Baked chicken florentine meatballs with homemade tomato sauce! Tender pieces of white meat combined with fresh spinach for a healthy meal full of flavor.
These chicken florentine meatballs are super tender, packed with spinach in each bite and ready in a snap. A big pot of tomato sauce simmers as you mix, shape and bake the meatballs. Viola! Instant appetizer or maybe a family dinner if you decide to add some extra carbs serve with spaghetti squash.
I have a meatball obsession. There, I finally said it! It hasn’t always been this way, but ever since I married my Italian husband, I’ve been on a mission to create the perfect recipe. It’s fun to combine different flavor combinations to give you a unique, tasty creation each time.
Now that I’ve got the meatball base down, I decided to add some vegetables to the mix for a healthy meal! Let’s roll!
How to prepare chicken meatballs
After receiving vigorous Italian cuisine training with Jason’s mom, Joan and Grandma Rose, I’ve been experimenting and tweaking my meatball recipe over the years. The hubby is a tough critic when it comes to his favorite meals, but I suppose I appreciate his honesty.
I’ve realized there’s a secret when it comes to Italian family cooking, the cooks making their famous dishes don’t measure out the ingredients! They typically go by look, feel and experience. Well, I’ve written this chicken florentine meatballs recipe down so we can all recreate the yumminess!
My biggest meatball pet peeve is when there is an abundance of breadcrumbs in the mix. You know, instead of a nice tender chew, the meatballs are spongy. No thanks! To get a nice meaty texture but easy to cut through with a fork, I balance the meat to breadcrumb ratio.
Here is my general meatball recipe guideline:
- 1 pound meat
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 large egg
Due to the chicken meat being so lean, a quick 20 minute back in a 400-degree oven roasted them to perfection. To add that nice brown crust, a few minutes under the broiling turned the meatballs up a notch.
Chopped spinach goes into the meatball mixture to switch up the flavor profile and it adds nutritional benefits. I was a little surprised how green the meatballs looked, but they were really pretty once browned from the broiler. The spinach color stayed a lovely vibrant green, making for an eye-catching and intriguing dish.
There must be an unspoken rule that you should never, ever, EVER serve meatballs without a sauce. Or at least that’s my opinion. It’s just so much more satisfying to roll, dip and smother each meatball in a tasty tomato sauce. Raise your hand up high if you agree!
I made a very quick and fool-proof tomato sauce as the first step so that it has time to simmer and concentrate into a delicious sauce. I always look for San Marzano canned tomatoes when I don’t have super ripe fresh tomatoes for the sauce.
San Marzano plum tomatoes are imported from Italy. They are special because they are picked at maximum ripeness, have a natural sweetness and low acidity that just makes the sauce irresistible.
This chicken florentine meatball recipe is very versatile because you can make it as a snack before dinnertime, or add some spaghetti squash, bread, or salad to make it a full meal. My family usually requests these with a big bowl of spaghetti, then leftover meatball sandwiches the next day for lunch. How will you enjoy these healthy meatballs?
How does using a panade help make meatballs tender?
For this chicken florentine recipe, I added some milk to help create a panade with the panko breadcrumbs. A panade is a mixture of starch and liquid that is added to ground meat to help keep the size and shape of the meatball intact while retaining moisture and tenderness. Because ground chicken is so lean, adding a little more moisture and fat from the milk absorbed into the breadcrumbs adds a little insurance. Nobody enjoys dry meatballs, I promise!
Chicken Florentine Meatballs
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup yellow onions, minced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 28 ounce crushed tomatoes, canned (San Marzano recommended)
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 1 large egg
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 5 cups baby spinach, finely chopped (about 5 ounces)
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Pepper
- Heat olive oil over medium-low heat in a medium sized pan. Add garlic and onion saute until onions are translucent, 3 minutes. Add tomato paste, stir to combine. Add tomatoes, salt and oregano stir and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 400F. Line a sheet tray with foil and lightly coat with oil and set aside.
- In a large bowl combine chicken, egg, garlic, chopped spinach, panko bread crumbs, milk, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper.
- Roll meatballs in 12 equal portions, about 1 1/2 inches, 2 to 3 tablespoons in size. Evenly space the meatballs on the baking sheet.
- Place pan in the center of the oven and bake for 20 minutes.
- Turn oven to broil and cook meatballs another 2 to 3 minutes, until the meatballs are golden brown on top. Serve meatballs with sauce.