Recipe: Lamb and Ricotta Salata Meatballs on Tomato Arugula Soup
A few days after Thanksgiving I came down with a head-swelling cold. I expected it to keep me in bed for at least a day, but no, this cold made me fidgety and sick but still up and wandering the cold streets. It put me in a frustrating and confusing state of mind. I needed soothing food, but not from, say, a Chinese take-out. I wanted to make it myself—a spicy, steaming, healthy, Italian-tasting restorative. I didn’t want to knock myself out in the kitchen, but I did need to burn off some of the nervous energy the cold was inexplicably giving me. Cooking was the thing. I now recall that a thick, stuffy head has often made me restless. So I cook. This time my stuffy head told me to make meatballs.
So here are spicy lamb meatballs blended with salty ricotta salata and served on a tomato arugula soup (really more of a loose sauce than a proper soup). This is a different meatball experience from your Sunday supper meatballs that simmer in sauce for hours. These are the meatballs you remember grabbing from the pan, hot, crisp, and greasy, before grandma lowered them into the steaming cauldron. Their outside is crunchy, their inside still a touch pink. This dish plus a few glasses of Dolcetto wine cured my cold. I know it is common knowledge that the histamines in red wine only clog you up more, but don’t believe it. This is the best remedy for a winter cold.
Lamb and Ricotta Salata Meatballs on Tomato Arugula Soup
For the meatballs:
1½ pounds ground lamb
2 tablespoons 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 pimen 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 tomato arugula soup:
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
A pinch of ground cinnamon
A splash of dry Marsala or dry vermouth
1 28-ounce can and 1 15-ounce can Italian plum tomatoes, well chopped, with the juice
½ cup good quality chicken broth, possibly a little more
Freshly ground black pepper
A few drops Spanish sherry vinegar
A 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. The mixture should be well seasoned. Form it into medium-size meatballs, about 1½ inches across.
To make the soup:
In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot, and sauté until softened. Add the garlic and the pinch of cinnamon, and sauté a minute longer. Add the Marsala or vermouth, and let it boil away. Add the tomatoes and the chicken broth, and cook at a lively bubble for about 8 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper. The soup should be just a little looser than a typical tomato sauce for pasta, so add more broth or water if needed. Turn off the heat, and add a few drops of the vinegar and the arugula. The heat from the sauce will gently wilt the arugula.
When you’re ready to serve the dish, pour about a half inch of olive oil into a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the meatballs, and brown them well on all sides, leaving their centers slightly pink. This should take about 5 minutes.
Ladle some tomato arugula soup into four bowls, about an inch or so of soup in each. Drain the meatballs on paper towels, and place four or five 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.