Whilst living down here at the bottom of the world has many advantages, there are times when I so often feel out of step with so many of you out there in the blogosphere. For example, right now, nearly every second blog I look at is featuring something to do with pumpkin, while all of my food at present is revolving around asparagus, artichokes, broad beans (favas), and fennel.
So many of you are talking about Thanksgiving right now, and featuring everything from what you will be eating for this festive occasion to how you will be setting your Thanksgiving table. Well, we simply don't do Thanksgiving here in New Zealand, and we really don't even have any similar kind of celebration, so I confess to being somewhat bewildered by it.
Then the dilemna of what to make this week for I Heart Cooking Groups, where we are cooking with Giada de Laurentiis, and our theme this week is Fall Favourites. Oh, this topsy turvey world - not only am I out of season, but we don't even call it "fall" here - down under it is most definitely "autumn". Not that clarifying that got me any closer to deciding on a dish. I thought about coming up with a Spring Favourite, just to be contrary, but in the end opted for a dish which I think will end up on our list of favourites just about any time of year.
I remembered a few weeks ago that Kim at Stirring the Pot made Giada's Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs and the idea of tiny chicken meatballs, little cherry tomatoes, and little bocconcini mozzarella nestled into those "little ears" of pasta was very appealing. At the back of my mind I remembered Kim mentioning in her post that she had thought the meatballs would be a little bland, so she had added some garlic. Sage advice, I thought and did the same. I also happened to have (courtesy of a kind and generous student) a lovely bunch of fresh tarragon, so I swapped out the parsley in the original recipe for said tarragon. I've got to say that this really did give the meatballs a beautiful flavour, and is definitely a change I would make again. You can read Kim's post here, and I suggest that you do. You see, being the inherently lazy person that I am, I never bothered to read the comments on Giada's original recipe, and I didn't bother to revisit Kim's post either until just now when I was looking for the link for you. Had I done so, I would have found that she addresses a problem I faced with these - specifically that of "floppy balls". Yes, once I'd mixed up the meatball mixture according to the recipe, I found that the mixture was very sloppy, and there was no way on this earth that this was going to be formed into balls. Best I could do was drop spoonfuls onto a parchment lined baking tray and hope for the best. Now I could have taken the food processor out again and made more breadcrumbs, but as I mentioned before I'm lazy!! The upshot of all this was that the taste was great, but my meatballs really didn't resemble balls so much as domes - round on top and flat on the bottom. See what I mean ...
Having now reread Kim's post, I think she is right - one egg instead of two (especially if they are large) will be more than enough for this quantity of meat, and extra breadcrumbs may also be necessary to reach a malleable consistency - I've made these adjustments to the recipe below. Also because I knew my "meatdomes" would be hard to handle, I partially baked them in the oven first, and then finished them off in a pan - I would have done this anyway though, because quite frankly who wants to stand over a whole lot of tiny little meatballs?! The only other minor changes I made to the recipe were substituting the ketchup originally called for with some good quality tomato paste, and substituting romano cheese with parmesan.
One last thing - the original recipe suggests that this quantity of ingredients will make about 60 mini meatballs - I used teaspoonfuls of mixture and ended up with 36 little "thingies" which were about twice the size of my orecchiette, so they could clearly be made much smaller if you have the patience.
This definitely is the kind of dish that would be a big family favourite, though I do think that the combination of the tiny meatballs with the cherry tomatoes and bocconcini gives this enough elegance to make it suitable for occasions when perhaps a little more sophistication is called for.
Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs Recipe
Adapted from recipe by Giada de Laurentiis
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
500g (1 lb) orecchiette pasta
500g (1 lb) ground chicken
1/4 cup fresh plain breadcrumbs (plus extra if needed)
1/4 cup chopped fresh tarragon (or flat-leaf parsley)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-1/2 cups hot chicken stock
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
225g (8 oz) bocconcini, halved
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped (plus extra for garnish)
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees F). Bring a large pan of water to the boil over high heat.
In a medium bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, tarragon, garlic, egg, milk, tomato paste, parmesan, salt and pepper. Gently mix in the ground chicken. If necessary add more breadcrumbs, or more beaten egg, in order to achieve the desired consistency.
Use a teaspoon or melon baller to scoop the chicken into small pieces, and roll into tiny meatballs - damp hands is helpful. Place the meatballs onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
Bake in the preheated oven until lightly browned all over and almost cooked through - about 10 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Liberally salt the pan of boiling water, and add the pasta. Cook until the pasta is al dente.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet, add the meatballs, and continue to cook for a few minutes, rolling them around in the pan from time to time, until well browned on all sides. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes, and bring up to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the tomatoes are just softening.
Drain the pasta, reserving about one cup of the pasta water. Add the drained pasta to a large, warm, serving bowl or platter; add the parmesan; and toss to coat the orecchiette well with the parmesan, adding some of the reserved pasta water if necessary. Add the meatball mixture, the bocconcini, and chopped basil. Toss gently to combine everything well, garnish with extra basil and serve immediately.
Interested in getting to know Giada a bit better? Then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all been cooking up ....
.... or check out Giada's Kitchen and many of her other titles, available from Amazon, Book Depository UK and Fishpond NZ
I'm also submitting this post to Presto Pasta Nights, which is being hosted this week by Denise at Oh Taste n See. I'm looking forward to checking out a whole lot of new pasta dishes.
I'm also linking this to Let's Do Lunch at Chaya's Sweet & Savoury blog.