ed. note: This recipe is from our interview with Chef Seamus Mullen. Seamus served these unbelievably delicious lamb meatballs at the centerpiece to a dinner party he hosted in Santa Monica, California earlier this year. As someone who doesn’t cook with lamb very often, I came home feeling inspired to make this spicy lamb meatballs recipe for my next gathering; although they feel special occasion-worthy, they really couldn’t be simpler. Serve with pasta for an Italian feast, or keep things on the lighter side (a la Seamus) by pairing with whole roasted cauliflower or a zesty radish, fennel, & grapefruit salad.
There are lots of meatball recipes out there, and this one strikes the perfect balance of simple, but with enough spices and herbs to make these interesting (and not at all gamey, as lamb can sometimes be.) Lemon zest, basil, anchovies, and garlic create layers of flavor that remind you why the dishes prepared by chefs in restaurants have that extra bit of complexity that sets them apart from most dishes we make at home. Seamus is a master at using ingredients that add as much nourishment as they do satisfying flavor. Everything isw brimming with freshness and seasonality, and feels inspired by his time cooking across the Mediterranean.
For me, the thing that really took these over the top was the way Seamus chose to serve them: nestled in the most flavor-packed tomato sauce (keep that recipe in your back pocket for any time you need a great tomato sauce) and fresh ricotta dolloped over it all right at the end.
It’s creamy and cooling – and makes this dish feel fancy, without having to try too hard. If ever there was a perfect, unexpected dish for wowing a crowd, this is it. Scroll on for the braised lamb meatballs recipe, and don’t miss Seamus’s secrets to healthy, delicious and laid-back gatherings here.
for the tomato sauce:
- ¼ cup EVOO
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
- 4 filets anchovies
- sprig of basil plus more for garnish
- 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 can San Marzano tomatoes
- ¼ cup pitted kalamata olives
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- Sea salt and pepper
for the meatballs:
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 shallot
- 1 tsp preserved lemon rind
- 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup almonds, soaked in water for 4 hours, then strained
- 1 tablespoon each of chopped sage, parsley and rosemary
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 2 tbsp sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup fresh ricotta
make the tomato sauce:
- In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, basil, anchovies and garlic, and sweat for 5 minute until translucent. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce by a half, about 5 minutes, then add the San Marzanos, olives and cayenne, season with salt and pepper and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and puree in the Vitamix, leaving the texture a little chunky, then return to the pot.
- While the sauce is simmering, prepare the meatballs.
make the meatballs:
- Combine the garlic, shallot, preserved lemon and olive oil in a food processor or high speed blender, and puree. Add the herbs and the almonds and pulse until the almonds are chopped up, but still coarse. Transfer to a mixing bowl and fold into the ground lamb. Season the lamb with salt and pepper and then form into even balls roughly the size of golf balls.
- Carefully add the meatballs into the simmering sauce and braise gently until the meatballs read 145 F at the center with a meat thermometer (roughly 15 minutes.)
- Serve in a large platter with dollops of fresh ricotta, a drizzle of fruity olive oil and sprigs of purple basil.