Lamb And Mint Meatballs with Gnocchi di Semola
Friday, June 3, 2011 at 10:01AM
Marc in andrew friedman, cooking with italian grandmothers, gnocchi, jessica theroux, lamb, meatballs, mint, semolina

Lamb Meatballs With Mint      

adapted from Andrew Feinberg, and taken from the New York Times Dining section.

We had this dish as an entrée with an Italian-themed dinner a few weeks ago, and it was a big hit. To be fair, I’ve made these lamb and mint meatballs for years (ever since spying them in the Dining section of the New York Times) and they are my favorite meatballs I’ve ever tasted, bar none. The only thing I modify in this recipe is increasing the garlic and chile flakes, because subtlety is lost in our house. (I’m sure my sophisticated humor gave you some insight into that.)

The gnocchi are a not really gnocchi as I’d thought of them before, but are more like savory, cheesy soufflé-like popover dough made with semolina flour. They puff up and rise in the oven and are absolutely delicious, but you need to pull them out and serve them quickly (Unlike that area under your eyes, they get less puffy with time). I found the recipe for these in a cookbook I am absolutely obsessed with right now (and which I found today won an IACP Judges’ Choice Award for this year). It comes from Cooking with Italian Grandmothers, by Jessica Theroux. I seriously want to cook every recipe in it, and the stories throughout the book will make you read it cover to cover.

Unfortunately, my ever-evolving-but-still-pathetic camera skills don’t do this dish justice, so give it a go in spite of that. I promise by next year at this time, I will have a better idea of which end of the camera to aim at what. In the mean time, suffer through the shots to get to the content. I wont steer you wrong. I promise!

Time: 2½ hours

For the sauce:
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 Spanish onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 28-ounce cans peeled plum tomatoes
¾ teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt

For the meatballs:
½ small baguette (6 ounces), crust trimmed
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ large Spanish onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, minced
2 pounds ground lamb
1 pound ground pork
1½ cups grated pecorino Romano cheese, more for serving
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
¾ cup chopped fresh mint
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt
¾ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup dry red wine

For the crostini:
½ baguette, sliced on a bias
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil.

  1. Prepare sauce: In an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add onions and sauté until soft, about 6 minutes. Add garlic, and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in tomatoes and salt and reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer sauce, occasionally mashing tomatoes against side of pot with a wooden spoon, until they break down and sauce thickens, about 25 minutes. Let cool slightly.
  2. Pass sauce through coarsest disc of a food mill, or purée it until smooth in a food processor or blender. Return sauce to pot.
  3. 3. Prepare meatballs: Soak baguette in enough water to cover until soft and falling apart. Squeeze dry. In a very large skillet over medium heat, warm 3 tablespoons oil. Add onions and sauté until translucent but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add garlic, stir well, and turn off heat. Let cool.
  4. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine lamb, pork, cheese, parsley, mint, pepper, salt, red pepper flakes, onion mixture and bread. Using your hands, mix well. Form mixture into 1¾-inch meatballs.
  5. Add remaining oil to pan, and warm it over medium-high heat. Fry meatballs, turning on all sides, until well browned. Transfer meatballs to platters lined with paper towels.
  6. Add wine to skillet, and let it simmer for a few minutes, scraping up any browned bits stuck to bottom of pan with a wooden spoon. Pour wine into tomato sauce and add meatballs. Cover pot and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Just before serving, heat broiler. Brush baguette slices with olive oil. Toast them under broiler until golden around edges, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Serve meatballs with sauce, crostini and extra cheese.

Yield: 6 servings.

Gnocchi di Semola (Semolina Flour Gnocchi)

For the Gnocchi:
1 quart milk
2-3 tsp salt
7 oz semolina flour (just over 1 cup)
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp butter 
½ cup bread crumbs

  1. Heat the milk and salt in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. When the milk starts to simmer, slowly sprinkle in the semolina flour, whisking constantly to make sure that lumps do not form. Once all the flout has been added, reduce the heat to medium-low. Continue to whisk for 7 to 10 more minutes, until the batter has become thick and velvety.
  2. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in ½ cup of the parmesan, the eggs and the butter. Pour the batter into a large, shallow baking dish, spreading it out to make a layer of even thickness (roughly ½ an inch high). Set aside (in the fridge if there is room) for about an hour, to cool and become firm.
  3. Cut the semolina into gnocchi using the mouth of a glass about 2 inches wide, or a cookie cutter. Dip the glass into water between each press to prevent the dough from sticking. Lay the gnocchi on a parchment-paper lined baking sheet, making sure to leave at least ½ inch between them so that their edges can completely caramelize.
  4. Sprinkle the tops of the gnocchi with the remaining ½ cup parmesan and the bread crumbs. Bake at 400 degrees F until golden brown, slightly puffed and crispy around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes.

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