiata sauce
I will preface this by saying that the intent here is a quick weeknight dinner. To that end, you know I break out the storebought arrabbiata sauce. It’s one of my favorite sauces though, so it’s next on my list to add to the site. I make it often, but for a quick weeknight meal, I use my go-to, Michael’s of Brooklyn Arrabbiata Sauce and because I am totally incorrigible, I doctor it a little. So I mean, it’s basically homemade.
The arrabbiata sauce
What is arrabbiata sauce? Arrabbiata is a sauce of Roman origin that is the pinnacle of celebrating the simplicity of high-quality ingredients. It contains fresh tomatoes, garlic, chili peppers, and pecorino Romano. You can absolutely whip up a quick batch of homemade sauce, and it looks like The Pasta Project’s recipe couldn’t be simpler.
After I fry the meatballs, I use a little red wine to deglaze the pot. Then I simply pour in the sauce. I do add a little smidge of water, a bit of sugar, and extra crushed red pepper. I like it fiery. I finish with a generous handful of finely grated Parmesan for extra richness.
The meatballs are a simple concoction. Here’s what I use:
- Ground chicken
- Small shallot
- Basil leaves
- Breadcrumbs, plus more, but only if needed
- Heavy cream
- Finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Italian seasoning
The cream and cheese add a much-needed richness to the super lean ground chicken.
How to make the meatballs in arrabbiata sauce
- Step 1: Start with the meatballs. Process everything except the chicken in a food processor, and then pour over the ground chicken. Mix together and form into 1-inch meatballs. From there, fry up the meatballs in a big pot.
- Step 2: Next, deglaze the pot with a little red wine. Add the arrabbiata sauce and bring to a boil. Pile those meatballs right into the sauce and then bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and then cover. Simmer for about 30 minutes.
- Step 3: While the meatballs simmer, boil up a pot of water. Cook the pasta according to instructions and then drain, but not before reserving a scoop of pasta water
- Step 4: Finish it up! Add a generous amount of Parmesan to the sauce and a bit of pasta water. Stir until the cheese melts, and then toss the pasta right in. You can remove the meatballs first, but I just tossed everything together because that’s what we do on Tuesdays after a busy day at work!
Chicken Meatballs in Arrabbiata Sauce
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 small shallot, peeled
- 10 basil leaves
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
- ½ cup breadcrumbs, plus more, but only if needed
- 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, for frying
Sauce and pasta:
- ½ cup red wine
- 32- ounce jar of arrabbiata sauce
- ¼ cup water
- Pinch of sugar
- Crushed red pepper, if desired
- 12 ounces radiatori or other short pasta of choice, like rigatoni or penne
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
- Salt and pepper
- Basil leaves, optional, for serving
Make the meatballs:
- Place the ground chicken in a bowl and season it with ¾ teaspoon kosher salt and a big pinch of pepper. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper.
- Add the garlic, shallot, and basil leaves to a food processor and pulse until minced. Add the egg, heavy cream, and Italian seasoning. Pulse until blended. Add the breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese and pulse until it forms a paste-like consistency.
- Pour the mixture over the chicken and mix until just incorporated. If the mixture is too wet or doesn’t hold together, add a scant amount of extra breadcrumbs.
- You can fry or microwave a tiny piece of the mixture to taste the seasonings if you like. Adjust the flavor of the mixture to your preferences.
- Roll into 1-inch balls and transfer to a plate.
Fry the meatballs:
- Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Once hot, add the meatballs in an even layer and cook for 2–3 minutes per side until browned. Cook in batches if needed to avoid overcrowding the pot. They do not need to be cooked through. Transfer them to a plate.
Make the sauce:
- Return the heat on the pot to medium. Pour in the red wine and bring to a boil. Add the arrabbiata sauce, water, a pinch of sugar, and a big pinch of crushed red pepper. Taste and add salt if needed.
Simmer the meatballs:
- Add the meatballs to the sauce and return it to boiling. Turn the heat down to low. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, taste and adjust the seasonings.
Make the pasta:
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the water and drain the pasta.
Finish the sauce:
- Return the heat on the sauce to medium. Once it begins to bubble rapidly, add the pasta water and Parmesan cheese. Stir to melt the cheese into the sauce. Immediately add the cooked pasta and toss to coat for 1 minute. Turn off the heat.
- Spoon the pasta and meatballs onto plates. Garnish with more grated Parmesan cheese and a few basil leaves. Enjoy!