Saucy Chicken and Arugula meatballs...or "whatever is old is new again."
The idea for these meatballs comes from a May 1997 copy of Food & Wine magazine. Arugula seems to be hot and trendy in a lot of restaurants, magazines and homes (including my own)these days, but, as you can see this recipe is from 12 years ago, and arugula in food has been popular in Italy for many, many years. I think I had my first taste of wild arugula as a child from one of my Italian neighbours. I don't recall loving the "ruchetta" as he called it, but, times and childhood tastes change. My generous neighbour gave cuttings out to all the neighbors, and soon the entire block was growing it. This was long before domestic arugula appeared in supermarkets, so it was a real novelty in Southern Ontario. Wild arugula in Italy was originally a foraged weed with a very sharp and bitter flavour, but a cultivated variety of it was grown by gardeners and farmers. I must admit to enjoying the young leaves much more than the aged variety...but each to his/her own.
According the the magazine, meatballs in Italy are usually made with beef or veal, browned simmered in a simple sauce, then served with bread and a green salad. These are made with chicken. Arugula and chicken is a common Italian combination from what I have read, but not one generally slated for meatballs. I opted for adding these to pasta to make a more robust meal. Making the meatballs small ensures that they cook quickly and that the sauce maintains its fresh taste.
When I saw that that is was the 2nd birthday of the The Heart of the Matter, Eating for Life event created by Ilva of Lucullian Delights and Joanna of Joanna's Foods, and later joined by Michelle of the Acidental Scientist, I knew I wanted to join the party this time around. If you are not familiar with their sites you will not be disappointed if you take the time to visit. You'll find a wealth of recipes from all the round ups over the past 2 years on cooking for a healthily, which as we know is quite important in it's own right. Who says eating healthy has to be boring? As I looked back the event is going back to its roots and is calling for Finger Foods (which was the very first theme). I opted to serve these meatballs with pasta but they would be equally delicious served with toothpicks!!
**Saucy Chicken and Arugula Meatballs**
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sauteing the meatballs
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large bunch arugula (about 6 ounces), stemmed and finely chopped
1 pound ground chicken or turkey
1/2 cup plus 2 T plain bread crumbs
1/2 cup Pecorino-Romano cheese (about 1-1/2 ounces), finely grated
2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, minced
1/4 cup Cognac or brandy (or white wine)
1 ( 485 mL/ 35-oz) can Italian peeled tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon finely fresh thyme, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Make the meatballs: In a large nonreactive skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the arugula and cook, stirring, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool. When cool chop the mixture finely.
In a large bowl, combine lightly with a fork the ground chicken, plain bread crumbs, Pecorino-Romano cheese, capers, egg, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Add the arugula mixture and mix in lightly with fork until well blended. Roll the mixture by teaspoonfuls into 3/4-inch balls. Making the meatballs small ensures that they cook quickly and that the sauce maintains its fresh taste.
In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of olive oil. Add half of the meatballs in a single layer and cook over moderate heat, turning, until browned all over, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a large plate. Discard the fat and wipe out the skillet.
Make the sauce: In the same skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the onions and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the Cognac, raise the heat to high and cook until evaporated. Add the tomatoes and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes.
Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer over low heat just until heated through, about 3 minutes.
Serve over a plate of cooked pasta. Sprinkle with 4C Pecorino-Romano Home Style cheese for desired presentation and flavour.
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