I love having a variety of meats in the freezer-it make meal planning easy when the protein is in the freezer waiting to be thawed for whatever recipe I choose to make. I try to have at least 1 package of ground chicken or turkey on hand. I love using it in chili and every so often, there's nothing better than a Fiery Chicken (or turkey) Cheeseburger-they really hit the spot. When I found this recipe, I just knew it would be something we'd love-and it was an all in one dish-even better!
I have a favorite go-to recipe for marinara sauce that takes no time at all to make and uses basic ingredients. I put that on to simmer, then moved on to the next step.
I decided to amp up the flavor in the meatballs. I added fresh garlic and chopped fresh parsley to the mixture, just like I do when I make meatballs out of ground beef for meatballs and spaghetti. Ground chicken is pretty bland, so I added some dried spices to give the meatballs multiple layers of flavor. I reached for my standards-onion powder, garlic powder and black pepper. I always have a freezer bag of bread crumbs that I make from stale bread so I used 1 cup of those in place of the Panko the original recipe calls for.
I have great luck baking meatballs on my broiler pan. I used my Pampered Chef cookie scoop which makes the perfect 1" meatballs (yes, Bob measured the scoop!). I kept my hands slightly damp which helped the chicken mixture not stick. I got 44 meatballs out of the batch I made. Depending on what size you roll them, the amount could change. I baked the meatballs until my instant read thermometer hit 165 degrees. Once they were cooked through, I placed them in a bowl, added a touch of the marinara sauce and gently stirred them until the sauce lightly coated each one.
While the meatballs were baking, I got the pasta cooked. I used cavatappi pasta, but any small shape pasta would work in this.
Once the pasta was cooked and drained, I mixed the remaining sauce into it, then weighed it and placed half in the bottom of the baking dish. Weighing isn't necessary-I just prefer even layers. Half of the sauce-coated meatballs went over top, then half the cheese and half the Italian seasoning. I repeated the layers and into the oven it went for 20 minutes.
When I removed it from the oven, both Bob and I could see that the top needed more cheese. I had used pre-shredded mozzarella I had in the refrigerator. For a casserole like this-I don't think it worked that well. I had to add another cup to the top to get the meatballs even partly coated with cheese. Note to self-next time, use the block mozzarella cheese and shred it by hand-it's MUCH creamier. Change number one.
I'll also be making my marinara sauce a little thinner the next time. The pasta really soaked the thick sauce up. Adding a little water to the can to release any tomato stuck to the bottom and sides after I dumped the tomatoes into the pot would have made the sauce just the right texture. Also-the thickness of the tomato product you use makes a big difference in the end result too. The tomatoes I used yesterday were very thick and even though the pan was covered and condensation dripped in from the glass cover, the sauce could have been a little thinner. I thawed some marinara sauce that I had frozen and added a couple spoonfuls when I reheated a portion of this the next night-that was just the right balance, the pasta was perfectly coated. Store-bought sauce is thinner than homemade as a rule. Change number two-thinner marinara.
This is one absolutely delicious AND filling meal. The tender, juicy chicken meatballs are packed with garlic and cheese flavor-just the way we like them-and were made even more tasty with the homemade marinara sauce and melted cheese. I picked a few basil leaves from my garden, thinly sliced them into basil "ribbons" and sprinkled over the top. That added a nice fresh flavor and complimented the sprinkle of Italian seasoning that went over the cheese.
We had this 2 nights, then I froze the rest of it in a couple containers to have on hand to thaw and give me a night off from cooking dinner-just heat and serve.
Thank you so much, Karly, for sharing your fantastic recipe. Do take some time to check out her wonderful blog-she's got some delicious dishes to tempt everyone's palate. If you love Chicken Parmesan and would like all those flavors in a one dish meal? I hope you'll give this recipe a try. I made and photographed it during the summer months, but this is a SUPER "comfort food" casserole-I can't wait to make it again to have on a cold winter night. It's a winnah-winnah-ground chicken dinnah at this house. :)
CHICKEN PARMESAN MEATBALL CASSEROLE
(Source: adapted from Karly @ Buns In My Oven-original recipe found HERE)
NASHOBA TECH MARINARA SAUCE:*
(Source: adapted from Chef Steve Whiting, chef/instructor of Culinary Arts @ Nashoba Regional Technical High School)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 (28 oz.) can Pastene "Kitchen Ready" tomatoes OR 1 (28 oz.) can crushed tomatoes or tomato purée (I prefer using the "Kitchen Ready" tomatoes-I like the consistency of the sauce using them)
2 tsp. granulated sugar, or to taste (feel free to omit the sugar if you like)
A generous pinch of dried basil, OR fresh basil, chopped
A generous pinch of dried oregano
Chopped fresh parsley, to taste
Black pepper to taste
1/4 c. grated Romano OR Parmesan cheese
*NOTE: 1 (24 oz.) jar of marinara sauce can be substituted for homemade marinara sauce
1 large egg
1 c. soft bread crumbs
1/4 c. milk
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 tsp. onion powder
1 tsp. granulated garlic
1/2 tsp. black pepper
3/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
1 lb. ground chicken
1 lb. cavatappi (or any small pasta such as gemelli, penne, ziti rigati)
2-3 c. (8-12 oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese (much better to buy a block and shred it yourself-the cheese is much creamier than the pre-shredded one. If using pre-shredded cheese, you'll definitely need 3 cups. If you shred the cheese yourself, 2 cups will probably be plenty), divided
1 tsp. dried Italian seasoning, divided
2-3 large basil leaves, rolled then cut into thin "ribbons" for sprinkling over top, optional
For the marinara sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly.
Stir in the tomatoes, sugar, basil, oregano, parsley, pepper and cheese; cover and simmer over very low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning.
For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the egg, bread crumbs, milk, chopped parsley, minced garlic, onion powder, granulated garlic, pepper and Parmesan cheese. Stir until well mixed. Add the chicken and mix gently until all the ingredients are well combined.
Form the meatball mixture into (44) 1" meatballs. I use my small Pampered Chef cookie scoop for this-it makes the perfect size meatball with very little rolling. Also, the chicken mixture is very moist so dampening your hands will make it easier to roll the meat and not have it stick to your hands.
Place the meatballs on a broiler pan that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray OR on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake @ 450 degrees for 10 minutes or until the meatballs are cooked through and no longer pink in the center. An instant read thermometer should read 165 degrees.
Remove the meatballs from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.
Place the meatballs in a bowl and stir in some of the marinara sauce-just enough to coat the meatballs. Set the bowl aside.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add some salt to the water then stir in the pasta. Cook for 1 minute less than the instructions on the package suggest. Drain the pasta and return it to the cooking pot. Add the remaining marinara sauce to the pasta and stir until the pasta is evenly coated with sauce.
Place half of the pasta in a 13x9-inch baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Top the pasta with 22 meatballs, evenly spaced over top. Sprinkle the meatballs and pasta with 1 cup of the mozzarella cheese and 1/2 tsp. of the Italian seasoning. Top with the remaining pasta and the rest of the meatballs. Scrape any marinara sauce that is in the bottom of the bowl out and drop it onto the pasta and meatballs. Spread the remaining 1-2 cups of mozzarella cheese over top, then sprinkle the cheese with 1/2 tsp. Italian seasoning.
Place the baking dish on a rimmed baking sheet larger than the baking pan just in case something bubbles over. Bake @ 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until everything is heated through and the cheese is melted.
Sprinkle the basil "ribbons" over the top of the casserole, if desired. Serve immediately. 8 servings.
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