I have to start by pointing out that these are some of the best meatballs that I have ever tasted, let alone made from scratch. It all started with some lamb that had been taunting me in my freezer every time that I went out to buy groceries. I knew that I should use it, but I still wasn't quite ready to eat lamb. You see, in April, while I was still in culinary school, there were two consecutive days where I single handedly broke down and trimmed approximately 50 pounds of fresh lamb. In addition to butchering lamb, I had been eating lamb in every shape and form over the past few weeks—braised, grilled, sous vide, ground into sausages—the list goes on. I was at my saturation point when we were asked by the chefs if we wanted to take some leftover meat home to cook. I immediately balked at the thought. However, after debating the merits of taking or leaving the lamb, I cautiously accepted a small piece of top round (which comes from the leg and is very tender), hoping that my hunger for lamb might come back in the future weeks or months. It is now August and I finally pulled that forgotten piece of lamb out of my freezer this weekend. After considering a number of different recipes, I settled upon making meatballs. My first order of business was grating an onion. I wanted the flavor of the onion, but I didn't want to find any pesky, uncooked pieces of onion in my finished meatballs. I conjured up some mint (leftover from this recipe), parsley, feta, and a number of dried spices and herbs. I knew that I needed something to bind the mixture, so I looked up the meatball ratio that I had been given in school (1 pound of meat to 1 egg to a 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs). After grinding my lamb in the food processor (which works very well, I recommend it), I put everything into a large bowl and dug in with my hands.
I very nearly skipped the next step in this recipe, the testing step. I may love to spend hours in the kitchen, but I am also, regrettably, impatient. There is no way to test meatballs for seasoning while the mixture is raw (well, there is a way but the health risks deter me from attempting it), so you must cook a small portion of the mixture before you form meatballs. I could imagine the chefs at culinary school reprimanding me for not properly tasting my food, so I conceded, and cooked a small spoonful in a skillet. It turned out that the mixture was perfectly seasoned. I also discovered that miniature meatballs make a perfect mid-recipe snack.
When it comes to cooking meatballs, you have a few options. You can pan fry them in oil in a saute pan, bake them with or without a sauce in the oven, or do a combination of both. I chose the latter. I first browned the meatballs in a very small amount of oil to achieve caramelization and a boost of flavor, and then placed them in the oven to finish cooking. The result? A tender and incredibly satisfying meatball. The sweet and savory flavor of the lamb hits you first, followed by the smokiness of the cumin and saltiness of the feta, and at the end, you detect the subtle flavors of the mint and parsley. Paired with some yogurt sauce and the farro salad below, these meatballs are the perfect late summer meal. And if you stop yourself from eating the whole batch in one sitting, you can make yourself a delicious pita sandwich for lunch later in the week.
Lamb Meatballs with Warm Heirloom Tomato Farro Salad
Ingredients for the meatballs:
- 2 lbs. ground lamb
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (I used panko, but any type is fine)
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 3 ounces crumbled feta
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 medium yellow or white onion, grated on a cheese grater
- 1 heaping tablespoon of kosher salt (if using table salt, reduce the amount to 2 teaspoons)
- 1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- 2½ teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- A pinch of red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon paprika
- Extra virgin olive oil (for searing the meatballs)
Instructions for the meatballs:
- Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl, and using your hands mix everything together until all of the ingredients are evenly dispersed.
- Form a small meatball using 1 tablespoon of the mixture and cook the meatball in a small skillet over medium-high heat in olive oil until fully cooked. This step is important, as it allows you to test the meatball and adjust the seasoning as necessary.
- Shape the remaining meat mixture into 2-inch wide meatballs. You should get about 25 meatballs total.
- Preheat oven to 375°F and brush or spray a baking sheet with olive oil.
- Heat a large sauté pan and over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil and sear the meatballs on all sides, working in batches.
- Place the seared meatballs on the baking sheet and place them in the oven for 15 minutes, or until fully cooked.
Ingredients for the farro salad:
- 1½ cups semi-pearled farro
- ½ medium red onion, sliced thinly
- 2 large heirloom tomatoes, chopped coarsely
- ¼ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
- Extra virgin olive oil to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions for the farro salad:
- Cook farro according to the instructions on the package.
- While the farro is cooking, combine the tomato, parsley, red onion, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper in a large bowl.
- When the farro is cooked, drain it and add it to the tomato mixture.
- Combine all of the ingredients and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve warm or cold.