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Mini Chicken Sausage Meatballs with Gnocchi and Tomato Sauce

This hearty dish is a creative alternative to traditional spaghetti and meatballs. The Peppery Salad (recipe included, below) completes the meal.

Serve with Penache Caramel Ice Cream Balls and Coffee Granita.


  • Salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken
  • 1 tablespoon grill seasoning, such as McCormick brand Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seed (1/3 palmful)
  • 1/4 cup soft sundried tomatoes
  • 1 cup fresh basil (20 leaves), divided
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ( EVOO), plus some for drizzling
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces)
  • 1 can tomato sauce (8 ounces)
  • Pepper
  • 1 pound gnocchi (potato dumplings), found in refrigerated or frozen foods section of grocery store
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Romano cheese (a couple of handfuls), plus some to pass at table
  • Crusty bread, to pass at table
  • Peppery Salad (recipe follows)
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Peppery Salad:

  • 2 teaspoons steak seasoning, such as McCormick brand Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (eyeball it)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil ( EVOO)
  • 6 large radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1 green Italian cubanelle pepper, seeded and very thinly sliced
  • 4 scallions, chopped on an angle
  • 1 cup chopped pickled green beans, available on condiment aisle, or giardiniera, drained well
  • 2 bunches arugula (6 cups), cleaned and trimmed, coarsely chopped
  • A handful of flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
  • Salt
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Bring a pot of water to a boil for the gnocchi. Salt the boiling water, but wait a while to drop in the gnocchi.

Pre-heat the oven to 400°F.

Place the chicken in a medium size bowl with the grill seasoning and fennel seed. Pile the sundried tomatoes on top of each other in small stacks, then slice into thin strips. Coarsely chop the thin strips and add to the bowl. Stack the basil leaves together, then roll them up into a log. Shred the basil by thinly slicing the log. Add the half of the basil to the bowl.

Drizzle EVOO all over the bowl. Mix the chicken together and roll into mini balls, 1 1/2 inches across, then arrange on a nonstick cookie sheet. Bake at 400°F for 10-12 minutes, or until firm and lightly golden.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat. To the hot skillet, add EVOO, about two turns of the pan, then the garlic, onion and crushed red pepper flakes. Cook until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce and season sauce with salt and pepper.

Drop the gnocchi in the boiling water and cook for five minutes, or according to the package directions.

Stir the basil into the sauce to wilt it. Drain the gnocchi and arrange on a platter. Remove the balls from the oven and add to the gnocchi, equally distributing them. Sprinkle cheese over the meatballs and hot dumplings, then top with the sauce by carefully ladling it all over and around the platter. Gently toss to combine, then serve with crusty bread and Peppery Salad.

To make the Peppery Salad, place the steak seasoning and vinegar in the bottom of a small bowl. Whisk in the EVOO and let the dressing stand for 10-15 minutes.

Add the radishes, peppers, pickled vegetables, arugula and parsley to a salad bowl. When you’re ready to serve the salad, dress it, toss and season it with salt, if necessary, to taste.

Rachael Ray