It’s not often I hear someone say they don’t like meatballs. I think it’s because they are just fun to eat. Each bite has many flavors and they’re tender from mixing additional ingredients to the ground meat. True, they do take a bit more time to measure, mix and roll but in this recipe with just six ingredients and a bit of salt and pepper, my guess is it’s only about 10 to 15 minutes. And that’s a small time investment for the return on flavor and texture.
This one pan dish is pretty much a complete dinner – lemony rosemary meatballs for the protein, orzo cooked in chicken broth instead of just water for the starch and sliced fresh spinach for the vegetable. That’s what many of you’ve been asking for. I did a survey in my last cooking class and an overwhelming 95% of students checked the box for main dish dinner recipes using one dish. I feel the same way. Knowing in the morning not only what I am making for dinner, but also that it’s all in one pan makes my day. It’s simple cooking and clean up.
I realize there is a preference among many cooks to use ground chicken breast for it’s leanness, but the natural fat in ground chicken thighs will make a more tender and richly flavored meatball. The lemon zest, sharp and pungent Pecorino cheese and piney flavored chopped fresh rosemary give the chicken just what it needs to make each bite into the meatballs something wonderful.
- 1 lb ground chicken thighs
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- ⅓ cup grated Pecorino cheese (Parmesan can be substituted)
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary (or 1 teaspoon dried)
- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 1 bunch fresh spinach
- 2 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup chopped onion
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
- 4 cups chicken broth or stock (I prefer low sodium)
- 1 cup orzo pasta (6 ounces)
- For the meatballs, in a bowl combine chicken, breadcrumbs, Pecorino, egg, lemon zest, rosemary, salt and several grinds of pepper until evenly mixed. Roll into approximately 1 to 1-1/2 inch meatballs using the palms of your hands (meatballs can be prepared to this point, covered and refrigerated 24 hours).
- Trim stems from spinach and thinly slice the leaves (bagged spinach leaves can also be used: about 6 cups lightly packed is the equivalent).
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add meatballs in a single layer and cook until browned on one side, then lightly shake pan to turn meatballs, and cook until browned all over, about 5 to 6 minutes. Remove meatballs. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the same skillet and cook and stir onions and garlic over medium heat until softened and lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil; stir in orzo followed by the browned meatballs; reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer over medium low heat, partially covered, just until orzo is tender, the meatballs are cooked through and the broth is mostly absorbed, stirring in spinach during the last few minutes of cooking, about 10 to 12 minutes (any excess broth will be absorbed as the dish sits for a few minutes off heat). Season with salt and pepper.