Chicken Meatballs with Orzo and Peppers
When I want a meal everyone will enjoy, Chicken Meatballs with Orzo and bell peppers is one of the first recipes that springs to mind. The meatballs are tender and packed with flavor, yet very kid-friendly, while the light tomato sauce is bursting with notes of garlic and cozy Italian herbs.
When my children grow up and come home from college and list their favorite meals that they want me to make, I hope this is among them — that’s how much I love it! Delicious chicken meatballs packed with Parmesan and Panko, light yet flavorful tomato sauce, ribbons of sweet bell peppers, and tiny jewels of orzo: I adore it all.
Why We Love This Recipe
- Tastes like it simmered all day. This takes a little longer than some of my recipes — about 40 minutes for me, start to finish — but you are rewarded with a meal that we think tastes like it simmered away far longer than that. This is achieved by layering flavors: ie., browning the meatballs, sautéeing the peppers, then making the sauce and finishing the meatballs all in one pan.
- Kid-friendly meatballs. These meatballs are beautifully seasoned and super tender, but have no discernible “chunks” or flecks of anything colorful that might prompt children to object. IYKYK. Ha!
- Full dinner, one bowl. You have your protein, carbohydrate, and some respectable vegetable action all simmered together in one neat package. You can always add a salad or a simple steamed veggie on the side, too, but if you call it a night at these bowls, I say you’re doing pretty darn well.
Ingredients & Substitution Notes
- Ground chicken. Ground turkey is a great swap.
- Two bell peppers. Any color. Use a mix for fun and color variation.
- Egg. For binding the meatball mixture.
- Panko. You can substitute regular breadcrumbs if needed, but if you’re shopping I highly recommend adding panko to your cart. They are a special type of crumb made from crustless white bread that is flaked then dried. Panko’s unique texture helps produce light and crisp foods. You’ll often see it recommended for everything from fried foods to meatballs and meatloaf, so don’t worry about having opportunities to use the whole package!
- Grated Parmesan. This will go in the meatballs and also is very delicious sprinkled on top of finished bowls.
- Garlic powder, onion powder, Italian seasoning, and kosher salt. Using ground spices keeps these meatballs perfectly smooth and also extremely quick and easy to make.
- Orzo. World’s best pasta shape; there, I said it.
- Butter and olive oil.
- Splash of white wine or chicken broth. For deglazing the pan after browning the meatballs.
- Fresh garlic. For amping up the flavor in the sauce. Sub minced jarred garlic (1 teaspoon=1 clove) or additional garlic powder (1/4 teaspoon=1 clove) if needed.
- Tomato sauce. Humble but the base of a great sauce when seasoned appropriately.
How To Make Chicken Meatballs with Orzo
This recipe does involve a few steps, but I promise it’s worthwhile and very achievable for any home cook. Here are the basic steps; scroll down to the recipe card for exact times and a printable version.
- Make the meatball mixture. I like to mash this together with a fork to get things nice and even without overmixing, then portion it out into balls using a cookie scoop. Quick and easy.
- Cook the orzo.
- Brown meatballs in a large skillet slicked with olive oil. They do not need to be fully cooked through at this stage, just browned on most sides. Work in two batches if needed.
- Make the sauce. Once all the meatballs are browned and removed from the pan, deglaze the skillet quickly with a splash of white wine or broth, then use the same pan to sauté the peppers, then add garlic followed by tomato sauce and Italian seasoning.
- Let it all simmer together. Returning the meatballs to finish cooking in the sauce maximizes flavor and minimizes effort!
- Serve and enjoy! Pile plates or low bowls with portions of orzo, meatballs, and the sauce with peppers. A sprinkle of fresh parsley and Parmesan cheese makes the dreamiest finishing touch.
Keep your hands slightly damp with cool water while rolling meatballs into smooth balls. This minimizes the degree to which the mixture sticks to your hands, and helps get it as smooth as possible. I usually set the plate of portioned meatballs right next to the sink, leave the water running on a thin stream of cool water, and just roll quickly, passing my hands under the water every 3-4 meatballs. You can work quickly this way and avoid touching your faucet with icky hands!
Another great tip: when browning meatballs, let them cook on each side until they release easily when prodded gently with a spatula or tongs. Otherwise you risk all that nice golden crust sticking to the pan, where it would, in the case of this recipe, still add flavor to the sauce, but would not make your meatballs look especially pretty.
Storage & Reheating
We rarely have leftovers of this, but if we do, it’s a fight to see who gets them first!
- Storage: Place leftovers in any airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. (These are our favorite meal prep boxes for the fridge.) It’s fine to store the orzo, meatballs, and sauce all together, and this makes for easy packaging of individual portions.
- Warming: Reheat on 50% power in the microwave until warmed through. Using half power reduces the odds that chicken will dry out in the microwave; it’s worth the extra few seconds it takes.
Who doesn’t love meatballs for dinner!? Try these Greek chicken meatballs, baked turkey meatballs, or Smitten Kitchen-inspired sesame chicken meatballs next. We also love the meatball twist in this comforting chicken Parmesan pasta bake.
For a special change of pace, Za’atar-spiced lamb meatballs are pure perfection!
If you try these Chicken Meatballs with Orzo and Peppers, don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave a comment below. I love hearing how recipes turn out in your kitchen, and it helps other readers, too.
Chicken Meatballs with Orzo and Peppers
- 1 pound ground chicken see notes 1 and 2
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
- 3/4 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, and kosher salt
- 8 ounces orzo
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- 1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
- splash of white wine or chicken broth
- 2 bell peppers any color, seeded and sliced into thin strips
- 2-3 cloves garlic minced
- 15 ounce can tomato sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- parsley and more Parmesan to serve
- Combine the chicken, egg, Panko, Parmesan, garlic powder, onion powder, and salt in a large bowl. Mix with a fork until evenly blended, then roll into smooth meatballs.1 pound ground chicken, 1 egg, 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, 3/4 teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, and kosher salt
- Boil a large pot of water, add a generous pinch of salt, and cook orzo just to al dente, according to package directions. Drain the orzo, then toss it with butter and return to the pot to keep warm.8 ounces orzo, 2 Tablespoons butter
- While waiting for the water to boil, warm olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-high heat. When hot, add meatballs and cook until browned on most sides. (A great tip for browning meatballs is to let them cook on each side until they release easily when prodded with a spatula or tongs.) Work in two batches if needed. This usually takes me 6-8 minutes per batch to get them really evenly browned. Transfer meatballs to a plate and set aside.1-2 Tablespoons olive oil
- Add a splash of wine or broth to the pan, keeping it over medium-high heat, and scrape the bottom to release any browned bits. Add the sliced peppers and cook for 5-6 minutes, until the liquid is cooked off and the peppers soften a bit.splash of white wine or chicken broth, 2 bell peppers
- Add garlic and cook 30-60 seconds more, just until fragrant. Stir in the tomato sauce and Italian seasoning.2-3 cloves garlic, 15 ounce can tomato sauce, 3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- Nestle meatballs back into the sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 5-7 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through (165 degrees on an instant read thermometer) and the sauce thickens a bit.
- Serve bowls filled with orzo, meatballs, sauce, and peppers. Top with a sprinkle of parsley and Parmesan. Enjoy!parsley and more Parmesan
- Chicken: You can swap in ground turkey with no other changes. I’ve yet to test this with ground beef but there’s no reason it shouldn’t work well. You might need to drain a bit of fat from the pan after browning.
- Yield: For my family of 2 adults + 2 kids, I have started to make this recipe with 1.5x the meatballs, because my kids love them so much. To do this, I use 1.5 pounds of chicken, 1 whole egg + an extra egg yolk (discard or save the white for another purpose), 3/4 cup each Panko and Parmesan, and 1 heaping teaspoon each garlic powder, onion powder, and kosher salt. I keep the sauce, peppers, and orzo amounts the same.
- Recipe: Adapted from Pinch of Yum.