Pesto and Chicken Caesar Meatballs
Here are two simple recipes that can be made for the same dish – pesto and meatballs. This is a dish I make once a week for my family. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it tastes as if you’ve spent hours making it. Of course if you ground your own chicken and make your own pasta like I commonly do, then yes, it will take a little extra time. However, I always have pre-ground chicken in the freezer, and if you make a lot of pasta then you know you can crank out some fresh tagliatelle in under an hour. Otherwise, you can buy ground chicken and dry pasta and still pull this dish off on any given weeknight.
Let’s talk about the pesto for a moment. Ideally, I prefer my pesto with 100% sweet basil, but when it comes to pesto anything goes. There are no strict rules for preparing a sensational pesto. You can use only basil, or spinach, or parsley, or even watercress. Or you can use a mix of any or all of those greens. The only problem is if you just throw whatever comes to mind into your food processor, then you might end up with something amazing. Unfortunately, the odds of replicating any haphazard success tend to be very small. Keeping in mind what you put in and how much will certainly increase your chances of success, and at best, help you learn from your mistakes.
My recipe here is very basic, and though I’ve included all the measurements, they are merely suggested amounts. I buy a 200g bag of spinach and use roughly half. I don’t measure it to the exact gram and neither should anyone else, unless of course you start selling the stuff. Then you’ll want to focus on consistency. Also, though I’ve mentioned I prefer only basil, I use spinach for its health benefits more so than flavor. If I serve this up on a Wednesday night, it’s got to have some veggies crammed in there, even though my son thinks he’s just eating a plate of noodles, sauce, and meatballs.
And as far as the chicken caesar meatballs are concerned, I must admit they are amazing any day of the week. There’s nothing tricky about them. For those of you wondering, panko bread crumbs are a Japanese white bread crumb that can be found in most major supermarkets or Asian markets. Also, the fish sauce is a pungent, foul smelling sauce of fermented anchovies, but don’t be deceived. Fish sauce is used in foods all throughout Asia as a salty flavor enhancer. Most people have no clue they’re even eating it, yet wonder how the dish they’re eating can taste so good. Fish sauce is a staple for me and it’s much more practical than buying a tin of anchovy filets that you’ll only use of quarter of for most recipes. Most of the ingredients in these meatballs can also be found here in my recipe for caesar salad.
- 100g (about 3 cups, loosely packed) Baby spinach
- 100g (about 3 cups, loosely packed) Basil
- 100g (1 cup) toasted Pine nuts
- ½ Lemon, juiced
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt & fresh cracked pepper, to taste
- ¾-1 cup Olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic (optional)
1. Toast pine nuts: In a dry non-stick pan, over medium high heat, toss the pine nuts just until they start to turn golden. Remove from heat, pour into a bowl and let cool for 10-15 minutes. Careful not to over toast them or they will become bitter.
2. Using a food processor, combine the spinach, basil, pine nuts, lemon juice, cheese, and garlic (if using). Pulse 5 or 6 times to get the ingredients chopped up. Then turn the processor up to medium speed and drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify. Add salt and pepper. Taste to make adjustments. If too salty, add more lemon juice.
3. Pour pesto in a bottle and refrigerate until needed.
Chicken Caesar Meatballs
- 400-450g ground chicken
- ¾ cup of panko bread crumbs, hydrated with milk
- 3 tbsp red bell pepper, finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 2 tsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp dry parsley or 1 tbsp fresh
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt & Pepper
Preheat oven to 220°C/425°F, fan setting if possible.
1. Hydrate the bread crumbs: pour the panko crumbs into a bowl and cover with milk. Let sit for 10 minutes until they become mushy. In the meantime, start prepping the meat.
2. In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients. When the panko crumbs are fully hydrated, squeeze as much milk out of the them as possible. Add the bread crumbs to the mixture. Using your hands, mix the chicken mixture thoroughly so all the ingredients are equally incorporated.
3. Now grease the palms of your hands with olive oil and start rolling out bite-size meatballs. Place the meatballs on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Should have roughly 35 small meatballs.
4. Bake for 18 minutes, depending on the size. Take one out and check it for doneness after 18 minutes. If it’s not quite done, put back for another 5 minutes and repeat if necessary.