One Pan Baked Pesto Orzo with Chicken Meatballs


All I can say is WOW do I have the coziest, most flavorful one pan meal for you. After my family (and the whole AK community) fell in love with this One Pan Tomato Basil Baked Orzo I knew I wanted to create another version with a new, bright flavor combination.

This new one pan chicken meatball pesto orzo is packed with your favorite basil pesto cooked right in the meatballs and orzo. The meatballs get perfectly juicy from shredded zucchini, which adds an easy boost of veggies, too! Golden, tender mushrooms add a wonderful savory element, and the whole dish gets topped with glorious, melty mozzarella cheese.

Just LOOK at that epic cheese pull. This one’s great for customizing and boosting the veggies, and is the perfect meal for busy weeks that the whole family will love.

chicken meatball pesto orzo in a skillet

Ingredients in this chicken meatball pesto orzo

This incredible one pan pesto orzo with chicken meatballs is bursting with savory flavors and packed with nutritious veggies and protein. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:

  • For the meatballs: the pesto chicken meatballs are made with lean ground chicken, a whole shredded zucchini for extra moisture and a boost of veggies, panko bread crumbs, an egg, basil pesto, lemon zest, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.
  • For the mushrooms: we’ll also be cooking down some mushrooms with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh garlic.
  • For the orzo: you’ll cook the orzo in low sodium chicken broth, milk, more basil pesto, lemon juice & zest, salt, Italian seasoning, and melty mozzarella cheese.
  • To garnish: top this beautiful pan with fresh basil, freshly grated parmesan cheese, and red pepper flakes for a little heat.

ingredients for pesto chicken meatballs in a bowl

Make this baked pesto orzo your own

There are a few simple additions and swaps you can make in this pesto chicken orzo to customize it:

  • Go vegetarian. Feel free to skip the meatballs and start at step 5 to make a lovely baked pesto orzo with mushrooms! Add a can of chickpeas for an extra boost of protein.
  • Choose a new protein. You could also cube and sear chicken breast, or add sliced, cooked chicken sausage, ground, cooked Italian sausage, or even a can of tuna.
  • Add extra veggies. Get even more veggies in by cooking sliced zucchini, spinach, or bell pepper in with the mushrooms.

cooking meatballs for pesto chicken orzo

Can I make it gluten free?

Sure! Simply use gluten free orzo or your favorite gluten free short pasta, and use gluten free bread crumbs in the meatballs.

cooking mushrooms in a skillet

Pick your pesto

You can feel free to use your favorite store-bought pesto, but I think my Cilantro Pistachio Pesto would be amazing in this baked orzo recipe! When choosing a pesto brand be sure to check the label in case you need this dish to be nut free.

one pan baked pesto orzo with chicken meatballs in a skillet

How to make this one pan chicken meatball pesto orzo

  1. Form the meatballs. You’ll start by shredding your zucchini, squeezing out all of the moisture with a paper towel or cheesecloth, and mixing it with the rest of the meatball ingredients. Use clean hands to form 16 golf ball-sized meatballs.
  2. Brown the meatballs. Add olive oil to a deep oven-safe skillet and brown your meatballs in batches, placing them on a plate once they’re done browning.
  3. Cook the mushrooms. In the same skillet, cook your mushrooms in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, then stir in the fresh garlic.
  4. Cook the orzo. Stir the chicken broth into the pan, then stir in the milk, pesto, lemon juice and zest, orzo, and seasonings. Bring the orzo to a simmer, then nestle the meatballs in the pan and transfer it to the oven to fully cook. Remove it from the oven, top with mozzarella, and bake again for 5 minutes.
  5. Garnish & serve. Once the cheese is nice and bubbly, garnish with fresh basil, parmesan, and red pepper flakes, then dig in!

pesto orzo with chicken meatballs in a skillet

Make the meatballs ahead of time

You can easily prep these pesto chicken meatballs 1 day ahead of time so that all you have to do is brown them and cook them with the orzo the next day. Simply mix and form the meatballs, then place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Tightly cover the meatballs with plastic wrap and place them in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.

baked pesto orzo with chicken meatballs on a plate

Storing tips

Store any leftover pesto orzo with chicken meatballs in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4-5 days. Simply reheat in the microwave.

More one pan meals

Get all of my one pan meals here!

I hope you love this chicken meatball pesto orzo recipe! If you make it be sure to leave a comment and a rating so I know how you liked it. Enjoy, xo!

The
Ambitious Kitchen
Cookbook

125 Ridiculously Good For You, Sometimes Indulgent, and Absolutely Never Boring Recipes for Every Meal of the Day

One Pan Baked Pesto Orzo with Chicken Meatballs

pesto orzo with chicken meatballs in a skillet

Prep Time 25 minutes

Cook Time 30 minutes

Total Time 55 minutes

Serves6 servings

Delicious melt-in-your-mouth pesto chicken meatballs made with shredded zucchini for a boost of nutrition. Paired alongside an incredible creamy pesto orzo with vitamin D packed mushrooms and brightness from lemon! Get your veggies and nutritious in, all while having a comforting well-rounded meal.

Ingredients

  • For the meatballs:
  • 1 small to medium zucchini
  • 1 pound 93% lean ground chicken (or turkey)
  • ½ cup panko breadcrumbs, gluten free if desired
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons your favorite basil pesto
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • Optional: ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • For the mushrooms:
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound baby bella mushrooms (or a mix of mushrooms of choice), coarsely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • For the creamy pesto orzo:
  • 2 ½ cups low sodium chicken broth⁣
  • 1 cup milk of choice (I recommend whole milk or 2%)
  • cup your favorite basil pesto⁣
  • 1 pound uncooked orzo⁣*
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • ½ lemon, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt⁣
  • ½ teaspoon italian seasoning⁣
  • 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • To garnish:
  • ¼ cup fresh julienned basil
  • Freshly grated/shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Red pepper flakes

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

  • Shred the zucchini: Use a cheese grater to shred your zucchini. Measure out 1 heaping cup of shredded zucchini, then place shredded zucchini in a paper towel or cheese cloth and squeeze out ALL of the moisture/water. This is very important! Transfer shredded zucchini to a large bowl and discard the excess zucchini water.

  • Form the meatballs: In the large bowl with the shredded zucchini, add the ground chicken, breadcrumbs, egg, basil pesto, lemon zest, italian seasoning, garlic powder, red pepper flakes (if using), kosher salt and black pepper. Use clean hands to mix until well-incorporated and form into 16 golf ball sized meatballs. (You can make the meatballs up to 1 day in advance. Place meatballs on a large plate or baking sheet lined with parchment paper, then cover well with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until ready to cook.)

  • Cook the meatballs: Place a large deep oven-safe skillet over medium-high heat and add in olive oil. Add the meatballs and brown on all sides. This should only take about 6 minutes total. Do not worry about cooking them all the way through, they will finish cooking in the oven. You may need to do this in batches, depending on how many meatballs you can fit in your skillet without overcrowding them. When the meatballs are done browning, transfer them to a plate and set aside. Keep the heat in the pan.

  • Cook the mushrooms: Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan and then add in the mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Stir occasionally until all liquid absorbs and mushrooms have cooked down and start to turn brown and caramelize on the edges, 5 to 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute.

  • Cook the orzo: Slowly add the chicken broth to the pan while scraping up any yummy bits from the bottom of the pan, then stir in the milk, basil pesto, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir in the orzo, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt, and Italian seasoning until well combined. Bring mixture to a gentle simmer. Nestle the meatballs on top of the orzo then immediately transfer to the oven and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until the orzo is cooked. Remove from the oven, sprinkle mozzarella cheese all over the top and bake for 5 more minutes or until the cheese is melted and slightly golden brown in places. Remove from the oven and top with fresh julienned basil, parmesan cheese and extra red pepper flakes, if desired.

Recipe Notes

*To make gluten free: use gluten free bread crumbs and gluten free orzo or your favorite short gluten free pasta.
See the full post for tips, tricks, and ways to customize this dish!

Nutrition

Serving: 1serving (based on 6)Calories: 606calCarbohydrates: 57.3gProtein: 36.5gFat: 27.5gSaturated Fat: 9.1gFiber: 10.6gSugar: 9.6g



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