Chicken Meatballs with Mushroom and Basil Sauce

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Chicken Meatballs

You might think someone whose book has “meatballs” in the title would have a good recipe not only for beef meatballs but also for chicken. I didn’t though—until now. I think it took me so long because I had some high demands. Flavorful and fresh, of course. Not heavy or gooey like Swedish meatballs, but still with a little creaminess that didn’t come from dairy. With some Jewish and Italian characteristics, such as using fresh herbs and paying homage to Jewish chicken “fricassee” dishes with meatballs that come from both Jewish-Italian and Jewish-American cooking.

And recently, to make it even more challenging, I decided I wanted a meatball recipe for just about everyone and for all times. That meant meatballs my friends and family on gluten-free, nondairy, and non-processed foods diets could make and eat. We could enjoy them at Hanukkah as well as Passover or just for a casual dinner.

They could work as a party buffet appetizer or an entrée spooned over noodles, rice, or nondairy mashed potatoes. Given that they are indeed meatballs, they just don’t work for my vegetarian or vegan friends (or those who can’t eat eggs)—sorry, there will be plenty of recipes for you, too, I promise.

For now, I’m pleased to present my chicken meatballs with a richly textured mushroom and basil sauce. For binding the meatballs, I used cooked baking potatoes instead of bread, which eliminates both gluten and a processed ingredient. Pushing the potatoes through a ricer keeps them fluffy and easier to incorporate. And you know what? Potato creates a nice tender meatball. For flavor, I settled on fresh thyme (the typical meatballs’ herb oregano was too strong here). And yes, it can try your patience removing thyme leaves from the stems when you’re in a hurry, but the minty-lemony accent fresh thyme gives is worth it. A little splash of white wine brightens the chicken flavor as well.

Two unusual ingredients achieve a little bit of creaminess and thickness in the sauce. First, a little cream from a can of whole unsweetened coconut milk gives a creamy effect with just a subtle coconut flavor. This is optional, but very nice. Second, ground cashews thicken and add a little more creaminess plus some nutty flavor to the sauce (but if you have nut allergies, the sauce can be thickened with a starch mixture and is good that way, too). Lots of thinly sliced mushrooms, more white wine, and a generous handful of basil round out the sauce.

Given that we kept eating these meatballs before I remembered to measure the recipe’s yield (so I had to keep making them over and over again), I’d say these taste pretty great hot out of the pot. However, they taste even better reheated the next day—a flexibility that I love in recipes and that makes this one a good option for entertaining as well as a quick weeknight meal.

You can think of them as comfort food or special food—or both. In Italy, Jews often served their polpette (meatballs) for Sabbath dinners as well as festivals. In that spirit, this recipe comes just in time for dinner this weekend as well as for the festival of Passover, which begins at sundown on April 14 this year. And we’ll be enjoying my Jewish-Italian–inspired meatballs “for all times” on many occasions after that.



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