15 March 2009

Back to Our Roots Saucy Chicken and Arugula Meatballs

Saucy Chicken and Arugula Meatballs

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.

Serves 4

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips


  1. A wonderful combo! These meatballs must be particularly flavorful!



  2. These look so wonderful! I can't wait to try them :)

  3. Oh, excellent! Another use for arugula! Thanks for this - I'm definitely bookmarking it!

  4. What a great, healthy version of spaghetti and meatballs. I love arugula!

  5. It looks delicious.

  6. these meatballs look great.
    i like the look of your pasta sauce.
    it's much drier than my husband would prefer, which is why i can never get the consistency right in my tomato-based pasta sauces for the whole family to enjoy - somebody will always feel put out!

  7. I love putting 'greens' into meatballs or meat loaf. I need to get to know arugula. I need to get a French food dictionary.

  8. I love the idea of adding arugula to the chicken and making meatballs...even better when you add some spaghetti into the equation.

  9. I always use chicken or turkey to make meatballs these days and I never really notice the difference. And you're right, arugula and chicken go great together!

  10. Nice way to change up the average meatballs. I tend to prefer beef meatballs, but of course my hsuband won't eat them, so it's always chicken or turkey for me. I get bored doing them the same way every time, so I really like these. I love arugula as long as it's mild. I bought some arugula at a farmer's market once that was so peppery it was inedible.

  11. hey you! i just made Cuban meatballs last night for a party and they were entirely too good. food just shouldn't be that good w/out some sort of loud announcement! yours looks great. love the fresh tomato!

  12. I am on the look out for recipes that will be healthier but at the same time still delicious!!! I think I have just found one!!!

  13. 2 ingredients surprised me here. No, not the arugula but the capers in the meatballs -- and brandy or cognac to the sauce. I love capers but have never included them in meatballs but I'm thinking why not? I will definitely give it a try. And while I've added wine to a pasta sauce from time to time, I've never heard of adding brandy or cognac. I'm wondering what (if anything) it did to the taste.

  14. The green in the meatball mixture breaks up the monotony of the white chicken...works well here.

    As for arugula, the baby/young greens aren't as bitter...most people like those.

  15. capers. booze. chicken. good stuff, val. i like a saucy dish. :)

  16. Looks excellent Val and I think I must try these out!

  17. I love a recipe that lets me sneak in some vegetables!

  18. Adding arugula makes it so much more interesting.splendid dish Val.

  19. Love the idea of adding arugula into the meatballs!

  20. Oh yum! This Italian girl is loving this recipe! Those meatballs look great with those gorgeous flecks of green! I like the idea of Cognac in the sauce, and I love the word "saucy" in your title! It's a fun word to say ... saucy! :-)

  21. Chicken meatballs are our favorite. Have to keep this variation in mind for our next dinner. Always welcome the arugula, if I'd been offered it when I was young I doubt I'd haven taken to it either.

  22. We love pasta, I'll have to give this recipe a try.


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