When you're in my line of work, personal cuisine can be born on the job. One day we were sitting around the lab and Sarah, my director of digital ops, says, "I want chicken Parmesan." Then I say, "Well, I want meatballs." Then my director of culinary ops looks up and says, "Chicken Parmesan Balls." Then there was a knock on the door, and it was humanity dropping by to say thanks.
Chef's note: Feel free to sub in your favorite store-bought tomato sauce for the Weeknight Spaghetti Sauce.
Herb oil and weeknight spaghetti sauce
- 16 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 large cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 rosemary sprigs
- 10 basil leaves, plus more for serving
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 28 ounces canned whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 or 2 white anchovies
Chicken parmesan balls
- 3 ounces panko bread crumbs
- 4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1½ pounds ground chicken
- 1 large egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons Herb Oil (above)
- 1 tablespoon dried basil
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons dried parsley
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Weeknight Spaghetti Sauce (above) or store-bought tomato sauce
- 4 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, grated
For the herb oil and weeknight spaghetti sauce:
1. Combine the olive oil, garlic, thyme, rosemary, basil and red pepper flakes in a narrow saucepan over medium heat. As the hear builds, there will be considerable bubbling as the water cooks out of the garlic and herbs. When this dies down and the basil and garlic turn brown, kill the heat and let the mixture steep until cool. Strain the oil into a jar and toss the solids Use immediately or cover tightly and freeze for later use.
2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the herb oil in a wide sauté pan over medium heat. Add the tomatoes and salt to the pan, and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, breaking up the tomatoes as they soften, using a wooden spatula or an old school potato masher.
3. Reduce the heat, stir in the anchovies, and cook for another 5 minutes or until the anchovies completely vanish from view.
For the chicken parmesan balls:
1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Mix together 1/2 ounce of the panko with 1 ounce of the Parmesan in a small bowl. Set aside.
3. Combine the chicken, egg, 1 tablespoon of the herb oil, the remaining 2½ ounces panko, the remaining 3 ounces Parmesan, the basil, garlic powder, parsley, oregano and salt in a large bowl. Using your hands, gently combine until just incorporated, trying not to overwork the meat.
4. Divide the meatball mixture into 28 golf ball-size rounds (1 ounce each) and roll them in the panko mixture.
5. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon herb oil over medium heat in a 12-inch oven-safe skillet. Brown the meatballs in the herb oil, about 30 seconds on each side, working in batches if needed to avoid crowding the pan. Remove the browned meatballs from the pan and make the spaghetti sauce beginning with step 1, but without cooking the spaghetti.
6. Add the meatballs back to the pan, cover with the grated mozzarella and bake until the meatballs are cooked through, about 10 minutes, and the cheese is melted. Serve over cooked pasta or on top of crispy bread.
Game over, man . . . game over.