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Sheet Pan Sunday: Yasmin Fahr makes the best chicken meatballs using ricotta cheese

These baked chicken and ricotta meatballs are lighter than their beefy counterparts and don't require a lot of work.
Patricia Niven

The humble sheet pan is the hero of weeknight cooking. Its sleek, spacious surface allows the busy home cook to get a balanced dinner — protein! starch! vegetables! — on the table quickly with very little prep or cleanup. Just chop, drop and roast.

That’s why every week, we’ll be sharing throw-it-all-on-a-sheet-pan recipes from our favorite chefs and home cooks. Whether you’re cooking for yourself, friends, family or meal-prepping for the week, you should keep these one-pan meals in your back pocket — or, rather, your oven.

This week, Yasmin Fahr, author of "Keeping It Simple," shares her recipe for a lighter, weeknight take on traditional Italian meatballs: Baked Chicken and Ricotta Meatballs with Broccolini.

Yasmin Fahr, author of "Keeping It Simple."
Yasmin Fahr, author of "Keeping It Simple."Patricia Niven

Everyone has their food weaknesses, and meatballs are one of mine. My love for them took off when I first ate the gravy meatballs sliders at a restaurant in New York City called Little Owl — let’s just say it became more of an obsession than anything else. This deepened as I decided to track down the origins of spaghetti and meatballs for my food history class at New York University. I spent days on end scouring old NYC restaurant menus, Italian cookbooks like Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 "Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well" and anything else I could find in the library from that time period, trying to find a trace of when spaghetti and meatballs were served as a single dish rather than two separate ones. Unfortunately, I didn't find the answer, and my professor said as much in my final paper, though I had a blast during the research process.

When it came to making them at home, I wanted a lighter weeknight take on traditional Italian ones that didn’t require a lot of work, so I developed these baked chicken and ricotta meatballs. 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.

Can’t find broccolini? Broccoli works just as well.
Can’t find broccolini? Broccoli works just as well.Patricia Niven

During a time when swaps and substitutes are necessary, this recipe serves as a great base to do just that. 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 chili flakes if you’re worried about the heat (though they are pretty mild). Based on photos my friends have sent me of their kids happily munching on them, I feel confident saying that these balls are kid-friendly, too. While you’ll probably have to pick up the broccolini, ricotta and ground chicken, unless you have them in your fridge, the rest of the ingredients will likely already be in your pantry.

The only thing I would suggest not doing is overworking 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 for good measure (I do it, too, it’s hard to resist). 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, and, as we all hopefully know, looks don’t really matter.

Click in below for the full recipe:

Leftover ideas: Add these to your favorite tomato sauce, or 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 and olive oil. Maybe throw some more Parmesan cheese on there while you’re at it. I also hope that you’ll give the lemon rinds a try as they really brighten up the entire dish.

Efficiency moves: 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.