FRENCH ONION PENNE WITH CHICKEN MEATBALLS AND ZUCCHINI

FRENCH ONION PENNE WITH CHICKEN MEATBALLS AND ZUCCHINI


The Caramelized Onion Sauce:

1 stick butter

3 pounds onions, sliced into thin rounds (about 4-5 large onions)

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ teaspoons salt

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

2 tablespoons cornstarch

½ cup red wine

2 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, stemmed (plus stems for garnish)


The Meatballs:

2 slices white bread

1/3 cup milk

2 pounds ground chicken

2 eggs, beaten

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 cup shredded Jarlsberg cheese (or good quality Swiss)

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

½ cup Italian breadcrumbs

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons olive oil


The Rest:

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 medium to large zucchini, cut into ½” thick half moons

1 pound penne pasta, cooked al dente to package directions

4 cups baby spinach leaves, packed

2 cups shredded Jarlsberg cheese (or good quality Swiss), plus more for garnish


To caramelize the onions, melt the butter in a large cast iron or oven proof skillet over medium low heat.  Add the onions, sugar, and salt to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently until the onions are soft and golden brown, about 35-45 minutes.  You do not want to sear or brown the onions.  This a slow cook that will create soft, sweet caramel colored onions.


While the onions slowly cook (remember to stir occasionally), make your meatballs.  Rip the bread slices into small pieces and put them in a large bowl.  Pour the milk over the bread and mix with your fingers until all of the milk is absorbed and the bread is mushy.  Add the remaining meatball ingredients, except the olive oil, to the bowl and massage everything together with your hands until well combined.  You do not want to over mix, but be sure that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the meat.  Form the mixture into golf ball size balls (should make about 24 meatballs).


Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat and add the meatballs.  You may need to work in batches, so you don’t overcrowd the pan.  Brown them on all sides, turning with tongs.  Remove to a plate when they are browned – note they may not be cooked through but will continue cooking in the sauce.


Don’t forget to keep stirring those onions until they are soft, silky, golden brown and caramelized!

In the same frying pan that you made the meatballs, add the additional 2 tablespoons of olive, chopped garlic, and zucchini.  Cook over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is soft and lightly browned, about 3-4 minutes.  Set aside


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.


When your onions are done, add the Worcestershire and corn starch to them and stir until the cornstarch is dissolved into the onions.  Turn the heat to medium high and add the red wine and beef stock.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce begins to thicken and turn brown.  Add the fresh thyme and continue cooking for 3- 4 minutes until a rich silky sauce has formed.


Add the meatballs into the sauce and stir to coat.  Cook for 1 minute.  Top with the 1 ½ cups of the shredded cheese and place the pan in the oven.  Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the cheese is melted and lightly browned on top.  Note – if you do not have an oven-proof skillet, you can transfer the meatballs in the sauce to a 9” x 13” baking dish and top with the cheese to bake.

Remove the meatballs from the oven and test one… because you won’t be able to resist.  Then, add the zucchini, pasta, spinach, and remaining ½ cup of shredded cheese to the pan.  Toss everything together until the spinach is just wilted and the cheese is melted.


Serve in bowls and garnish with more cheese and thyme sprigs.  DEVOUR!!!

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