I'm a total meatball fiend, whether they're of Swedish, Italian, or Southern descent. (Grape jelly ring a bell?) In a sloppy sandwich, meatballs become even more appealing — and doubly so when in "small-bite" slider form. Take my spin on chicken Parmesan. Chicken meatballs are stuffed with cubes of mozzarella, doused in marinara, and finished off with a generous dusting of Parmesan. Think it sounds like too much hassle for lunch? Check your freezer first.
One of the great things about meatballs is that you can never have too many. Why only make a few, when you can bake off a big batch and freeze the rest for later? (There are only two folks in my household, and leftover meatballs have saved us from delivery more than a time or two.)
But don't just look at them as a dinner diversion. Whether you are packing your kid's lunchbox, or just want a hearty afternoon snack, these savory little sliders more than fit the bill! They are the perfect midday meal for me — a freelancer working from home — because they are deeply satisfying, yet go beyond traditional turkey or tuna. (In fact, I'm heating up a few as I type.)
These tender chicken meatballs are packed with big flavor — garlic, oregano, and lots of chopped parsley add a nice touch, and mozzarella cubes offer a hidden surprise — but they didn't totally come together for me until I nestled them inside the buttered, toasted buns. Upon my first taste I literally swooned with delight ... I may have even given myself an actual pat on the back. They're that good!
Try 'em, eat 'em, freeze 'em, and enjoy. You (and your lunch) will thank me later.
Chicken & Mozzarella Meatball Sliders
For the meatballs
2 pounds ground chicken (or turkey)
1/2 cup whole or 2% milk
1 large egg
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
5 to 6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1 heaping tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons ground mustard
1 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
6 sticks mozzarella string cheese, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
For the sliders
Small dinner rolls, split, buttered, and toasted (or griddled)
Arugula or basil leaves
Warmed tomato sauce
Grated Parmesan cheese
Place the chicken in a large mixing bowl and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour. (I do this to keep my hands from freezing when I mix the ingredients.) Preheat oven to 450°F.
Whisk together the milk and egg. Stir the bread crumbs into the milk mixture and allow to soak for a minute or so until it resembles a thick porridge. Add the bread crumb mixture to the chicken, along with the parsley, garlic, shallots, salt, mustard, and oregano. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Toss gently with your hands to mix ingredients until just combined. It will be a little wet. Cover and refrigerate, if desired.
Fill a spring-form ice cream scoop halfway with meat mixture. Place a mozzarella cube into the meat, then top with another half of meat mixture. Release the ball and gently pat into a cohesive ball. Arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet and continue with remaining meatballs. It's okay if the meatballs are touching.
Bake the meatballs until they reach an internal temperature of 160°F, about 15 to 20 minutes. Switch oven to broil and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, until golden-brown. Remove from the oven and allow to rest for a few minutes.
To assemble the sliders, place a layer of arugula on the bottom half of the roll. Top with a warm meatball, a drizzle of tomato sauce, and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan and black pepper. Cover with the top half of roll and secure with a toothpick if desired. Serve immediately.
Transfer leftover (cooked) meatballs to a baking sheet and place in freezer. Once frozen, the meatballs can be portioned into freezer bags and frozen until needed. Reheat meatballs in a 350°F oven until warmed through.
• To check the seasoning, cook one meatball by itself. Taste and season the remaining chicken mixture as desired.
• You can halve the recipe, but I like having lots of meatballs in the freezer.
(Images: Nealey Dozier)
Updated from recipe originally published March 2013.