You guys! This is my last recipe of 2018 using the fantastic cheddars from my partners at Tillamook. I’ve done 16 recipes now highlighting their cheddar on the blog this year, and now I’m rounding it out with the BEST chicken meatball recipe swimming in a delicious pumpkin tomato vodka sauce. Holy yum! This turned out so delicious, with it’s hearty sweetness from the pumpkin to the brightness from the tomatoes and lemon. It has all the flavors you crave to get through the Winter months.
Truth be told, the number one inspiration I had for this dish was a product that I saw on the shelves of a grocery store. It was a harvest pasta sauce and had me dreaming about a thick and tomatoey sauce for our semi-monthly pasta night we have. I bought the jar, some black pepper and lemon pappardelle pasta, and the ingredients to potentially recreate this from scratch. I mean, how hard could a pumpkin tomato vodka sauce be for the first time?
It was actually really easy.
Canned pumpkin, roasted tomatoes and garlic in olive oil, plus some herbs, a shot of vodka, and we were in business.
The best thing about this dish were the crumbly, succulent meatballs that were as big as my fist. The Tillamook Sharp White Cheddar not only helped act as a filler for the meatballs, but it also gave this dish a delightful nuttiness. You don’t even need additional cheddar on top when you serve this dish, although it never hurts to sneak a few shreds on anyway.
When it comes to meatballs, I tend to prefer a ground chicken meatball. I like the lightness it adds to an already heavy dish like a bowl of pasta but you can sub this with traditional ground beef if you’d prefer that.
I hope you guys get to try this recipe or one of the other ones I’ve created with Tillamook over the last 7 months. If you want to see if Tillamook is supplied near you, head to this link to locate it and make sure to ask your local grocer if they can get it in store. The more you request it, the easier it is for them to expand to your location!
You’re going to need these items on hand to recreate this recipe at home
- 1 pound of lean ground chicken
- 10 large leaves of sage minced
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon fennel
- 1 egg
- 1/3 cup of breadcrumbs
- 1 ½ cups of Tillamook Sharp White Cheddar Cheese
- 12 ounces of Fresh tomatoes
- 1/3 cup of olive oil
- 8 cloves of garlic sliced in half
- 1/3 cup of pureed canned pumpkin
- 1/3 of a large sweet onion diced
- ½ teaspoon of dried basil
- ½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes
- 1/3 cup of heavy cream
- 2 ounces of plain vodka
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 400 °F.
In a small bowl, a large mixing bowl, combine your ground chicken, egg, sage, spices, breadcrumbs, and cheddar. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
Using your hands, mold the ground chicken mixture into spheres and place equally spaced into a greased cast iron. You should be left with 8 meatballs.
Before you bake the meatballs, cook the meatballs on the stove top in the cast iron for 3-5 minutes on each side getting a nice sear on the exterior. Once they’ve browned, set aside and prepare your sauce.
Place your tomatoes, garlic olive oil, salt and pepper into a non-stick baking dish in a 400 °F oven. Cook for 15 minutes until the edges of the tomato have blackened and blistered.
In a blender, combine your roasted tomatoes, garlic, and the sauce it cooked in and blend until smooth. Then add the pumpkin, onion, basil, and spices and blend until incorporated.
Add your cream and pulse to combine. Finally slowly stream in the vodka and blend until smooth.
To finish the meatballs, pour the sauce around the edges of the meatballs in the cast iron and place into the oven to finish baking the meatballs for 10-15 minutes until the chicken has cooked all the way through.
Serve over pappardelle pasta or any other thick noodle and finish with a few more shreds of Tillamook Sharp White Cheddar.
If you plan on serving this with pasta, reserve some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce and toss the sauce with the noodles to combine. A few zests of lemon may also help brighten up the dish and add some freshness.