Soft chicken meatballs and orzo in a thick, rich tomato sauce. This is what comfort food is all about!
Today I’m going to show you a nifty little trick to cooking meatballs and orzo. No frying pan needed! Follow me…
Chicken meatballs are a nice switch-up from beef and pork meatballs. They come out super soft and juicy, plus they’re really easy to make!
What kind of chicken should I use?
I highly recommend using boneless skinless chicken thighs and grinding them up in a food processor. A local butcher can easily do this for you too. Thighs are much fattier and are more flavoursome than breasts.
Can I just use store-bought ground chicken?
You will find chicken mince in most shops, but I find it ranges quite widely in quality. It’s also usually low in fat and/or chicken breast. If you are going with store-bought, just make sure it’s unseasoned. Also, chicken mince from the shops can sometimes be watery, so you may need more breadcrumbs to mould into meatballs.
Can I make the meatballs ahead of time?
If you want to get ahead of the game you can certainly prepare the meatballs ahead of time (not bake ahead). I’ve added more on this in the recipe card below 😊.
Process shots: add chicken thighs to food processor (photo 1), pulse until it resembles ground meat (photo 2), add to bowl with breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, salt & pepper (photo 3), mix to combine (photo 4), scoop out chunks (photo 5), roll into balls (photo 6).
Meatballs and Orzo
Okay, so here’s the trick. We’re going to bake the meatballs on a wire rack ABOVE the orzo. That way, any fat/flavour that drips out of the meatballs will fall straight into the orzo. Plus, with the meatballs being on a wire rack, the hot air will better circulate them and cook them more evenly.
Underneath the meatballs is going to be the orzo in a simple, yet rich and delicious tomato sauce. The orzo will be uncooked and will cook in the sauce. We’re using uncooked orzo for 3 main reasons:
- The orzo soaks in all that gorgeous flavour as it cooks.
- The starch from the orzo will thicken the tomato sauce and give it a silky/glossy finish.
- Less washing up.
The base of the sauce is a combination of tomato passata and chicken stock.
Process shots: add onion and oil to baking dish (photo 1), bake then stir in garlic (photo 2), stir in tomato passata, stock, tomato puree, oregano and seasoning (photo 3), stir in uncooked orzo (photo 4), add meatballs on top with oil (photo 5), bake until meatballs are cooked (photo 6).
The meatballs will likely cook before the orzo does, so just remove them and keep them warm to one side. From there, just give the orzo a really good stir and bake it again until al dente.
What consistency should the orzo be?
You’re looking for the orzo to be about 90% cooked through, so still a teeny bit hard. The sauce should still be fairly saucy, although if for whatever reason it’s too thick, just add in a splash more hot water to thin out as needed.
From there, you’ll want to toss through heaps of fresh basil and finish with your meatballs!
Process shots: remove meatballs (photo 1), stir orzo (photo 2), bake again (photo 3), add basil (photo 4), stir to combine (photo 5), stir in meatballs (photo 6).
Serving Meatballs and Orzo
When it comes to serving, I recommend plenty of freshly grated parmesan! And yes me being me forgot to take a photo after the bucket of parmesan I served it with 🤣 I also like to serve up with any leftover parsley/basil I’ve got lurking about.
How many does this recipe serve?
Looking for another awesome meatball recipe? Check out my One Pot Meatballs and Rice!
Alrighty, let’s tuck into the full recipe for these baked chicken meatballs and orzo shall we?!
How to make Chicken Meatballs and Orzo (Full Recipe & Video)
Baked Chicken Meatballs and Orzo
- Food Processor & Spatula (for making ground chicken)
- Large Mixing Bowl (for mixing meatballs)
- 8x12" Baking Dish (for baking orzo)
- Wire Rack (for baking meatballs)
- Jug (for stock)
- Box Grater (for onion)
- Fine Cheese Grater (for parmesan)
- Paper Towels (for oiling wire rack)
Ingredients (check list):
- 1lb / 500g boneless skinless Chicken Thighs (see notes)
- 2/3 cup / 40g Panko Breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup / 40g freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/4 cup finely diced Fresh Parsley
- 1/2 medium Onion, grated on a box grated (save other half for sauce below)
- 1 clove of Garlic, finely grated/diced
- 1 Egg
- 1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
- 3/4 tsp Salt
- 1/4 tsp Black Pepper
- Oil Spray, as needed
- 2 cups / 400g Uncooked Orzo
- 1x 700g/25oz jar of Tomato Passata (strained/pureed tomatoes in US)
- 3 cups / 750ml hot Chicken Stock
- 2 tbsp Tomato Puree (tomato paste in US)
- 1 small bunch Fresh Basil, finely diced (1oz/30g)
- 1/2 medium Onion, finely diced
- 2 cloves of Garlic, finely diced
- 1/2 tsp Oregano
- 1/4 tsp EACH: Sugar, Salt (or salt to taste)
- 1/8 tsp Black Pepper, or to taste
- pinch of Chilli Flakes (optional)
- drizzle of Olive Oil
- freshly grated Parmesan, to serve
- Add chicken thighs to a food processor and pulse in short bursts until it resembles ground meat, scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed. Scoop out into a large mixing bowl and add breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, onion, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, egg, salt & pepper. Use your hands to combine until everything is evenly distributed (don't mix it into oblivion or it'll come out tough/dry).
- Oil a wire rack. I find this easiest with paper towels. Use a 1 tbsp measuring spoon to scoop out 20 chunks of meat and place them on the wire rack. One by one roll the chunks into meatballs. Liberally spray all over with oil.
- Add finely diced onion to an 8x12" baking dish and combine with a drizzle of oil. Place in the oven at 200C/390F for 8-10mins, or until soft & lightly golden. Add in garlic and allow it to sizzle for a minute or so, then pour in passata. Swill out the jar with ~1/4cup water and add that in too, then pour in chicken stock. Add tomato puree (paste), oregano, sugar, salt, pepper & chilli flakes if you're using them. Whisk to combine then stir in orzo.
- Add the meatballs & wire rack on top, then carefully transfer everything to the oven. Bake for 20-25mins, or until the meatballs are golden brown and piping hot through the centre. Remove the meatballs and cover to one side, then give the orzo a good stir, scraping up any orzo stuck to the dish as needed.
- Place back in the oven for another 5-10mins, or until the orzo is al dente. It should still be fairly saucy, with the orzo 90% cooked through. Stir through basil and check for seasoning, then toss in the meatballs.
- Serve up with plenty of parmesan and any leftover parsley/basil you've got!
Quick 1 min demo!
Your Private Notes:
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