Chicken Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash

chicken meatballs

The slight chill in the air, longer nights, and gray skies are all telltale signs that fall is finally here. As soon as the season turns, I put on my sweater and slippers, and gather my recipes for comfort food. Dishes that warm me up and make me feel right at home are on the menu now. One of my favorites around this time of year is a bowl of fluffy meatballs. Seared first and simmered in sauce, then served atop spaghetti, it's the classic Italian-American comfort dish. But there's always room for a twist on tradition.

This is my modern—but no less comforting—take on spaghetti and meatballs. My recipe removes almost all the carbohydrates by replacing the pasta with spaghetti squash. Simply roasting the winter squash results in tender flesh that can easily be removed with the help of a fork to form thin pasta-like strands. The slightly sweet flavor and tender bite of the squash "pasta" makes it a wonderful base for this chicken meatballs recipe. Plus you can have dinner ready in 45 minutes, the time it takes to roast the squash, make the meatballs, and the quick marinara sauce.

The meatballs use thigh-meat chicken to create a lighter and more fluffier version. Sage adds a wonderful forest flavor and aroma. A touch of crushed red-pepper flakes add slightly noticeable heat. Otherwise the recipe is a standard meatballs recipe. The sauce I make, for simmering the meatballs in, is my quick 20-minute marinara. I simmer broth with tomato puree and some fresh tomatoes, and add fresh basil and some dried herbs. I don't even start with sautéing anything, I just bring the sauce to a fast simmer and cook until it's thick and dark. Now that's an easy and comforting family meal.

Chicken Meatballs with Spaghetti Squash

for the spaghetti squash:
1 spaghetti squash (about 3 pounds)
olive oil
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

for the chicken meatballs:
3 slices dry white bread
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup finely chopped sage
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 large egg
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
canola oil, for frying

for the marinara sauce:
1-1/2 cups chicken broth
1-1/2 cups tomato puree
2 medium to large tomatoes, skins and seeds removed, liquid reserved
1/2 cup basil leaves
1 teaspoon herbes de Provence
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Cut squash lengthwise and rub with oil. Place cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Roast until knife tender, about 45 minutes. Let squash cool slightly before handling. Remove and discard seeds and stringy pulp. Use a fork to scrape flesh into strands of spaghetti. Add to a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper.

While squash roasts, make meatballs. Crumble bread into a large bowl and moisten with milk.

Warm olive oil in a saute pan set over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; saute until soft and translucent. Let cool and add to bowl. Add ground chicken, sage, cheese, and egg. Season liberally with salt and pepper. Mix lightly until thoroughly combined.

Form mixture into small meatballs. Place on a tray lined with parchment paper.

Warm a shallow amount of canola oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. Sear meatballs in batches until brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on a tray lined with paper towels.

To make sauce, set a deep skillet or medium-size pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken broth, tomato puree, and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Add basil and herbes de Provence. Simmer until color deepens and sauce thickens, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. If needed, sweeten sauce with sugar. Add meatballs and simmer until sauce is further thickened and meatballs are heated through, about 10 minutes. Serve meatballs over spaghetti squash and grate over with Parmesan cheese. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.