Healthy Cooking Thursday – Pesto Chicken Meatballs

By Chef Lisa on 02/24/2011
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These days, foodies everywhere are talking about meatballs.  These humble staples of most moms' menus have taken center stage as a food trend for 2011, much to the surprise and confusion of many chefs.  After all, meatballs are so lowbrow.  I like to think of this trend as a good sign; maybe backlash against the uber processed scientific food movement (do you know the name Ferran Adria yet?) has made people think, "I don't want to go out to eat a foam or a gel.  I wanna eat meatballs!"

But this comfort food need not be ordinary.  Meatballs can be made with pretty much anything.  Once in a blue moon, my hubby and I will make a batch using the holy trifecta of ground beef, pork, and veal for a classic Italian version, complete with "gravy" (that's marinara sauce).  While it's downright delectable, it is also far from low in saturated fat.  But turkey or chicken meatballs can often end up very dry, even if they swim in simmering tomato sauce for hours.

With that in mind, I created this recipe in our kitchen at Green Mountain at Fox Run.  If you do not have a food processor, you can prepare the "pesto" by hand, but it will require a lot of chopping (fitness will happen!), and you'll need to find ground chicken in a store.

Pesto Chicken Meatballs – serves 4

 In the bowl of a food processor, combine:

  • 1/4 cup almonds
  • 1 cup fresh basil, packed
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • a pinch of salt

Puree, stopping to scrape down the sides ocassionally to ensure good consistency.  Check flavor, keeping in mind the cheese will add saltiness, and adjust as necessary.  Remove to a bowl and stir in:

  • 1 tablespoon of parmesan cheese

Return the pesto-y food processor bowl to the appliance and put in it:

  • 1 pound boneless raw chicken (breast or dark meat)

Pulse until a good ground consistency is reached, scraping down the sides of the food processor bowl as needed.  Stir into the pesto.  (If the chicken is too wet, it may be necessary to add bread crumbs to correct texture.  The mix should hold together but still be moist.)

Form into 12 meatballs (3 per serving) or 16 meatballs (4 per serving).  In a heavy skillet, heat:

  • 1/4 inch of olive oil

Keep in mind that if the oil maintains a high temperature, the meat will not absorb it as much.  When the oil is quite viscous and hot, fry the meatballs on all sides, being careful not to crowd the pan, which can cool off the oil.  When browned, remove the meatballs to a wire rack suspended above a shallow pan to contain any drips.  When all meatballs are browned and have hung out on the rack for a few minutes, place them in a pot and add 1/2 inch of water.  Bring to a simmer, and cook, covered, for 45 minutes.  Remove meatballs from water and enjoy!  And don't forget the byproduct; the resulting stock can be used to cook grains the next day. 

What's your favorite healthy meatball idea?

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