Tomatoes and Meat, Felix Vallotton, 1865-1925.
The city where I live is now heavy with recession chic. I see a lot of meatballs—in carts, in storefronts, and now in some chain stores. The trendier places have lines. Standing in line for a meatball. Molto strano. You gets no bread with one meatball. That’s what the song said, but now, I think, you do get bread, and you can order a $13 glass of vino, too. Some of the meatballs look familiar, some come with “Hawaiian” sauce. I suppose that must be some kind of fruit glaze.
I’ve tried a few of the roving meatball trucks. Not bad, but as every Southern Mediterranean cook knows, you gets the best meatballs when you makes them yourself. Some cooks stay true to Grandma’s original, some mix it up. I like to do both.
I’ve been thinking about meatballs lately, thinking about how to present them, first off in a low-carb style but also how to make them feel like summer.
Bread and pasta are both classic meatball accompaniments. You’ve got to have something to sop up all that great sauce (maybe not with the Hawaiian version). But what about an uncooked tomato sauce, a pomodoro crudo, mixed with greens, with the hot-from-the-skillet meatballs sitting on top? The greens get tangled with the sauce and a forkful of crisp-edged meatball. That is a well-rounded mouthful, allowing you to forget about the missing bread, hopefully. Chunky sauce and greens are an overlooked marriage of tastes. The dish feels like summer, a hearty late summer.
A note on the amounts of carbohydrates in my recipes: My aim is to cut way back on the easily digested carbs, such as sugar, potatoes, rice, pasta, and white bread. I do include many vegetables and small amounts of whole grains, beans, and legumes, which can have carbs but also lots of vitamins and fiber. This is not the Atkins diet. It’s just an attempt to limit the crud you eat while creating really good Italian and Mediterranean food that you’ll love. I also try to moderate fats, but without using any phony low-fat cheeses or dairy. I buy the best cheeses and olive oil I can and work as many of the drier, less fatty grating cheeses into my recipes, such as pecorino or Parmigiano. I work hard to make my recipes delicious so as not to send any dietary hardship your way. Eating this way should be a pleasure.
Lamb and Ricotta Salata Meatballs on Pomodoro Crudo and Arugula
For the meatballs:
1½ pounds ground lamb
1 heaping tablespoon breadcrumbs, not too dry, not too finely ground
1 garlic clove, minced
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
⅛ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon spicy paprika, plus a little more for garnish (I used Basque piment d’espelette)
2 egg yolks
½ cup grated ricotta salata, plus extra for garnish
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, well chopped
A few large sprigs of marjoram, the leaves chopped, plus a little more for garnish
Freshly ground black pepper
A generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for sautéing.
For the pomodoro crudo and arugula:
3 very large summer tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced, and drained for about 20 minutes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 summer garlic clove, very thinly sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
A few drops of Spanish sherry vinegar
A few sprigs of marjoram leaves, chopped
A large handful of wild or baby arugula, stemmed
To make the meatballs: Place all the ingredients for the meatballs in a big bowl, and mix them well with your fingers. Try not to pack down the meat too much. Keeping it a bit airy will give it a tender texture. Form it into medium-size balls, about an inch across.
To make the pomodoro crudo: Place the chopped tomatoes in a bowl. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil, the garlic, salt, and pepper, and a few drops of Spanish sherry vinegar. Mix well, and let sit for about 20 minutes, so the flavors can blend.
When you’re ready to serve the dish, pour about a half inch of olive oil into a large skillet over medium high heat. When hot, add the meatballs, and brown them well on all sides, leaving their centers slightly pink. This should take about 5 minutes.
Spoon the pomodoro crudo into four shallow pasta bowls. Now scatter on the arugula. Drain the meatballs on paper towels, and place three or four of them in each bowl, on top of the sauce. Sprinkle ricotta salata and a pinch of spicy paprika over each bowl. Scatter on the remaining marjoram, and finish each bowl with a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Serve hot.