That’s A Spicy Chicken & ‘Nduja Meatballs

The surprise of 'nduja in these chicken meatballs gives them a sweet-spicy taste.
The surprise of ‘nduja in these chicken meatballs gives them a sweet-spicy taste.

Mama Mia, that’s a spicy meatball!

But don’t fear, these are not throat-throttling fiery. Instead, they are just hot enough, with peppery warmth and a kiss of sweetness, thanks to ‘nduja, the Italian spreadable salami seasoned with roasted Calabrian chili peppers.

“Chicken & ‘Nduja Meatballs” is from the new cookbook, “Italian American: Red Sauce Classics and New Essentials” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy.

The book, written in conjunction with food writer Jamie Feldmar, is by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, the married chefs behind Michelin-starred Don Angie in New York City.

Indeed, these are not rigidly Italian recipes that haven’t changed in centuries, but ones that reflect the comforting home-style fare that Italians made their own after immigrating to this country. At Don Angie, those lusty, flavorful red sauce-dishes get even more playfully and vibrantly updated.

You’re sure to find yourself licking your chops over recipes for “Sicilian Pizza Rolls,” “Polenta Gnocchi with Rosemary, Honey & Toasted Sesame,” “Eggplant Parm Pinwheel Lasagna,” and “Tre Latte Olive Oil Cake.”

I picked up some Journeyman Meat Co. nduja ($15) through GoodEggs. It’s also available via Oakland’s Cream Co. Meats. If you can’t find ‘nduja easily, the recipe recommends Spanish-style chorizo as a substitute. Just remove the casing, and grind the chorizo in a food processor, and cut the amount of salt you add to the meatballs in half.

Nduja by Healdsburg's Journeyman Meat Co.
Nduja by Healdsburg’s Journeyman Meat Co.
You can see the Calabrian peppers peeking out of the soft sausage.
You can see the Calabrian peppers peeking out of the soft sausage.

The porky, spiced ‘nduja is definitely worth seeking out, though, for its distinctive meaty, spicy and aromatic character. The meatballs are made with ground chicken, grated Parmesan and roasted garlic for umami, milk-soaked bread for moistness, an egg to help hold everything together, and the ‘nduja for a big boost of flavor.

Although the ‘nduja is somewhat soft, don’t worry if you find it difficult to incorporate it uniformly into the ground chicken. Your meatballs will most likely have little nubbins of ‘nduja here and there instead, but that is okay. They will give little bursts of heat here and there to enjoy in each bite.

A creamy, zesty and cooling herb-yogurt sauce is the final touch.
A creamy, zesty and cooling herb-yogurt sauce is the final touch.

The recipe includes a separate recipe for roasted garlic, which I provided below. However, it makes 2 cups of roasted garlic, far more than you’ll need for these meatballs. What I did instead was use a technique I learned from Cook’s Illustrated long ago, in which you take unpeeled cloves and pan-fry them on the stove-top until their skins get speckled deeply with brown and black, and the garlic softens. Once they are cool enough to handle, just squeeze the garlic out of their skins, and mash the garlic with the back of a knife. It’s a technique that works especially well when you need only a small amount of roasted garlic. I’ve included the directions below.

The meatballs bake in the oven until tender and juicy. An herbed yogurt sauce gets drizzled on top, not only providing an easy, deliciously creamy finishing touch, but one that helps reset the palate after the chilies hit.

Unless you really go to town, you’ll end up with leftover sauce, which is a bonus, because it’s fantastic dolloped on a baked potato, turkey burgers, lamb shawarma, roasted winter squash, or used on a chicken salad sandwich.

Spice up the holidays — and beyond — with these addictive meatballs.

Serve with flatbread, snuggle inside a soft roll, or eat with a toothpick as an appetizer.
Serve with grilled flatbread, snuggle inside a soft roll, or eat with a toothpick as an appetizer.

Chicken & ‘Nduja Meatballs

(Makes 21 to 28 meatballs)

For polpette:

3 cups nickel-sized chunks Italian bread, crusts removed (from about three-quarters of one Italian-style loaf or small baguette)

1 cup whole milk

1/4 pound ‘nduja (or cured Spanish-style chorizo, casing removed, ground in a food processor)

3/4 pound ground chicken

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 tablespoons Roasted Garlic Puree (see recipe below or stove-top method explained in Note)

1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1 tablespoon kosher salt (or 1/2 tablespoon if you use Spanish chorizo)

1 large egg

For herbed yogurt (optional):

2 cups labneh or whole-milk Greek yogurt

1 garlic clove, grated on a Microplane

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

For serving (optional):

2 sprigs cilantro, leaves picked

1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, whites only (1 to 2 scallions)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone baking mat and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Make the polpette: In a medium bowl, combine the bread and milk and soak until bread is thoroughly saturated, about 15 minutes. Squeeze the bread in a clean kitchen towel to wring out as much milk as possible and discard the liquid. You should have about 2 cups of wrung bread.

In a large bowl, combine the bread, ‘nduja, chicken, oregano, roasted garlic puree, Parmesan, salt, and egg. Using your hands, gently mix the ingredients together until just combined — don’t overmix, or the meatballs will be tough. Form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs (about 2 tablespoons each) and place on the lined baking sheet.

Bake until meatballs are golden brown and a thermometer inserted into the center reads 160 degrees, 20 to 25 minutes.

Make the herbed yogurt (if using): In a small bowl, whisk together the labneh, garlic, oregano, sugar, salt, cilantro, and lemon juice.

To serve: Arrange the meatballs on a serving platter. If using yogurt sauce, drizzle over meatballs and sprinkle the top with cilantro and scallion whites. You can also serve these on a sandwich, or stick a toothpick in each as an app, with or without the herbed yogurt sauce to cut the heat. Leftover meatballs will keep, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to 3 days.

Note: If you want to make just enough roasted garlic for this recipe, you can take about 7 medium unpeeled cloves of garlic and heat in a saute pan on medium heat on the stove-top. Stir them around now and then. The skins will start to brown, even blacken (don’t worry), and the cloves soften. After about 25 minutes (depending on the size of the cloves), the garlic will be caramelized. Let cool, then slip the cloves out of their skins, smash them with the back of a knife until they are a mashed, creamy consistency, and proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Roasted Garlic Puree

(Makes about 2 cups)

12 heads garlic, tops trimmed off to expose the cloves

2 1/2 cups neutral oil, such as vegetable

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Place garlic heads cut-side down in a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking dish. Pour the oil into the pan. The garlic should be covered about halfway up with oil. cook until the garlic has turned golden brown in color, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove from the oven and let cool.

When cool enough to handle, pour the oil off into a sealed container and set aside in the refrigerator for up to 1 week for future use.

Gently squeeze each garlic head until the roasted cloves come out of the papery skins. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth.

Refrigerate until ready to use. Garlic puree keeps refrigerated, for up to 1 week, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Adapted from “Italian American” by Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli with Jamie Feldmar

More Meatball Recipes to Enjoy: Pistachio and Pomegranate Meatballs

And: Chicken (Or Turkey) Zucchini Meatballs with Feta

And: Lamb Meatballs with Warm Yogurt and Swiss Chard

And: Lamb Ricotta Meatballs Braised in Tomato Sauce

And: Spiced Meatballs with Green Olive & Tomato Sauce

And: Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi Fried Rice

And: Lion’s Head Meatballs

And: Monday Meatballs from A16

And: Chicken Meatball Soup

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