Gretchen’s table: Chicken Parmesan is reborn as crunchy meatballs

  • Linda Gassenheimer

Planning meals on vacation is always a challenge. It’s a drag to schlep a week’s worth of ingredients to your destination, packed in the car along with your suitcases, and you never know how the vacation home’s kitchen will be outfitted.

Besides, who wants to spend hours in the kitchen when you’re on vacation? The best getaway meals come together quickly with just a few pots and pans and feature everyday ingredients you can find at even the tiniest grocery store.


This easy meatball dish from Cook’s Country that I made in a cabin in the woods on a recent leaf-peeping trip is great solution. It boasts all the flavors of classic chicken Parmesan but takes about half the time to prepare. The red sauce comes together in about 10 minutes on a stovetop, and the chicken is just as easy. Instead of pounding boneless breast meat into thin patties to be layered with sauce and cheese, you roll seasoned ground chicken into golf ball-sized meatballs. A crunchy panko topping made in the microwave is the crowning touch, along with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

The results are hearty, easy to portion and extremely versatile. The meatballs can be served in a bowl alongside some crusty bread and a tossed green salad, or be spooned on top of your favorite pasta. They also are great tucked into a hoagie bun for a quick and easy lunch the next day.


Recipe by Cook’s Country. Serves 4-6.

For sauce

5 tablespoons olive oil, divided

5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin

1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 15-ounce can tomato sauce

2 1/4 teaspoons dried oregano, divided

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

For meatballs

22 Ritz crackers

5 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (2 1/2 cups), divided

1 large egg, beaten

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon pepper

2 pounds ground chicken

8 ounces shredded mozzarella (2 cups)

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1/4 cup torn fresh basil

Make sauce: Heat 3 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add sliced garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 1 minute.

Stir in crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, 1/4 teaspoon oregano, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper flakes.

Bring to simmer, reduce heat to medium-low and cook until slightly thickened, 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Make meatballs: Place crackers in a large ziplock bag, seal and crush with a rolling pin. (You should get about 1 cup.)

Combine crumbs, 2 cups Parmesan, egg, garlic powder, pepper, remaining 2 teaspoons oregano and 1 teaspoon salt in a large bowl.

Add chicken and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Divide mixture into 20 portions about 1/4 cup each. Using your hands, roll into meatballs and transfer to a 13-by-9-inch baking dish.

Pour sauce over meatballs, then sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake until meatballs are at least 160 degrees and mozzarella is melted and beginning to brown, 40-45 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine panko, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in bowl. Microwave until panko is light golden brown, 1-3 minutes, stirring every 30 seconds.

Sprinkle meatballs with panko mixture, remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and basil.

Serve in a bowl, stuffed into hoagie buns as a sandwich or on top of pasta.

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