Saturday, November 20, 2010

Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs

Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs 1

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.

Spring Vegetables

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 ...

Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs 2

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
Serves 4
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

500g (1 lb) orecchiette pasta

For meatballs:
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

Giada's Kitchen: New Italian Favorites    Giada at Home: Family Recipes from Italy and California    Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes

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.


  1. Delicious as usual Sue! Thanks for all the tips and I love the tarragon substitution, too!

    And your photos are stunning :-)


  2. Thanks Veronica - you are always so kind, I was very pleased with the tarragon substitution though - it makes such a happy marriage with chicken :-)

  3. Looks yummy! The tarragon subs is a really great idea, it is always a perfect pairing with chicken. In fact just roasted chicken with tarragon last week! Happy Thanksgiving!

  4. Sue, I love orecchiette! This is the typical home made pasta of Apulia, the region where I come from. Looks delicious and it's wonderfully made, although in Italy we don't put meatballs into the pasta.
    Thanks a lot for bringing back wonderful memories of my country and my grandmother, who used to make them a lot when I was a child :)
    Have a lovely week end!

  5. Sigh. I want fava beans. And artichokes. And asparagus. Mixed with pumpkin. Maybe if we traded...

    I love what you did to these meatballs! What a delicious pasta dish!

  6. I'm with Joanne... at least about the Spring ingredients. As for the meatballs, they sound delicious and I really love the "notations" about making them perfect. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights. Hope to see you back at the roundups often.

  7. I love reading about floppy balls first thing in the morning, lol! You have a way with words my friend. :o) I remember when Kim posted this I knew it would be something we would adore and now I'm positive. Thanks for telling us how you switched things up too, that's always so helpful. You did a good job for fall - meatballs are always a comforting fall dish!

  8. Sue- I love the picture of your fresh spring produce. Thanks so much for mentioning my site and sharing the link.
    I'm so glad that you tried the orecchiette with the mini chicken meatballs. Your version looks delicious and I will admit that it's making me crave it all over again.
    The ground chicken is hard to work with and is rather wet. I just caught the episode where Giada makes this recipe the other day. She kept a little bowl of water nearby while she formed the meatballs. She dipped her hands in the warm bowl of water to keep the meatballs from sticking to her hands. I think I'd like to try this trick in place of adding more breadcrumbs next time. I think it would result in a more tender meatball and also cut back on a few calories at the same time. Either way, I love this dish and love that you added in the tarragon. Looks delicious!

    **Also, I went through my 3 Giada books and looked for cookies. I don't own Giada's Kitchen (it's on my wishlist for xmas), but here is what I found in the other 3 books that I do have:
    Everday Pasta - zero dessert recipes
    Giada's Family Dinners - Chocolate Anise Biscotti and Chocolate Chip Cookies with Hazelnuts
    Giada at Home - Apricot and Nut Cokies with Amaretto Icing, Espresso Caramel Bars, Espresso Chip Meringues, and White Chocolate-Dipped Almond and Lemon Biscotti
    Giada's Kitchen may have a few, but I can't recall. I did a search on the Food Network website under Giada De Laurentiis cookies and came up with this link.
    Looks like there might be quite a few recipes that didn't make it into her books.

    Hope that helps! Happy weekend :)

  9. Sue - Whew! I'm having lots of trouble trying to leave you a comment (it happened last week as well). It's probably my user error ;-)

    Anyway, love the pic of the fresh spring produce.

    Thanks so much for mentioning my site and sharing the link to my post!

  10. (I think my comment was too long so I'm breaking it up.)

    Your orecchiette looks beyond fantastic and has me craving this dish all over again. I love your addition of the tarragon and think that is a great flavor for this dish. The other day I happened to catch the episode where Giada made this recipe. She kept a small and shallow bowl of warm water nearby as she formed the meatballs. She dipped her hands in the warm water every now and then, using it to keep the meatballs from sticking to her hands. I think that's a great trick and will probably try it in the future. I think the meatballs would be more tender w/out all the added breadcrumbs and also it would save a few calories. Anyway, I know you enjoy eating healthfully and I thought you might like that tip.

  11. As far as Giada's cookie recipes go, I think the best solution is to use this link on the Food Network site.

    Not only will it save your friend some money, but it also appears that she has many cookie recipes that are not included in her books. Her Everyday Pasta cookbook doesn't include any dessert recipes. Giada's Family Dinners has two cookie recipes. Giada at Home has four. I actually don't own Giada's Kitchen (although it is my favorite book of hers) and I can't recall how many are in there. I'd probably opt to use the link attached for the most options. Hope that helps!

  12. Hi kitchen flavours - thanks for dropping by - I think the tarragon will be a permanent sub for me, any time that I can get it. I'm thinking also though that fresh oregano or marjoram would also be a nice flavour.

    Hi Barbara - I think orecchiette is probably my favourite pasta shape, though I can't imagine ever making it by hand - how wonderful to grow up with a grandmother who did just that. So pleased this brought back some happy memories for you. xo

    Hi Joanne - now wouldn't it be great if artichokes, favas, asparagus and pumpkin all grew at the same time :-)

    Hi Ruth - thanks for visiting - I'm looking forward to much more sharing with PPN - I make so many pasta dishes, I don't know why I haven't shared before.

    Ha Brenda - I knew you'd get a laugh out of that - I can't wait for Alex to read it - I know she'll have a good laugh too :-) I'm pretty sure you will definitely love this dish - hope you try it soon.

    Hi Kim - thanks for your comment(s) - sorry you had so much trouble sending them, but I did get them all. Thanks for the tip about the meatballs - I definitely found that even though mine were quite sloppy they were very tender, so next time I think I will definitely cut back on the egg and stick to the lesser amount of breadcrumbs. Thanks also for all the info on the books, have passed that on. I found that too, that there were loads of cookie recipes of Giada's on the Food Network site - looks like some good ones too.

    Sue :-)

  13. I have a very good friend in Australia who talks about the same things. When we're roasting in the heat, she's freezing in the snow and vice versa. I have always enjoyed the diversity :-)

    Meanwhile, this recipe really appeals to me. I am adding it to my list of Giada recipes to try.

  14. thank you Sue
    Lovely picture of colourful vegetables

  15. Oh Sue, i see ur a total darling and oopsy u live in NZ!
    Love ur pasta and actually loved the meatballs, when i jus saw this pic ,b4 reading ,i was like ,how did she get this nice shape for the meatballs, now i know!
    U have a tendency to pick the best of Giadas recipes and i totalllyyy loveeeee this one, it will be sooo cute to have the balls in like i make the large shelled pasta stuffed with prawns:-)

    I think i now actually dont want to own her books , all i have to do is come here and im done:-)

  16. Hi Sue, thanks for the lovely comment on my blog! I've never tried any of Giada's recipes but I've seen her TV show, she seems lovely, and I love the look of this recipe - it reminds me that I haven't made meatballs in too, too long!

    I always get lopsided meatballs when I do make them - the only way I can keep them in shape is to simmer them in the sauce rather than frying/baking which takes much more time, but you don't have to do much to it, and it keeps them nice and tender, too :)

  17. This looks delicious--I echo the comments about the tarragon--it is so good with chicken. A great pick--not at all topsy-turvy. ;-) I'm glad you are a good sport and put up with us and the themes. ;-)

  18. No chicken for moi, but I always appreciate orecchiette :-)

  19. You DO have a way with words, that's what keeps us coming back. Meatdomes- too funny. I usually just tell myself "at least it tastes good". Not tasting good is far worse than not pretty. I've been wanting to try this one ever since this first time I saw it on tv. Thanks for the suggestions and review.

  20. Love ur 2nd pic, looks so fresh want to garb them completely and fantastic recipe :)

  21. OMG, your little thingies look pretty darn tasty to me! Every time I see somebody else make this meal, I realize that I need to make it, makes my mouth water. Maybe this will be the lucky one to endear me to Giada a bit. Never know!? Looks great, Sue :D

  22. As if "floppy balls" weren't funny enough then you give us "meatdomes!"

    I like reading about your topsy turvy world. Great job making a fall dish!

  23. Your "meatdomes" look great and tarragon sounds like a wonderful addition.

  24. Lyndsay - I enjoy that diversity too, and I think it makes me appreciate seasonality all the more :-) Hope you give this one a try.

    Thanks Torviewtoronto.

    Thanks Sugar Plum Fairy - that is so sweet - I don't think I can claim to be any good substitute for a Giada book, but thank you for such a kind thought :-)

    Hungryandfrozen - thanks so much - actually simmering the meatballs in sauce is a great idea for holding shape as well as keeping them moist and tender.

    Thanks Deb - it's good to be challenged a little in this way - means I sometimes have to be a little more creative in the way I look at things, which in the immortal words of Martha Stewart is "a good thing" :-)

    Hi Alessandra - I love orecchiette, and this dish with the cherry tomatoes, bocconcini and basil would definitely be good even without the chicken.

    Hi Carla & Michael - thanks for visiting again - pleased you appreciate my rather warped sense of humour :-) I totally agree with you - taste far outweighs good looks! Hope you try this one soon.

    Thanks so much Ananda.

    girlichef - thanks. I'm sure you will at least find a small fondness for Giada after this one - even if you don't I'm betting your kids will :-)

    Hi MM - thanks so much - I'm always pleased to entertain :-)

    Thanks Cook of the House - the tarragon I think really makes this dish.


  25. Delicious pasta Sue. Love the cute little chicken meatballs. Thanks for sending it to 'Presto Pasta Nights'.

  26. the fact that you have seasons in reverse, and your christmases are in the summer keeps it all interesting! lovely pasta dish, sue!

  27. Hi Denise - thanks - I'm excited to be joining in after a long time thinking about it :-)

    Thanks Annie - being in different hemispheres definitely keeps things interesting - also makes me really appreciate the seasons and I also learn a lot about different cultures and traditions which arise around the seasonality of food.

    Sue :-)

  28. Wow, those meatballs look excellent.

    re Thanksgiving: think of it as a stomach-stretching exercise to prepare for Christmas.

  29. These meatballs look scrumptious. I just got some ground turkey and I would love to use it for these.

    Would you like to add this to Let's Do Lunch?

  30. Thanksgiving is simply a time to be thankful for what we have. And, most of the time it's a lot! I love the mini chicken balls. And, the tarragon reminds me to get out of the usual herbal rut.

  31. Thanks Dan - a bit of pre-Xmas stomach stretching sounds like an excellent idea.

    Hi Chaya - thanks, they are very scrumptious. Ground turkey would make a great substitute. Delighted to link up to Let's Do Lunch :-)

    Claudia - from what I've learned of Thanksgiving over recent weeks, I love the idea of such a tradition - wish we had that celebration here - it's a good reminder to be grateful for what we have - thanks for visiting :-)



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