Great Balls o’ Lamb

Greek-Style Braised Lamb Meatballs

balls_served

Brother Tom is in the food service industry so he gets all the trade publications. He sent me a bunch of meatball recipes from Restaurant and Institutions Magazine (what a melodious name!) and asked me to give this one a test drive as I had served goat meatballs when he last visited. Carol is a lamb lover, so this was very appropriate. I got the ground lamb from Marin Sun Farms at the Farmers Market. Lucky it’s almost spring; hothouse tomatoes and mint are available at the Market, as well.

Apropos of many restaurant recipes… this has lots of ingredients in small quantities. I guess a restaurant always has cooked rice, lamb broth, fresh mint and dill on hand. I had to break out the rice cooker and make a batch for the three tablespoons and buy a whole bunch of mint for two tablespoons. One tablespoon of dill? Fahgeddaboutit. I used one teaspoon dried dill. Lamb broth? Nope, I used demi-glace gold. Also — oops — I put all the olives in the balls instead of reserving some for garnish. No matter. The baking time seemed right… balls browned; gravy bubbly and thick. Yum.

The labor was worth it as the balls were very good and very rich. I served them in a bowl with the gravy, chopped tomato and garnish as noted. C thought I should serve over rice or noodles. Maybe, but they were good straight, accompanied by a fine, big salad and good bread.

All was not lost, as I mixed up the leftover rice, salad, and garnish to make a rice salad for lunch the next day.

balls_herbs_olives_rice

For this recipe – for all recipes as far as I’m concerned – it’s really important to get your mise en place together before starting. For the balls themselves, everything goes into one bowl and gets mixed up, but the sauce ingredients come into play one or two at a time. Here are breadcrumbs, herbs, spices in the big bowl. Lurking beneath them are the bread cubes and cream. Chopped olives and the famous three tablespoons of rice are in the smaller bowl.

balls_making

I’m starting to make the balls. Pinch off a batch of lamb mixture and roll between your palms. It helps to wet your hands from time to time between balls.

balls_seventeen

Seventeen balls on a plate. I use parchment paper to cover the plate; it keeps the plate clean and the balls are less likely to stick and get out of shape. From here, the balls go into the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. You can use that time to get your gravy ingredients together.

balls_browning

An hour or so before dinner, brown the balls in two batches and put those browned in a baking dish. That happens to be an 8 1/2-inch round Corningware baking dish, which fits nicely for this recipe. Once all the balls are browned, pour the fat out of the skillet, leaving any meat bits stuck to the bottom. When you start your gravy, scrape those tasty bits into the roux.

balls_out_o_oven

While the balls were in the oven, I made a salad of thinly sliced lil gems, cauliflower and mushrooms, diced red bell pepper and avocado , dressed with a creamy dressing. I feel the bread is important, as well. I used an Acme Herb Slab for the cubes and crumbs; the same bread, sliced and toasted, for dinner.

balls_served

Greek-Style Braised Lamb Meatballs garnished with feta cheese, pine nuts, chopped tomato and olive oil.

Here, I present the recipe in the style of the magazine.

Greek-Style Braised Lamb Meatballs

Chef: Edward Leonard
Restaurant/Operation: Westchester Country Club, Rye, N.Y.

Menupart: Meats

Daypart: Dinner, Lunch

Yield: 4 servings

4 to 6 tablespoons heavy cream
2 slices white bread,  crust removed, diced
1 pound ground lamb
4 tablespoons breadcrumbs, toasted
3 tablespoons long-grain rice, cooked
4 tablespoons Green Greek olives, diced, divided use
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
1 tablespoon dill, chopped  [used 1 teaspoon dry]
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped, divided use, plus extra to garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon salt

GRAVY

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken broth or stock
1 cup lamb broth [used demi glace gold]
1  lemon, zest and juice
Kosher or sea salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cold butter, diced
Vegetable oil as needed
3 Roma tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Feta cheese, crumbled to garnish
Pine nuts, toasted to garnish

1. To make meatballs, in a large stainless-steel bowl, add heavy cream to diced bread; let sit for 10 minutes. Add lamb, breadcrumbs, rice, 2 tablespoons olives, mint, dill, 1 tablespoon parsley, garlic, egg and salt. Knead all ingredients together; form into walnut-sized balls. Refrigerate.

2. In a heavy skillet, pan-fry meatballs in oil until browned. Place meatballs in a casserole dish.

3. To make sauce [gravy], add 2 tablespoons butter to a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in flour until smooth. Whisk and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Gradually whisk in chicken broth, lamb broth, lemon zest and lemon juice. Bring to a simmer for 3 to 5 minutes; season to taste with salt and pepper. Whisk in diced butter.

4. Pour gravy over meatballs. Bake at 375F for 30 minutes. Divide meatballs among four serving dishes.
5. Toss tomatoes and remaining two tablespoons olives in oil; spoon on top of meatballs. Garnish meatballs with feta, parsley and pine nuts.

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