Everyone has their food weaknesses, and meatballs are one of mine. These baked chicken and ricotta meatballs are lighter than their beefy counterparts and don't require a lot of work. Baking skips the time and mess of browning on the stovetop and leaves you with one mixing bowl and sheet pan to clean at the end — and, most importantly, 20 delicious meatballs. Add these to your favorite tomato sauce, to broth for a quick soup with some leafy greens, or eat on a bowl of spinach or grains with a little more lemon juice, olive oil and a sprinkle of Parmesan for good measure.
Technique tips: Don't overwork the meat. Ground chicken already has a tendency to dry out and toughen up easily, so combine the ingredients just until you see the seasonings interspersed in the meat and stop yourself from mixing those last two or three times.
It's also important to make the meatballs slightly smaller than golf balls, or, at least all the same size, so that they cook evenly. Even if they're not perfectly round, they will still taste really good.
Prep the broccolini and lemon, then set up the ingredients for the meatballs. I like to place the rolled meatballs onto foil or parchment paper so that I can throw it away rather than clean another dish, but that might depend on how low you are on those items.
Swap options: Need to trade the parsley for basil? Go for it. Don't have fresh herbs? Use 1 teaspoon dried oregano instead. Love garlic? Double the quantity. Can't find broccolini? Broccoli works just as well. Have young kids to feed? Skip the pepper flakes if you're worried about the heat.
- 2 bunches (14 ounces) broccolini, rough stems trimmed and thick pieces cut lengthwise
- 1 organic lemon, ends trimmed and thinly sliced
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
- 1 large egg
- 2 cloves garlic, grated or minced
- 3/4 cup ricotta, drained and lightly salted
- 1/2 cup parsley leaves and fine stems, roughly chopped
- 3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 pound ground chicken, preferably dark meat
- 1 lemon, juiced
- Grated Parmesan, for sprinkling (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 425°F with a rack in the middle of the oven.
2. On a baking tray (sheet pan), toss the broccolini and lemon slices with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Spread evenly on the baking tray and set aside while you make the meatballs.
3. Beat the egg in a mixing bowl, then add garlic and ricotta with 1 teaspoon of salt, parsley, pepper, the rest of the oil, breadcrumbs and meat, and use your hands to gently combine it (too much mushing will make them tough and dry). You should still see pieces of the meat through the seasonings. Lightly wet your hands with water or oil and roll the meat into twenty loose — not tightly packed — rounds, slightly smaller than golf balls, using a gentle rolling motion between your hands (the water is important otherwise they will stick to your hands). Set on large pieces of baking parchment on the counter to make for an easier cleanup.
4. Nestle the meatballs in between the broccolini and lemon. Bake until the meatballs are browned and cooked through and the broccolini is crispy, about 15–20 minutes, shaking the baking tray to move the meatballs and turning the tray around halfway to ensure even cooking. Use this time to clean up and set the table. Have a glass of wine if this stressed you out in any way at all.
5. Remove from the oven, squeeze lemon juice on top, divide between plates, making sure to eat the lemon rinds too, and finish with grated Parmesan, if using.