Pasta with Mini Chicken Meatballs



By now you may be wondering if “opa” means “meatball” but I assure you it does not. We just really like shaped meat around here, I guess? Also evidenced by the fact that our Valentine’s Day dinner was…meatloaf. What can I say? Why fix something that isn’t broken?

We eat pasta for dinner roughly once a week on average, but one of the reasons I make pasta weekly is because it’s guaranteed to make good and easy lunch leftovers. Since eating pasta for lunch, too, kind of kills the whole “limiting pasta” thing, I do try to make sure that it’s pretty healthy and wholesome and this pasta definitely fits the bill.  The meatballs are made with chicken (though I do recommend using dark meat or a combination of dark and white for a more tender meatball), I used whole wheat pasta, and the sauce is really just chicken broth and tomato juice. There is a fair amount of cheese in this, but spread across multiple servings it’s not bad. And, either way, I love how fresh mozzarella gets all gooey and delicious, so cheese calories be damned.


Pasta with Mini Chicken Meatballs

  • 15 minutes
  • 15 minutes
  • about 6 servings


  • 12-16 oz. small or medium length pasta
  • 1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
  • 1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1.5 Tbsp. milk
  • 1 heaping Tbsp. ketchup
  • 3/4 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1.25 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1.25 lbs. ground chicken (recommended: thighs or a combo of breast/thigh)
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1.25 cups chicken broth
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, juice reserved
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or more Pecorino
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, cut into small pieces (or bocconcini, halved)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves


  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and add the pasta, cooking until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the chicken and gently stir to combine. With damp hands, roll the chicken into mini meatballs, about 3/4" big. (You can make these ahead of time and refrigerate, too, which I often like doing with turkey/chicken meatballs as it helps them keep their shape better.)

  3. In a 14" skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes (if necessary, cook in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan). Turn the meatballs over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes longer.
  4. Measure out 1/2 cup juice from the canned tomatoes (if there is less than that, use additional chicken broth to make up the difference) and add it to the pan along with the chicken broth and diced tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta to the skillet. Off the heat, add the Parmesan and toss. If needed, use some of the reserved pasta water to make more "sauce" (I did not). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the mozzarella cheese and chopped basil and gently toss to combine. Serve immediately.

4 thoughts on “Pasta with Mini Chicken Meatballs

  1. Huh, I’m intrigued by the ketchup in them. It’s not like it’s weird to me, I’ve just never used it in meatballs before, but I imagine it adds a good amount of tomato flavor without adding too much liquid!

  2. In your ingredient list you call for chicken stock and in the recipe instructions refer to chicken broth. Is it one or the other, or interchangeable?

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