I have yet to dine at either A Voce or Locanda Verde, Andrew Carmellini’s wildly popular Manhattan restaurants, but they will certainly be on my hit-list the next time I’m in the Big Apple. I have become a big fan of Andrew’s cooking since buying his terrific cookbook, Urban Italian: Simple Recipes and True Stories from a Life in Food (which he wrote with his wife, Gwen Hyman), last summer.
The first dish I cooked from the book has become my favorite way to eat swordfish, and I’m sure I’ll be blogging that dish before long…think orange, olives, and harrisa…your mouth is already watering, yes?
Not to be too much of a tease, but today I’m not here to talk swordfish, but rather the best freakin’ meatballs I’ve EVER had. I noticed this recipe a while ago in the book, thought they sounded interesting and would be FUN to make with the kids, so I tagged the page and promptly forgot about them for months….what a mistake that was.
I stumbled upon the recipe again the other day as I was searching for a leg of lamb dish, and decided to finally give these glorious meatballs a whirl. Peyton was on duty with me in the kitchen that night, and within minutes, we had a speedy assembly line cranking out these delectable stuffed morsels. Rather than measure the meat out by the tablespoon-full as the recipe dictates, we scaled each at 2 ounces of meat before stuffing with the cheese, and found the resulting ball to be the perfect size. I was responsible for weighing out the meat mix, Peyton then rolled each mass into a nice little oval (or egg) shape and made a dent in the middle with her finger, I then popped in a hunk of cheese, and she folded over the long ends of the “egg” and rolled it all into a nice juicy meatball.
These little darlings are packed with flavor, and are perfectly accompanied by Andrew’s quick marinara recipe that I’ve posted below. Serve with soft or fried polenta, or as we did, over the pasta of your choice. Buon Appetito!
for the meatballs:
- 3 tablespoons EVOO
- 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
- 1/4-1/3 cup fresh goat cheese
- 1/2 pound merguez sausage, or 2 links hot italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs (we used panko)
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
for the sauce:
- 1/4 cup EVOO
- 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 - 28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes, plus their juice
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 cup Crumbs Yo!
- 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
for the meatballs:
- Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
- Add the coriander, fennel and rosemary. Cook together for 1 minute, so that the aromas of the herbs and spices are released. Remove to a bowl and place in the fridge to cool, so that you're not combining the hot onions with the cold meat.
- Meanwhile, roll the goat cheese between your palms to form 1/2 inch balls, place them on a plate to reserve.
- When the onion mixture is cool, combine it in a large bowl with the sausage, lamb, breadcrumbs, eggs, and salt. Mix well with your hands.
- Form the meatballs: for each meatball, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of lamb mixture and roll it into an oval shape between your palms. Use your thumb to create a goat-cheese-ball size dent in the middle, and drop a goat-cheese ball inside. Pinch the lamb mixture up around the goat cheese to close the hole, and roll the meatball between your hands till it's smooth and round. Repeat until you've used up all the lamb and cheese.
for the sauce:
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften, about 1 minute.
- Crush the tomatoes in a bowl with the heel of your hand. Add them to the pot, then add the tomato juice, red pepper flakes, salt, sugar, and oregano. Mix to combine. Cook over medium-high heat for about 10 minutes, until the flavors combine and the sauce is reduced.
- Add the meatballs to the sauce in a single layer, being careful not to break them. Reduce the heat to low, so the sauce is at a very low simmer, and cover. It's very important that the liquid not come to a boil. You want as slow a simmer as you can manage so the flavors really come together, the cheese melts, and the meat becomes rich and tender. Cook for 5 minutes, turn the balls over with a spoon, and simmer for another 5 minutes, until the meat is cooked, and the sauce takes on the flavor of the meatballs. Some goat cheese may find its way out during the cooking process, but don't worry about this, they will still taste great.
for the Crumbs Yo!:
- In a saute pan heat 2 tablespoons EVOO over medium heat and toast 1 cup of panko breadcrumbs, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper until golden brown. Spread on a plate to cool. (Keep for 2 days in the fridge, or a long time in the freezer)
- To finish the dish, ladle the meatballs and some sauce over polenta, or on top of pasta. Sprinkle with some Crumbs Yo! and some freshly grated pecorino.