Lamb Meatballs in Cinnamon-Herb Tomato Sauce
This dish has a lot going on, and it’s not quick to make – but its worth it. The combination of carminative spices, savory herbs and citrus make for a pretty complex flavor profile and really satisfying winter dinner.
I like to make it on cold, wet Saturday or Sunday afternoons. In fact, we just made this last Saturday and I thought it should go up on the blog.
So put on some jazz, get in your pajamas, pour yourself a glass of wine or sparkling soda, and get to work making dinner at your leisure!
There are two ways you can make these guys:
– As a Main Course, with plenty of the delicious sauce, meant to top a big bowl of your favorite pasta or dunk your favorite crusty bread into. This is the way I usually make it, and what the recipe below is for.
– As an Appetizer – this just doubles the amount of meatballs to sauce, which will end up with a higher meatball-to-sauce ratio, making it easier for people to eat with toothpicks during dinner parties. If you want to do it this way, just double the meatball ingredients while keeping the sauce the same. You’ll end up with 2 pounds of meatballs rather than 1.
Let’s get started!
First, you’ll make the sauce – its better to start with the sauce so it has time to simmer and all the flavors to meld, while you make and broil the meatballs.
The meatballs are great, but the real star of this show is the sauce. You’ll start with a tomato/onion/garlic base, add herbs like rosemary, thyme and bay leaf, then spice the sauce with cinnamon and cumin. Finally, you’ll add in some citrus with orange juice and part of an orange peel. When you let the sauce simmer for awhile, the flavors meld well together. You’ll know its done when the surface of the sauce looks glossy as it bubbles gently. (In the photo below, I had just started to simmer, so this is not what it looks like done!)
Using fresh herbs makes a big difference. New Seasons has a “bulk herb” area in the produce section where you can get fresh herbs for pennies – unlike some other stores where they come prepackaged and are expensive.
In the summer, try growing your own in little planters – its so easy!
Also, the recipe calls for ground cinnamon but if you’d like an extra subtle cinnamon flavor, you can add a cinnamon stick to simmer (which is what I did here.)
While you let the sauce simmer, you can begin making the meatballs. As I mention in our article How to Eat Meat Right, it is important to try to eat as much pastured beef and lamb as possible (cows and sheep are vegetarian grazing animals and thrive on simple diets of grass and hay).
Our overall aim is to avoid factory farmed meat as much as possible, because factory farms produce unhealthy meat with a higher prevalence of environmental toxins, heavy metals, chemicals and dangerous bacteria on and in the meat from filthy, crowded living conditions and speed-slaughtering.
If you eat meat, then grass-fed and pastured from a smaller operation is absolutely the way to go! And if you want to know more about how you can find this type of meat, feel free to pop over to the Where To Shop section. You can buy a lot of pastured meat online these days!
Alright – here’s what these delicious little morsels look like, ready to go into the broiler:
Once you’ve made them (I use a cookie dough scoop to get them evenly sized), you’ll just broil them for a couple of minutes to brown up the exterior, and then finish cooking them by baking them with the sauce, in the oven.
Once they’re seared (just a couple minutes on each side), I pour the tomato sauce into a large baking dish (for the double batch, you’ll have to use two cookie sheets and two baking dishes). Top the sauce with the meatballs, and throw it all into a 400 degree oven for another 15 minutes or so.
Just try not to snitch from that pan.
On this particular Saturday night we dished up a bunch of meatballs in two large bowls and ate it with crusty bread while watching a movie on the couch. What a great Date Night In!
Pictured above, I topped our bowls with some fresh spearmint, which goes great with any lamb dish, and also a light dusting of pecorino. Pecorino is a pretty pungent cheese, so a little goes a long way.
Our New Seasons has a Rosemary and Sea Salt Baguette that complemented this dish perfectly – but fresh homemade bread is pretty amazing with this, too.
NOTE: On Serving Sizes, 1 lb of meat should yield about 24 meatballs, or 2 lbs of meat (with doubled accompaniments) about 48 meatballs, give or take a few. The Serving size I calculated is based on 4 servings per pound of meat, as a main course – about 6 meatballs with sauce per person. The meatball/sauce combo has about 75 calories per meatball, if you prefer to calculate as an appetizer.
Nutrition Per Serving