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Lamb Meatballs with Cinnamon Herb Tomato Sauce

Lamb Meatballs in Cinnamon-Herb Tomato Sauce

Lamb Meatballs with Cinnamon Herb Tomato Sauce

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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!)

Spiced Tomato Sauce for Lamb Meatballs
Spiced Tomato Sauce, Simmering for Lamb Meatballs

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:

Raw Lamb Meatballs
Raw Lamb Meatballs, Ready to Broil

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.

Lamb Meatballs After Broiling
Lamb Meatballs After Broiling

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.

Lamb Meatballs with Cinnamon-Herb Tomato Sauce, Baked

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!

Lamb Meatballs with Cinnamon-Herb Tomato Sauce and Crusty Baguette
Perfect Saturday Night Dinner With A Movie

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.

Bon Apetit!

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.


Lamb Meatballs with Cinnamon Herb Tomato Sauce



1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 sprig fresh rosemary

1/4 tsp red chili flakes (or to preference)

1 medium yellow or red onion

4 cloves garlic

2-3 fresh thyme sprigs (1 tsp dried if you don’t have it)

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground cinnamon, plus cinnamon stick if desired

1 bay leaf

1/4 cup orange juice (fresh squeezed or not from concentrate)

1 3-inch strip of orange peel, no pith (white part)


1 pound grassfed ground lamb, 15% fat

1 small or 1/2 medium yellow onion

3 large sprigs fresh flat-leaf parsley, about 3T chopped

3 T half and half

1 large egg

1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cumin

Pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 c organic bread crumbs



Begin by preparing tomato sauce. Dice the onion and mince or chop the garlic to be used in the sauce.


Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat for 1 minute, then add olive oil, rosemary sprig and red chili flakes. Shake to combine and saute for one minute, stirring constantly.


Reduce heat to medium and add onion, garlic, thyme sprigs, ground cinnamon, and cumin. Saute, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and semi-translucent, about 5-7 minutes.


Add crushed tomatoes, bay leaf, orange juice and peel, and cinnamon stick if using. Bring to low simmer (gently bubbling) and continue simmering while you make the meatballs. Taste the sauce for saltiness and add a large pinch at a time until to taste. Check the sauce frequently, if reducing too much, turn down the heat further and cover with lid.


Make the meatballs: Skin and quarter the onion, and wash parsley, then add to small food processor. Pulse gently until onion and parsley are finely diced but not pureed, scraping sides if necessary.


Add onion and parsley to a large mixing bowl, then add eggs, half and half, cinnamon, cumin, and red pepper flakes. Whisk all together.


Add the lamb meat and season aggressively with a fine, kosher or sea salt. Add bread crumbs. Wash hands thoroughly then use hands to mix all ingredients together, using a pinching motion combined with regularly turning over the mixture to check for small bits at the bottom of the bowl.


When well combined, preheat the broiler to Hi and place an oven rack 4-5″ inches below, so that the meat will be about 3″ below the broiler.


Using a cookie dough scoop preferably, roll meat mixture into evenly sized balls a little smaller than a golf ball. Place on a baking sheet that is lightly sprayed with cooking oil.


Broil the meatballs 2 minutes, remove from oven, flip, and broil on the other side for additional 2 minutes. Turn off broiler and preheat oven to 400 degrees (it should not take long).


In large oven-safe baking dish (I prefer ceramic), pour tomato sauce in – remove the bay leaf and cinnamon stick and any large herb stems. (You can remove the rest prior to serving).


Add meatballs in single layer on top of the tomato sauce and bake for an additional 15 minutes, or until meatballs are brown all the way through but not overly done.


While baking, prepare any garnishments you would like: additional chopped parsley, fresh spearmint, feta or goat cheese, or a hard grated cheese all make excellent toppings.


After plating, taste sauce and season to taste with salt. Garnish and serve.

Nutrition Per Serving







Dinner In Provence
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