As the ridiculous, unrelenting cold continues, so does our desire for warm, comforting food.  As much as I love soup, I don’t really want to have it every single night – in large part, thanks to our toddler’s “playful” personality at the dinner table which makes for a gigantic mess when it comes to soup.  That and her continued use of her hair as a napkin.

Anyway, I’m making a concerted effort to keep our dinner menus somewhat interesting but still satisfy our need for comfort food.  Our freezer was stocked with ground chicken and to me, tomato sauce and melty cheese are always comforting.  We didn’t eat these over the typical pasta but just enjoyed them on their own with some good bread and a big salad.  They would be great over pasta, quinoa, on a sandwich or maybe even cut up and added to a pizza.  We’ll call this the silver lining of the nasty weather.


For the sauce: 

  • 1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, liquid reserved
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • ¼ cup finely chopped onion
  • 1½ tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream or half-and-half

For the meatballs: 

  • ½ cup dried panko
  • 1/3 cup grated onion
  • 1 tsp. dried parsley
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1½ lbs. ground chicken
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil

To finish: 

  • 4 oz. shredded mozzarella*
  • 2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2-3 tbsp. minced fresh basil (optional)


  • 01

    To make the sauce, add the tomatoes to a blender or food processor.  Puree until smooth, adding a bit of the reserved liquid if necessary to smooth the mixture out.  Melt the butter in a large, deep skillet or sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook about 1 minute, until it begins to soften.  Stir in the tomato paste, garlic and red pepper flakes and mix just until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Stir in the tomato mixture, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook about 5-8 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cream.  Set aside.

  • 02

    To make the meatballs, combine the panko, grated onion, parsley, basil, Parmesan, salt, pepper, garlic and egg.  Stir together with a fork just until blended.  Mix in the ground chicken and knead together gently until evenly combined.  Form the mixture into meatballs about 1½-inch in diameter.

  • 03

    Preheat the oven to 400˚ F.  Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the meatballs to the pan in a single layer (two batches may be necessary if you don’t have enough surface area.)  Let cook, turning occasionally, until all sides are browned.**

  • 04

    Once all of the meatballs are browned, place them in the pan with the tomato sauce.  Sprinkle the mozzarella and additional Parmesan over the top.  Bake until the cheese is fully melted and bubbling and the meatballs are cooked through, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and garnish with the fresh basil.  Serve warm.

  • 05

    *For best results, always use freshly shredded cheese.  Pre-shredded cheese comes coated in things such as flour or cornstarch to prevent clumping and results in an unpleasant, gritty texture when melted.

    **I added this browning step because we prefer the flavor and texture it adds, but if you prefer, you can skip the step of browning the meatballs entirely.  Just add the shaped meatballs to the tomato sauce and bake until they are cooked through.  You will probably need to increase the baking time.  

  • It’s like a meatball sub… without the sub! Looks delish! Adding this to my menu for dinner next week!

  • This sounds like my kind of dinner! Yum!

  • Amelia

    I know how you feel about this cold weather, although we don’t have negative temps like y’all do up north. My parents in Ohio said they woke up to -10 below today. We have a high of 38 in Charleston, SC today. Yuck! Then add 20mph wind.
    This recipe looks amazing! I made meatballs last night for dinner using ground beef but just looking at these meatballs, sitting in that lovely sauce, with all the melty cheese, makes me want to make them tonight. You can have Italian two days in a row, right? ;)

  • Liz @ Tip Top Shape

    This looks great! Such a nice comfort food meal!

  • Louann Zundel

    Oh, Annie, those look soooo good! Living near Chicago, we’ve just about had it with the snow and deep freeze, but these will help take the chill off. Thanks!

  • annieseats

    Totally! Good food two nights in a row is always a good idea, even if it’s the same type of cuisine! And yeah, the weather is ridic here. It was -3 when I was driving in this morning and when I got out of my car briefly to pump gas, ice crystals formed on my hair because I had only partially dried it. Not awesome. (Also, I did feel a bit like Kate Winslet in Titanic.)

  • Amelia

    Oh my gosh, no way! That is frigid. Beach weather cant get here soon enough!

  • Lisa

    This may be a really silly question . . . but what is ground chicken? Can I make it by putting my raw boneless/skinless chicken in a food processor?

  • Stephanie @

    Looks delicious! I am definitely making this ASAP.

  • annieseats

    It’s similar to ground beef or ground turkey, but it’s chicken. You can pulse in your food processor in a pinch, but the texture won’t be quite right. It is available at most stores. I buy it at our butcher shop.

  • This is so going on next week’s menu plan! Yum yum yum!

  • What a fabulous way to get my chicken parmesan fix! It’s been in the 80’s here all week but I’ll eat these happily anyway ;)

  • Diane

    Man, I guess I should feel blessed to live where I do! Though it’s been chilly in the mornings, my kids have been wearing shorts to school (it has been a battle for weeks and I finally gave in). By the time they come home, it is warm enough for the shorts. Love Southern Utah!

  • If I eat a whole pan of these will spring come sooner?? Brrrr.

  • Christi

    What do you do with the balance of the reserved liquid from the tomatoes? I see you add a little, if necessary, to the tomatoes when they are pureed, does the rest get discarded?

  • Emily @ Life on Food

    Oh I just want to take a big hunk of that bread and dip it right in to that red sauce goodness. This looks amazing!

  • Kathleen A. Wallace Welch

    This looks and sounds delicious. I may morph my homemade tomato soup into the sauce for this dish (always fun to make leftovers tasty !) Thanks the wonderful idea.

  • Kevin @ Closet Cooking

    This looks and sounds fabulous!

  • Carole

    Looks amazingly delicious! Pinning this right now!

  • Oh my goodness you had me laughing when you described your dinner table scene! I can totally relate. This meal looks wonderful, and your photos are gorgeous as usual. Thanks for another great recipe!

  • Carol Cook

    After a long week of ‘on-the-go’ brown bag lunches, these meatballs look like heaven! I can taste the combo now… Thanks!

  • Oh, that looks yummy!

  • Sarah

    This looks AMAZING. Do you think it would be just as good with ground turkey? I happen to have some in the house.

  • This looks awesome Annie- I love anything saucy I can dip bread into- if I don’t have the baby this week this may be a nice project :)

  • annieseats

    I’m sure you could use either, I just tend to prefer chicken.

  • annieseats

    You can discard any that is left over.

  • Amanda Ferraioli

    Annie, this dinner was amazing! My husband and I made meatball subs and we were in love. These would be perfect to make for a party..we’re already planning on adding this to our party menu! Thanks for the great recipe!

  • HA, it must be a toddler thing about the hair. By the end of the day, I know what Elena has eaten by taking a whiff of her hair. These look amazing and I’ll be making these soon!

  • Katie Sechrist

    Made these Sunday night for dinner and they were delicious! I always have trouble with my meatballs cooking all the way through. I don’t know if it’s because it was chicken and not beef, but thankfully these cooked through and were juicy and flavorful. As always, thanks Annie!

  • Katie Sechrist

    Oh–and I made this with your yummy Honey Yeast dinner rolls. It was an Annies Eats night!

  • Ursula

    Hi, what can I use as a substitute for the red pepper flakes, can’t find it where I leave. Thanks

  • annieseats

    They are available in almost any spice aisle of any store, but if you can’t find them I would just omit them. Or see the FAQ page regarding substitutions.

  • Melanie @ Carmel Moments

    This sounds amazing! I know what I’m adding to the menu!

  • Ursula

    I moved to Ecuador a while ago and it’s hard or impossible to find some products here. There is a ground Spanish pepper, do you think I can use that?

  • Clarissa

    I made it last night!! It was delicious! New recipe for my binder. I added dried basil and parsley to the sauce. Thanks for the great recipe.

  • annieseats

    Yeah, I think that sounds like a good option. Just whatever you like to use to add a little bit of spice.

  • myRecipeCupboard

    Made these tonight for our supper and to take to a friend- I usually don’t make something I haven’t tried before for others but your recipes have never failed , so I gave it a try. They were amazing!
    Thanks for another great recipe.

  • Jennifer Black

    These were so. good. My new favorite tomato sauce too

  • annieseats

    Yay! So glad you enjoyed them :)

  • Sarah

    I haven’t tried this with chicken, but I can tell you that it was great with turkey! I love the little kick that the sauce has from the red pepper flakes. This is one of my new favorites from your site, along with the panko-crusted salmon. Thank you!

  • Angela Wilhite

    This was fabulous!! Even my picky eater liked the meatballs and sauce. I’ll definitely add this to my keeper list. Thanks, Annie!

  • M.E.

    We made these last night for our Super Bowl party as mini sub sandwiches (I did sub turkey as our regular grocery doesn’t have ground chicken). SO delicious – my husband said to put them on the regular rotation.

  • Micaela

    Made this tonight…it was SOOO good! All three of my kids loved it and my 6 year old requested it to be packed in her lunch for tomorrow! Thank you!

  • Sandra

    AMAZING! Made this for dinner and my family loved it! Thanks Annie! :)

  • Amanda

    We all loved these when I made them last week, and I was hoping to put them on my “freeze ahead” list for when baby #3 is due in a few months. Anyone know the best way to freeze these? I’m thinking I can brown them, and then freeze them, finishing the baking process from frozen or thawed… does that sound about right? The sauce can probably freeze fine, too, right?

  • annieseats

    It isn’t safe to partially cook meat and then store, so your options are to either to freeze the uncooked meatballs which would be my choice, or to freeze them once cooked through and then rewarm later. Glad you enjoyed them!

  • Michelle

    I just made these tonight, and they were divine. Thank you so much for the recipe!

  • Katherine Affeldt

    My husband was not impressed when I said we were having chicken meatballs for dinner…in the end, he had two helpings! I did make one change, because ground chicken comes in 1 lb, I decided to get the other half pound by buying some hot italian chicken sausages. That certainly made a big impact on the flavor. We followed your lead and I picked up a nice loaf of bread, and green beans on the side (which also go really nicely with the tomato sauce!).

  • Andrea de Jong

    Hey just wanted to let you know that I have made this dish three times in the last month and a half and it’s always a hit! Thanks for sharing

  • Mallori

    This was delicious”!!!!!!

  • Andie Newman Statham

    I made this for my boys last night and they LOVED IT :)

  • Emily Scarborough

    made this tonight. Absolutely, positively amazing! We all loved it. Now to fight over who gets the one serving of leftovers tomorrow. :)

  • Hi Annie! I did these using ground turkey because my local store doesn’t carry ground chicken. I incorporated a few other changes and they were fabulous! I posted the results and recipe on my blog today. Thanks so much for such an irresistible recipe :)

  • Shelly

    Oh my my! This one’s a keeper too! My husband thanks you too!

  • Jackie Miller

    Good morning. I made these last night and YUM! I forgot to add the cream but it was great nonetheless. And I added finely shredded carrots and zucchini to the sauce and the meatballs to make it even healthier. All in all a keeper – thanks!

  • Peter Block

    Looks great annie. went searching recipes for chicken parm meatballs and found yours. Peter of Feed Your Soul Too

  • Emma and Megan’s mom

    Do you use white meat ground chicken or ground dark meat (thigh) ground chicken?

  • annieseats

    I use white meat but you could use either.

  • Emma and Megan’s mom

    Thx for your reply !

  • Elise

    Hi Annie,
    My family and I adore this meal! Which is why I want to take it to a friend who just had a baby recently. I plan to cook the meal ahead of time on Sunday and then deliver it on Monday. My question is, should I bake the meatballs in the sauce the night before (so they are cooked through) and then my friend can reheat it Monday! Or should I let my friend bake them through on Monday (would the dish be safe with the partially cooked meat for that long)? Let me know what you think the best way to get them a delicious meal would be. Thanks!

  • annieseats

    If you are prepping on Sunday to be eaten on Monday, I would not cook the meatballs first. Just keep covered and chilled and then let your friend bake them through. I’m sure they will love them!

  • Mathew

    Annie, does liquid reserved mean you drain the canned tomatoes then puree them or throw the whole can in water and all

  • annieseats

    Drain them, puree without the liquid, and then add a bit of the reserved liquid if necessary to get a nice even puree. You won’t need all of the liquid. Enjoy!

  • Emily Adele Otte

    I found this blog on a whim last night and while perusing through-I decided to make these for dinner (tonight)! They were simply delicious. Everyone loved them! Awesome dish, even in the middle of summer! Loved the kick of the red pepper flakes mixed with the creamy sauce. YUM.

  • mamy81

    I think these meatballs are even better four days later! Love them.

  • Lauren

    I make a lot of your recipes and these are one of the best! I like these more than regular meatballs. I’ve used them in subs , on their own, spaghetti and meatballs… great recipe.

  • Blair Mize

    I’d love to make this recipe, but my son has an egg allergy…any ideas on how to adjust the recipe or what to substitute so it works without the egg?

  • Annie

    What do you normally use as an egg substitute? I would check Google. Enjoy!