Chicken Florentine Meatballs Recipe

Chicken Florentine feels like a dish with obvious origins, especially with the popularity of similarly creamy Tuscan chicken dishes across the internet. The truth is, though, that the famous chicken-and-spinach dish that so commonly graces banquet hall tables likely has nothing to do with Italy at all. The origins of the method are murky, but the French lay claim to the style and cemented it into their culinary history with the help of chef Auguste Escoffier. Like many French dishes, the preparation is simple but precise, offering up a bed of creamy, butter-melted spinach, a tender main protein, and an oozing topping of cheesy mornay sauce made from a roux and finished with Parmesan and Gruyère. The basic recipe has been adapted in hundreds of ways, from eggs Benedict to poached sole, but it never strays far from the spinach-and-cheese sauce that makes the dish so delicious. In this recipe written with developer Michelle McGlinn, the spinach is folded into the meatball and then coated in mornay for an all-in-one Florentine. Delicious with pasta, with rice, or on its own, this is an easy dish you'll want in your weekly dinner rotation.

Gather the ingredients for chicken Florentine meatballs

To create the meatballs, you'll need ground chicken, garlic, breadcrumbs, an egg, spinach, and grated Parmesan. Grated Parmesan folds into meatballs better than shredded, which melts more smoothly into cream sauces. You can buy pre-grated and pre-shredded Parmesan, or you can buy one block of cheese and do the grating and shredding yourself using a microplane and box grater. You'll also need shredded Gruyère, as well as milk, butter, flour, an onion, cloves, a bay leaf, salt, and some pepper. 

Step 1: Heat up the oven

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Step 2: Combine spinach and garlic

Combine the garlic and spinach in a food processor.

Step 3: Chop

Pulse until finely chopped.

Step 4: Combine the meatball ingredients

Combine the spinach mixture with the chicken, breadcrumbs, egg, grated Parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

Step 5: Mix the ingredients

Using your hands, mix until well combined.

Step 6: Form into meatballs

Form the mixture into 1-inch balls.

Step 7: Prepare for baking

Spray a wire rack with cooking spray and place on a sheet tray. Arrange meatballs on the wire rack.

Step 8: Bake

Bake for 25–30 minutes, until cooked through to 165 F.

Step 9: Begin the mornay sauce

While the meatballs cook, melt the butter in a deep skillet.

Step 10: Whisk together the roux

Whisk in the flour until a light brown paste forms.

Step 11: Combine with milk

Whisk in the milk, stirring continuously to remove lumps.

Step 12: Add the onion and bay leaf

Pierce the cloves into the onion, then place the onion and bay leaf into the milk.

Step 13: Simmer

Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until thick, about 10 minutes.

Step 14: Strain

Remove the onion and bay leaf and strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh sieve.

Step 15: Stir in the cheeses

Return the milk mixture to the skillet on low heat. Stir in the shredded cheeses until smooth.

Step 16: Season the sauce

Season the mornay sauce with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste.

Step 17: Add the meatballs

Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and stir to coat.

Step 18: Serve

Serve warm.

What is the mornay sauce used in chicken Florentine meatballs?

If you've ever made mac and cheese from scratch, mornay sauce will feel familiar. Put simply, mornay is a cheese sauce with a base of butter, flour, and milk. More specifically, mornay is a type of béchamel, which is one of the five mother sauces of French cuisine. Classically, mornay is made with Gruyère, a sharp, earthy cheese, and Parmesan, which adds a nutty, salty flavor. They aren't your typical mac and cheese choices, which is why you don't hear mornay when referring to the elbow-shaped noodles. Instead, mornay is used over eggs, drizzled over fish, or mixed with spinach, as seen in typical Florentine. It's a rich sauce that pairs well with delicate foods, transforming them into flavor powerhouses. If you can't find Gruyère, you can stray from a classic mornay and opt instead for white cheddar, fontina, or gouda, or replace it with cream cheese. And, if you really, really love spinach? Double up and add it to the mornay, too.

What is the best way to serve chicken Florentine meatballs?

Chicken Florentine meatballs can be served on their own, but because they make up a simple dish of meat and cheese, they're best paired with carbs — try pasta, rice, or bread. Our favorite way to serve this take on Florentine is with pasta: Boil fettuccine or linguine until al dente, then add the noodles to the mornay sauce and toss to coat. For a more elegant presentation, swirl the noodles on a plate, add the meatballs on top, and drizzle with mornay. The result is a funky, rich, and filling alfredo. You can also do this with small pasta shapes, like rotini or fusilli.

While the spinach is cleverly hidden inside the meatballs, this chicken Florentine is otherwise lacking vegetable options that would make it a full meal. We suggest pairing this dish with vegetables such as broccolini, broccoli rabe, green beans, and roasted carrots — vegetables with a lot of flavor that can balance the richness of the creamy mornay.

Chicken Florentine Meatballs Recipe
4.8 from 6 ratings
This recipe takes the basic recipe for classic French Florentine and outfits it for spinach-and-chicken meatballs doused in traditional mornay sauce.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
40
minutes
Servings
4
servings
chicken florentine meatballs in skillet
Total time: 55 minutes
Ingredients
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup packed baby spinach
  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • ¼ cup breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ + ½ teaspoon salt, divided
  • ½ + ½ teaspoon black pepper, divided
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ¼ cup flour
  • 2 ½ cups milk
  • ½ small yellow onion
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ¼ cup shredded Gruyère cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Combine the garlic and spinach in a food processor.
  3. Pulse until finely chopped.
  4. Combine the spinach mixture with the chicken, breadcrumbs, egg, grated Parmesan, ½ teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.
  5. Using your hands, mix until well combined.
  6. Form the mixture into 1-inch balls.
  7. Spray a wire rack with cooking spray and place on a sheet tray. Arrange meatballs on the wire rack.
  8. Bake for 25–30 minutes, until cooked through to 165 F.
  9. While the meatballs cook, melt the butter in a deep skillet.
  10. Whisk in the flour until a light brown paste forms.
  11. Whisk in the milk, stirring continuously to remove lumps.
  12. Pierce the cloves into the onion, then place the onion and bay leaf into the milk.
  13. Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, until thick, about 10 minutes.
  14. Remove the onion and bay leaf and strain the milk mixture through a fine mesh sieve.
  15. Return the milk mixture to the skillet on low heat. Stir in the shredded cheeses until smooth.
  16. Season the mornay sauce with the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and pepper, or to taste.
  17. Add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and stir to coat.
  18. Serve warm.
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