Baked mini chicken meatballs with tomato cream sauce and orecchiette pasta. This one-pot wonder meal is a family favorite!
Chicken Meatball Pasta
Mini chicken meatballs tossed in tomato cream sauce with orecchiette pasta. Or as my kids call it, “elephant ear pasta.” Because orecchiette pasta does resemble a small ear and what kid wouldn’t find that amusing?
This is the perfect pasta dinner for busy weeknights. Fairly easy to make with simple ingredients and easy swaps too. Plus leftovers store really nicely in the fridge. If that is you have any leftovers.
The star of the recipe just has to be my chicken meatballs. These meatballs are incredibly juicy, tender, and just fall apart good. They’re quickly broiled in the oven and then finished off on the stovetop in tomato cream sauce with the pasta.
Ingredients for Chicken Meatball Pasta Bake
You’ll need the following ingredients to make meatballs in cream sauce with pasta:
- panko breadcrumbs
- ground chicken
- sour cream
Pasta and Sauce
- orecchiette pasta or sub with other short-cut pasta
- pasta sauce
- heavy cream or half and half (see note in recipe card)
- fresh mozzarella balls
- fresh parsley or basil
- fresh parmesan, optional
Frequently Asked Substitutions
Even though this recipe is already simple enough, you can make it even more adaptable with some ingredient swaps to suit what you have on hand.
- Panko Breadcrumbs – technically you can swap out the Panko for the regular breadcrumbs. However, the meatballs turn out more dense with regular breadcrumbs.
- Milk – dairy free milk, like almond milk will work.
- Sour Cream – you can substitute with mayo or plain greek yogurt.
- Orecchiette Pasta – just about any short-cut pasta can be used in this recipe.
- Pasta Sauce – I love tomato basil sauce, especially from Rao’s but plain pasta sauce is great too.
- Cream – I’ve made this dish with both heavy cream and half and half and both can totally work. Heavy cream is definitely going to be more rich and creamier whereas half and half a little thinned out but still delicious. I do not recommend plain milk.
- Mozzarella – I like to use the mini mozzarella balls also known as “pearls” for this pasta dish but I understand that they might be hard to find for some. So you can use the bigger mozzarella balls (known as Ciliegine). Just cut them in half before adding to the pasta. Or buy a fresh ball of mozzarella, chop it up, measure out 1/2 cup and use that.
How to Make Chicken Meatballs in Cream Sauce
Make Baked Mini Meatballs – My secret to moist and tender chicken meatballs is to pack the ground chicken with shredded onion, Panko soaked in milk, and sour cream. They turn out amazing every single time!
- To make the meatballs, you let the Panko soak in milk for few minutes, then add the rest of the meatball ingredients to the Panko. Let stand for 5-10 minutes and roll into 1 1/4-inch meatballs.
- Place on a baking sheet and broil for 4-5 minutes or until lightly golden. Make sure not to cook them all the way through so they can finish cooking in the sauce.
Cook the Pasta – While the meatballs are in the oven, get going on the pasta.
- Follow the directions on the back of the box for cooking the pasta until al dente.
- My biggest tip would be to thoroughly season the water with salt before adding the pasta. Your dish will turn out way more flavorful if the pasta is adequately seasoned from the start.
Prepare the Sauce – Start on the sauce when the meatballs are out of the oven and pasta is cooked. The sauce comes together quickly so it helps to have everything ready before starting.
- But all you do it heat the pasta sauce in a deep skillet. Stir in the cream and bring to a simmer.
- Then add in the meatballs, tossing to coat with the sauce. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until the sauce is thickened and meatballs are cooked through.
- Stir in cooked pasta and some of the reserved pasta water. Give it a couple good stirs and add the mozzarella. Garnish with parsley or basil before serving. I also like to add a sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese but it is optional.
Serve this chicken meatball pasta with a green salad for a complete meal. Here are a few favorites:
More Meatball Recipes
- Mini Asian Chicken Meatballs
- Turkey Pesto Meatballs
- Sheet Pan Chicken Parmesan Meatballs
- Crockpot Sesame Meatballs
Baked mini chicken meatballs with tomato cream sauce and orecchiette pasta. This one pot wonder meal is a family favorite!
- 1/2 cup plain Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1/2 lb. ground chicken
- 1 egg
- 2 Tbsp. grated white onion
- 1 Tbsp. fresh minced parsley
- 1 Tbsp. sour cream
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. black pepper
Pasta + Sauce
- 6 oz. dry orecchiette pasta, about 2 cups
- 1 cup Tomato Basil pasta sauce (I love Rao’s brand)
- 1/2 cup heavy cream or half and half
- 1/2 cup mini mozzarella balls (“pearls”)
- Fresh chopped parsley or basil
- Freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish, optional
- In a bowl, combine Panko with milk. Let stand for about 5 minutes or until milk is absorbed. To the Panko, add the chicken, egg, onion, parsley, sour cream, salt and pepper. Mix the mixture by hand just until combined. The mixture should be quite wet. Let rest for 10 minutes before forming into balls.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside. If using aluminum foil, lightly spray with non-stick spray. You’ll also want to turn on your oven broiler so it has time to pre-heat.
- Lightly oil the palm of your hands with olive oil, form the chicken mixture into 1 1/4-inch meatballs and place on the prepared baking sheet.
- Broil the meatballs for 4-5 minutes on the middle rack or until lightly golden on the outside. Keep an eye on them as you don’t want them fully cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Pasta + Sauce
- Cook pasta al dente in salted water according to package directions. Reserve 1/3 cup of pasta water and drain the rest.
- In a large deep skillet, heat pasta sauce over medium heat until warm and lightly bubbling around the edges. Stir in cream and bring to a light simmer.
- Add meatballs tossing to coat with the sauce. Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until the sauce has thickened slightly and meatballs are cooked through. Meatballs should be super moist, tender, and white on the inside.
- Stir in cooked pasta to the sauce and the reserved pasta water. Give it couple stirs with a spoon and then add the mozzarella balls.
- Garnish with fresh herbs and Parmesan cheese, if desired.
- Pasta: You can substitute any short-cut pasta for the orecchiette. The amount is the same.
- Cream: I’ve made this dish with heavy cream and half and half. Heavy cream will give you smooth and velvety sauce. Half and half produces slightly thinned out sauce but tastes just as good.
- Pasta Water: Adding starchy water to the sauce will produce creamy and silky sauce with least amount of oil on the surface, plus it will help the sauce adhere to the pasta. Start off with 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water and add more if needed.
- Mozzarella: I usually find the mini mozzarella balls next to fresh mozzarella. You can substitute Ciliegine, which are slightly bigger mozzarella balls. Just cut them in half before adding to the pasta. Or you can use a ball of fresh mozzarella. Chop it and measure out 1/2 cup.
- For more substitutions, see “frequently asked substitutions” in the body of the post.
Keywords: pasta, one pot, easy, weeknight, family friendly, chicken meatballs in cream sauce