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Lamb & Pine Nut Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

Lamb & Pine Nut Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

This post was written by amber on February 2, 2009
Posted Under: dairy-free, gluten-free, main course, middle eastern, winter

I brought the camera to the office today and accidentally left it there, so there is no mouth-watering photo to convince you to try this recipe, but please, if you like lamb at all, just trust me on this one. It’s delicious!

During the summer and fall, I participate in a great CSA program. In addition to the weekly veggie and fruit pick-up, they’ve organized a bunch of local farms to provide meat, dairy, honey, jams, bread, and all sorts of other good stuff that you can special order and pick up with your usual allotment. I ordered an assortment of meats with my last pick-up of the season and have been pulling them from my freezer now and again as winter drags on.

One of my favorite places to order from is 3-Corner Field Farm, which specializes in sheep’s-milk cheese and lamb, along with wool yarns and lanolin soaps. I could eat their fresh ricotta by itself with a spoon, but that’s for another post. Their lamb is grass-fed, humanely raised, no hormones, no antibiotics, etc., etc. Now, I’m already a firm believer in eating less meat but getting the good stuff when you do, but the difference was really brought home to me by how much more appetizing this package of ground lamb looks than the greyish mass that my local grocery store offers. All of this is a very long way to say that the dish I’m about to tell you about is fairly simple, which means you can really taste every ingredient, especially the lamb, so get the best stuff you can find.

This is my adaptation of the recipe for Daoud Basha in Claudia Roden’s fantastic The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. (If you have any interest at all in Middle Eastern food, I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Arabesque is wonderful, too, and has incredible photos.) I’ve changed a few things from the original. I had less ground lamb than called for, so I adjusted for that, and while I’m sure the dish is even tastier with fresh tomatoes when they’re in season, there was no way I was going to use the mealy ones on offer this time of year, so I used canned instead. Finally, I combined a couple of her suggested variations into one recipe.

Truth be told, I probably used closer to ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, because I like things spicy, but start with the listed amount and add more later if desired. The sweetness of the cinnamon and sugar are balanced nicely by the kick of red pepper and the brightness of the lemon juice, and I loved the added texture of the pine nuts in  meatballs, a dish which I sometimes find can be too mushy.

We ate these delectable little morsels folded into a warm whole-wheat pita, with a dollop of sheeps-milk yogurt smudged over the tomato sauce before rolling the whole thing up, and they were heavenly. But they would be just as good served over couscous, rice, or egg noodles. In fact, I plan on trying them that way in leftover form.

Lamb & Pine Nut Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato Sauce

(adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)

1 pound ground lamb
1 large onion, finely chopped
salt & pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
⅓ cup pine nuts
canola oil
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1½ tsp sugar
3 gloves garlic
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400°.

Mix together ground lamb, onions, pine nuts, cinnamon, allspice, a generous pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl. Use your hands, and don’t be shy. You want all the ingredients to blend well and for the mixture to come together as a paste.

Drizzle a little canola oil into a dish. Form small meatballs (an inch or so in diameter) from the paste and lightly roll each one in the oil before placing in a single layer in a 9×13 baking dish. Bake 18-20 minutes, until the lamb is a brownish color (though not necessarily browned).

While the meatballs are baking, put the three cloves of garlic through the press and saute in a tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan (I used a 5-qt dutch oven) for a minute until fragrant. Add in crushed tomatoes, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and a healthy pinch of salt. Simmer until the meatballs are done.

Remove the meatballs from the oven and add to the tomato sauce. Simmer for 20 more minutes, until the sauce cooks down a bit and the meatballs melt in your mouth.

Yields: 6 servings

Time to make: 20 mins  prep, 40 mins total cooking time

ps. There may be no photographic evidence this time, but the recipe was good enough that I am positive I will be making them again and I promise you a picture the second time around.

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