URBAN ITALIAN LAMB MEATBALLS STUFFED WITH GOAT CHEESE

In 2008, Andrew Carmellini’s first cookbook, Urban Italian, made nearly every “Best Cookbook of the Year” list. More than a bit curious, I bought his book and hurried home to discover the difference between traditional Italian dishes and Carmellini’s New York Italian home cooked family meals. Hands down, Carmellini’s makes for some of the most creative and delicious Italian food I’ve ever tasted. Ask any one of my five children, my husband, or any of the friend’s who have celebrated a birthday at our house what their favorite dinner is and nine times out of ten they will say lamb meatballs stuffed with goat cheese. To make it even more Italian and stretch Carmellini’s dish to feed at least ten hungry souls, I double the sauce and serve over pappardelle noodles. This is urban soul food at its very best.

Nota bene: Double the recipe and freeze half the meatballs for another day.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)

  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped

  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander seed

  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

  • 1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped

  • 1/4 cup fresh goat cheese

  • 1/2 pound merguez sausage, about 8 links (or 2 links hot Italian sausage, if you prefer), with casings cut away

  • 1 pound ground lamb

  • 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs

  • 2 eggs

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 1 1/2 pounds papparadelle pasta, cooked al dente (optional)
     

FOR THE SAUCE

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

  • 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)

  • 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian tomatoes (San Marzano if possible), plus their juice

  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon sugar

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably on the branch

FOR THE CRUMBS YO! 

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1 cup panko bread crumbs

  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced

  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

  • 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

  • Zest of an orange, minced

  • A pinch of red pepper flakes

  • A pinch of dried oregano

 

Directions

TO MAKE THE MEATBALLS

1. Heat the olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly.

2. Add the coriander, fennel, and rosemary. Cook together 1 minute, so that the aromas of the spices and herbs are released. Remove to a bowl and place in the fridge to cool (about 5 minutes), so that you're not combining hot onions with cold meat. 

3. Meanwhile, roll the goat cheese between your palms to form 1/2 inch balls (the size of a pebble). Place them in the refrigerator until step 5.

4. When the onion-herb mixture has cooled, combine it in a large bowl with the sausage, lamb, bread crumbs, eggs and salt. Mix well with your hands.

5. Form the meatballs: for each meatball, scoop up about 2 tablespoons of lamb mixture and roll and press it into an oval, about the size of a distended Ping-Pong ball. Use your thumb to create a goat-cheese-ball-sized 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 round and smooth. Repeat until you've used up all the goat cheese and lamb mixture. 

TO MAKE THE SAUCE

1. 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.

2. 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 10 minutes, until the flavors combine and the sauce is reduced.

3. Add the meatballs, 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 never comes to a boil. You want as slow a simmer as possible, so the flavors really come together, the cheese melts, and the meat becomes rich and tender. Cook for 5 minutes, turn the meatballs with a spoon, and simmer 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--it depends on how tightly you've made your meatballs--but don't worry about this: the meatballs will still taste good.  

4. If serving with pasta, prepare pasta as directed, put in serving bowl and gentle ladle sauce and meatballs over pasta. 

5. With or without the pasta, sprinkle meatballs with Crumbs Yo! and serve piping hot.

TO MAKE THE CRUMBS YO!

1. In a sautépan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and toast the breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper until golden brown. 

2. Toss in the flavorings in the last minute of cooking.

3. Spread the Crumbs Yo! on a plate to cool. They'll keep for up to 2 days in the fridge, or for a long time in the freezer.

 

Makes 30 meatballs