Notes: The moist smoothness of gelatin balances the lean texture of the chicken, but you can choose to omit. I also find that by not browning the meatballs first, you end up with a more tender result. The easiest way to grate white bread is to freeze it first, then grate on a box grater or pulse in a food processor. These meatballs also make excellent meatball subs.
- 2 tablespoon homemade or store-bought low sodium chicken broth (or water)
- 2 teaspoons powdered gelatin, optional (see note)
- 3 slices white bread (about 3 ounces), untrimmed, grated (see note)
- 5 tablespoons milk
- 1 1/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, plus extra for garnish
- 1 large egg
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
- 1 cup loosely packed basil leaves, roughly chopped, divided
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 medium cloves garlic, grated (about 4 teaspoons), divided
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, divided
- 1 pound ground chicken
- 1 medium onion, minced (about 1 cup)
- 3 (14-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 pound spaghetti
Pour chicken broth into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin over the top. Let sit at least 5 minutes to soften. Place bread in a large bowl and moisten with milk. Stir in cheese, egg, parsley, half of the basil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon oil, 1 clove garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes until combined.
Heat gelatin mixture in microwave or in a small saucepan until melted and stir into bread mixture. Add chicken and gently mix with hands until just combined. Chill 10 minutes and then, using wet hands or a 1/4-cup ice cream scoop, form into 12 balls.
Heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil in large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add garlic cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add remaining 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, and tomatoes (with juice). Bring to simmer and cook 10 minutes to let flavors meld. Season to taste.
Carefully nestle meatballs into the sauce and cover. Simmer until meatballs are just cooked through (160°F), about 10 minutes. Sprinkle in remaining chopped basil. Keep warm.
Heat 3 quarts of salted water in stock pot over high heat. Add pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is al dente (usually about 1 minute less than recommended cooking time on box). Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain pasta. Return pasta to pot and toss with 1 cup sauce, adding pasta water if necessary to loosen. Serve, topping with meatballs, more sauce, and Parmesan cheese.