These Chicken and parmesan meatballs are deliciously quick. They are simple enough for a weeknight but tasty enough to impress.
The kitchen looked more like a garden shed, there was no refrigerator, or sink and all I could see was a wok in the corner. What on earth was I going to cook?
Years ago, I was traveling through Jogjakarta, Indonesia, with a friend. It was not as cosmopolitan then as it may be now and we were fresh off the plane. We struggled in the heat, to find somewhere to eat on our first day (there was no Internet in the olden days – before you ask). Throwing caution to the wind we saw a small restaurant, it looked clean, had plastic table cloths and cutlery, big pots of chilli on the tables, and a fridge full of cold drinks down the back. There was no menu so we helplessly tried to sign ” we’re gonna die if you don’t feed us” to order when a lady sitting at a table beside us suddenly piped up, “This is Nasi Campur, there is no menu you just eat what they cook. They give you rice and maybe two or three different dishes, simple. You want?”
Speaking perfect English, the friendly middle aged lady was on holiday. She was both midwife and Matron, in a maternity hospital, an hour outside Jogjakarta.
We chatted while eating and by the end of that meal she had convinced us to visit her saying a trip to the countryside was a must. The women in her care were young unmarried Mothers, hidden away until they gave birth. The girls were bored in their confinement and also most had never met anyone outside their villages. I suspect she wanted to also show that she had western friends and that she spoke English. These two things were quite a status symbol.
Our stay would be free in exchange for me cooking dinner. She desperately wanted the girls to be able to try some western food.
And so, here I was in front of the kitchen. OMG. The pressure
“So”, she said breezing into the kitchen
“What western foods will you make?
You want a chicken? I got chicken, just killed, now plucking.” she said drawing a finger across her neck and then imitating feather pulling.
The location was quite remote. There were no shops anywhere and I would imagine if there was a shop, in all likelihood, they would not have stocked western ingredients to cook with. There really was not much to work with. She seemed to think if I was western then I could magically come up with a menu.
The garden had herbs and some sweet potatoes, eshallots, garlic, tomatoes and leafy green spinach with long stems. There were fresh bean shoots, but of course, these are hardly a western style ingredient. No matter how I tried I couldn’t think of a way to cook a chicken western style besides roasting. That is hard to do with only a wok to work with.
So I hoped just changing the flavours for them a bit would be just as good as trying to make a western meal with no pasta, potatoes, cheese, cream, butter or anything to cook with apart from a wok. So I deboned the chicken flattening it and marinating it with garlic and lemon. I fried it whole in the wok then added lots of chopped tomato, sugar, local fish paste, and chokos from a vine in the garden. I finished it with chopped coriander- not too foreign but different enough. To this, I added lightly steam blanched sweet potatoes in a pot over coals before deep frying them. I served the spinach leaves fresh with bean shoots and finely diced washed eshallots and a coddled egg dressing made with garlic, oil, and lemon in the mortar and pestle. Done.
How I wish I had thought of this simple chicken dish. I didn’t have parmesan but I am sure I could have used some cold rice as a binder with egg. This is an Emma Knowles recipe from Gourmet magazine, that I have just tweaked a little. Needless to say, it is very quick and leaves quite an impression. It could become a weeknight runaway success.
Try these quick easy recipes too:
Chicken Parmesan Meatballs Spinach and Beans
- 500 gm chicken mince
- 60 gm Parmesan cheese grated
- 50 gm breadcrumbs preferably fresh or panko
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 tablespoon chopped thyme
- 750 ml chicken stock
- 60 ml olive oil 3 Tablespoons
- 100 gm onion finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic
- 400 gm cannelini beans 1 can drained pre-cooked
- 150 gm spinach cooked frozen or use a bunch of fresh picked
- 100 gm red capsicum very finely diced
- 1 Tablespoon Thyme finely chopped
- 25 gm parmesan Extra for serving
- Combine all of the ingredients for the meatballs, adding a pinch of salt. Roll into walnut sized balls, setting aside till all of the meat is rolled.
- Bring the stock to simmer in a medium sized pot that is not too wide, so the meatballs are covered with the stock. Simmer 4-6 minutes till they are cooked and are firm to touch. Spoon them out and set aside.
- Using another pot warm the oil and add the onion, garlic, capsicum and thyme and gently sweat till softened. Add the remaining poaching stock to the onions and simmer till reduced by nearly half. (There will be about 1 cup to 1 1/2 cups of stock remaining)
- Add the beans, chicken and spinach and simmer till they are all warmed through ( if you are using fresh spinach this will still be the same.
- Finish the dish with extra parmesan ( 2 tablespoons, or sprinkle on when serving). This can be served with pasta, barley or fregola, or just bread and salad