Tomato and Olive-Braised American lamb Meatballs with Soft Polenta

Menu Part: 
Appetizer
Cuisine Type: 
Mediterranean
Serves: 
6

Meatballs are an on-trend menu item, tying in with the popular comfort food trend. Chef Accarrino puts a Mediterranean twist on the dish by using ground lamb, smoked paprika and toasted cumin, but the Italian influence shines through in the tomato-based sauce and bed of creamy polenta.

Ingredients

Sauce:
28 oz. canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 bacon slices, very finely chopped
1 med. red onion, minced
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3/4 cup medium-dry red wine (like a Malbec)
1 tbsp. tomato paste

Meatballs:
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. smoked paprika (pimentòn)
1/4 tsp. toasted cumin* (see Note)
3/4 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino cheese
2 tbsp. finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 lb. ground American Lamb (preferably from sirloin)
1/4 cup pitted Gaeta olives

Polenta:
3 cups water
1 cup whole milk
1 cup polenta (coarse-ground cornmeal)
1/2 tsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
1 tbsp. mint leaves, stacked, rolled into a tight cylinder,
sliced crosswise into thin strips
2 tbsp. grated Pecorino cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Steps

  1. Prepare Sauce:  Pass tomatoes and sauce through the large-hole setting of a food mill; set aside.  Wrap butcher’s twine around the bottom of the thyme and rosemary and tie together; set aside.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed oven-safe pot or Dutch oven, heat the oil over med. heat.  Add bacon; cook until the fat softens and begins to render into the pan, 2 to 3 min.  Stir in onions and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until onions begin to soften, about 3 min.  Add garlic; cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 min.  Pour in wine; use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of pot.  
  3. When wine has mostly reduced, after about 5 min., stir in tomatoes and tomato paste.  Bring sauce to a simmer; add thyme and rosemary. Reduce heat to low; gently simmer while preparing meatballs.
  4. For Meatballs:  In large bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper.  Use a wooden spoon to stir in bread crumbs, Pecorino and parsley; add the lamb.  Use your hands to combine the ingredients; shape into 24 balls (use a small ice cream scooper to get evenly sized balls if desired).
  5. Arrange the meatballs on an oven-safe skillet lightly coated with cooking spray; place under broiler until nicely browned, about 10 min., rotating the pan midway through for even browning.  Remove pan from broiler.
  6. Transfer meatballs to sauce; stir to coat. Cover meatballs with parchment paper cut to fit.  Cover pot; cook at 325°F for 1 hr.
  7. For Polenta:  In a med. saucepan, bring water and milk to a simmer over med.-high heat.  Slowly sprinkle in polenta; whisk constantly to ensure mixture is smooth.  Continue to whisk until thickened.  Use a wooden spoon to stir in salt and pepper. 
  8. Reduce heat to low; slowly cook, stirring often, until creamy and completely cooked, about 45 min.  Turn off heat; stir in butter, oil and cheese; stir until butter is melted and incorporated.
  9. To serve:  Remove meatballs from the oven, uncover, and discard the parchment paper, garlic and the herb bundle; stir in olives.  Divide the polenta between 6 warmed plates or bowls.  Top with a few meatballs, some braising sauce and a few olives. Finish with mint, Pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of black pepper.
Source: American Lamb Board

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
baked bread

Instead of sourcing value-added product to reduce labor, the food and nutrition team at University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics in Madison outsources its baked goods to a local shop that hires only formerly incarcerated workers. The bakery was able to hire two new former inmates in order to keep up with the volume needs of the hospital. “We want to be really entrenched in the community, not just have a building that sits in the center of Madison,” says Amy Mihm, clinical nutrition specialist for the hospital.

Managing Your Business
food symbols allergens

Bellevue School District in King County, Wash., has reduced the instances of life-threatening allergic reactions by 94% since 2013. Wendy Weyer, business manager for nutrition services, says that success stems from direct communication with the district’s 20,000 students.

Q: What was the first thing you did to start reducing allergic reactions?

A: More than five years ago, we changed our menu signage to provide information to students on what the common allergens were on all the foods that were served at every station. We use symbols such as an egg or a wheat stalk for younger...

Ideas and Innovation
cold storage boxes

When working with a small footprint, the back of the house often gets squeezed in the interest of preserving precious seats. But as storage space contracts, these restaurant operators are getting resourceful with everything from shelves to ceiling height to inventory in ways that FSDs can apply, too.

“When we were first tasked with figuring out smaller footprints, when it came to interiors, it was like a bad riddle,” says Trinity Hall, SVP of development for Dallas-based Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, which shrunk its prototype from 2,200 square feet to 1,800. “Let’s make it smaller and...

Managing Your Business
business marketing concepts drawing

Sharp, smart marketing materials can make all the difference when it comes to drawing a big crowd for a menu launch or upcoming event. With more avenues to cover than ever and fewer resources to go around, operators offer their tips on making marketing work from start to finish.

Start with communication

Whether it’s an in-house marketing department, an outside agency or someone on staff wearing the marketing hat part-time, the right people need to be involved early and often. “Marketing doesn’t always have a seat at the table [like] it should in order to be truly effective,” says...

FSD Resources