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Saucy Chicken and Arugula Meatballs


In Italy, meatballs 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 and arugula, a popular Italian combination, but not one generally used in meatballs. Making the meatballs small ensures that they cook quickly and that the sauce maintains its fresh taste.


  1. 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sautéeing the meatballs
  2. 3 thin slices pancetta or bacon (about 2 ounces), chopped
  3. 2 garlic cloves, minced
  4. 1 large bunch arugula (about 6 ounces), stemmed and finely chopped
  5. 1 pound ground chicken or turkey
  6. 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
  7. 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese (about 1 1/2 ounces)
  8. 2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
  9. 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  10. Salt and freshly ground pepper


  1. 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  2. 2 large shallots, minced
  3. 1/4 cup Cognac or brandy
  4. One 35-ounce can Italian peeled tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped in a food processor
  5. 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  6. Salt and freshly ground pepper
  1. In a large nonreactive skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 3 minutes. 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.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, bread crumbs, cheese, capers, egg, 3/4 teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Add the arugula mixture and beat until well blended. Roll the mixture by teaspoonfuls into 3/4-inch balls.
  3. 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.
  4. In the same skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the shallots 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 thick, about 8 minutes.
  5. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer over low heat just until heated though, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately.
Make Ahead The meatballs and sauce can be refrigerated separately for up to 1 day. Return both to room temperature before proceeding to Step 5.

Suggested Pairing

The capers and pancetta in this dish call for a meaty, acidic Italian Cabernet Sauvignon-Sangiovese blend, such as Capezzana Carmignano or Castello dei Rampolla Sammarco.



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