These Italian Chicken Meatballs are made from boneless, skinless chicken breasts, not ground chicken. They’re lean, light, tender, juicy and full of flavor!
I may be in just a bit of trouble. My daughter, Cait and her family are coming from Memphis for a visit with us this weekend. That’s not the trouble, I’m super excited about their visit. Cait is a wonderful cook and a very adventuresome eater but, at the same time, she doesn’t always like me to veer from our tried and true, family traditional recipes (in particular the meatballs and marinara I’ve been making for, what seems like, a hundred years). You can read a little more about that in this post that she helped write, Best Ever Marinara. She thinks that “some things you just shouldn’t mess with”. I agree (sometimes), but you know what? This Italian Chicken Meatballs and Marinara recipe is so delicious I think they’ll all love it when I serve it for one of our family dinners over the weekend!
One of the reasons I think Cait will love these Italian Chicken Meatballs (in addition to tasting so good) is that, in comparison with most meatballs, they’re light, lean and healthy. Like many of us, Cait is always looking for ways to feed her family well but to keep good nutrition in mind. But just healthy isn’t enough, is it? Meals also need to be delicious and satisfying and this recipe checks both of those boxes!
Lots of delicious flavor in these Italian Chicken Meatballs
Although chicken breasts are light, lean and healthy, they can be a little bland on their own. They also tend to easily dry out when cooked, roasted or grilled. I kept that in mind as I created this recipe and included some of my favorite Italian flavor boosters as well as ingredients to keep the meatballs moist.
The recipe includes parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, fresh basil, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. An egg along with a scoop of Panko (crispy Japanese bread crumbs) helps hold everything together.
A fabulous but quick and easy marinara
To keep the recipe simple and easy enough to prepare on a busy weeknight I use our Quick Easy Marinara Sauce with these Italian Chicken Meatballs. It can be thrown together in less than 30 minutes and can be simmering while you’re putting together and roasting the meatballs.
Another option, if you’re going to be around the house all day, is this Best Ever Marinara sauce. It doesn’t require a lot of hands-on time, but likes to sit on the back of the stove and simmer away for much of the day. Either one will be delicious!
Boneless, skinless chicken breasts instead of the traditional ground chicken
Most meatball recipes call for some kind of ground meat, often beef, pork, turkey or chicken. I have never loved the texture of ground chicken so I decided to try something different this time and just love the results! I thinly sliced a couple of partially frozen chicken breasts, then dice the slices into small bits (smaller than peas). Using this instead of ground chicken produced very light and tender meatballs compared to those using the usual ground meat.
Plus I love knowing exactly what is in my meatballs since I chopped the breasts myself. Is it difficult to chop chicken so small? It will take a few extra minutes but it’s not hard at all. Scott took a few pics to show the technique:
If you’re using frozen chicken breasts, you will let them partially thaw and then slice. If you’re using fresh chicken breasts, pop them in the freezer for 30-45 minutes, then proceed with slicing and dicing. Slice each chicken breast thinly lengthwise. Then stack a few slices on top of each other and slice the slices, again, lengthwise. The last step is to turn the chicken 45 degrees then cut the thin strips into a small dice.
Meatballs made with diced chicken like this are lighter as the chicken is not all packed together like with ground chicken. It’s also not as wet as ground chicken is, so the meatballs are easier to roll.
I hope you (and my family this weekend) will enjoy these Italian Chicken Meatballs as much as Scott and I have. I know I’ll be making them frequently as they’ll also be delicious for meatball sandwiches and would be wonderful served with parmesan polenta. And everyone seems to love Italian food so they’ll be great for entertaining! Buon appetito!
Café Tips for making these Italian Chicken Meatballs and Marinara
- This recipe calls for a pound of boneless, skinless chicken breast. Depending on the size this will be 2-3 individual breasts.
- I love the Coleman boneless, skinless chicken breasts that are sold at Costco. They are organic and each one is individually sealed. I take out 2 or 3, submerge them in cold water and they’re thawed within 20-30 minutes.
- This recipe includes panko which is crispy Japanese bread crumbs. You can find them at the grocery store in the same area as regular bread crumbs. If you can’t find panko, just use regular bread crumbs.
- These Italian Chicken Meatballs can be made in advance and just warmed before serving. It’s actually one of those recipes that gets better as the flavors have a chance to meld and marry. This makes entertaining a breeze!
- I love to serve these with fresh pasta, the kind you find in the dairy section of many grocery stores. The fresh pasta takes just minutes to cook and it’s so delicious. For this photoshoot, I used Buitoni fresh fettuccine – delish!
- Because you’re working with partially frozen chicken the meatball mixture can be very COLD. I prefer to mix meatballs with my hands so I like to keep a bowl of warm water nearby when I’m mixing up these meatballs to occasionally dip my hands in. You can also mix them up near the sink and let a bit of warm water run to warm your hands.
If you’re looking for something wonderful to serve with these meatballs, this Ridiculously Easy Focaccia is fantastic!
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear other’s results and ideas for variations.
- 1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
- 1 large egg
- ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
- 3 cloves garlic finely minced
- ½ cup panko crumbs
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup finely chopped sun-dried tomatoes (the kind in oil)
- 2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
- olive oil for brush
- basil leaves for garnish, if desired
- shaved or shredded parmesan cheese at the table, if desired
Place chicken breasts in the freezer until they are slightly firm to the touch. (30-45 minutes, they won’t be frozen solid.)
Prepare the marinara sauce according to this recipe.
While the sauce is simmering, prepare the meatballs.
Preheat the oven to 450˚F with a rack near the top of the oven. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper for easier cleanup.
Using a sharp chef’s knife, slice the partially frozen chicken lengthwise into thin slices. Set 3 or 4 of the slices on top of each other and, again, slice thinly into long strips. Turn the strips 45 degrees and cut again into a small dice (smaller than a pea). As you dice the chicken, add it to a medium-large bowl.
Add the egg, parmesan cheese, onion, garlic, panko, chopped herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, Italian season, salt and pepper to the bowl with the chicken.
Mix with your hands (or with a sturdy spatula) until everything is well blended.
With an ice cream scooper or a spoon, scoop the chicken mixture up into 12 portions.
Using wet hands, roll the chicken into balls and place on the prepared pan. Brush each meatball with olive oil.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Once the marinara has finished simmering, drop the meatballs in and bring to a simmer again. Simmer gently for another 10 minutes, uncovered, stirring occasionally.
Serve over pasta or polenta, as desired. Garnish with fresh basil.
See Café Tips above for more detailed instructions and tips.
Recipe will serve 4-6 with 2-3 meatballs per person.
Nutritional information is for 2 of the chicken meatballs. It does not include the marinara. See that recipe for its nutritional info.
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