Around the world, meatballs are a cook’s home way with sausage making, not much fuss to put together and no casing required. In particular, lamb meatballs spiked with one kind of nut or another–walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds–are masterful fare found in various renditions throughout the Mediterranean. With their delicate yet hearty taste, small balls of them are exactly right to anchor a late summer/early fall grill party. Or, if it’s to be an indoor party, skewer and broil them or saute them without the skewers.
The vivid little yellow/orange cherry tomatoes I used for the sauce in this photo were from my neighbor, Keith Fullington’s, backyard. They’re the first in a second generation, locally grown tomato plant he has developed to produce year round! Photos © by Rick Wise. Left click on any photo to see it full screen.
Parsley, though seldom as loudly lauded as some of its flashier herb kin, is a major player in both the meatballs and the snap-to-make vinaigrette sauce in this recipe. When the tomatoes aren’t so fine, i.e., in winter, just omit the tomatoes and stir in a teaspoon of rich tomato paste instead. Or, alternatively, avgolemeno sauce makes a good substitute.
Makes about eighteen 1 1/4-inch meatballs
1 pound ground lamb, preferably from the shoulder
3 tablespoons blanched almonds, finely ground but not pulverized
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
To make the Olive, Tomato, and Parsley Vinaigrette, in a small bowl combine:
1 cup tiny cherry tomatoes, halved (1/3 cup) or 2 medium red tomatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice (2/3 cup),
8 kalamata or other good quality black olives, pitted and chopped, not too finely (2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Mix together and set aside at room temperature for up to 2 hours before using.
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley leaves
2 heaping teaspoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup red wine
Olive, Tomato, and Parsley Vinaigrette, for serving (see the sidebar)
1. Combine the lamb, almonds, garlic, mint, parsley, cayenne, salt, and wine in a large bowl and mix with your hands until well blended. Saute a small piece so you can taste it for salt and other seasonings. Adjust the seasonings if necessary, mixing them in well. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight..
2. When ready to cook, prepare a hot grill. Roll the lamb mixture into small balls about 1 1/4-inches in diameter and thread the balls onto bamboo skewers (see the photo). Set aside in the refrigerator while the grill heats.
3. Make the sauce.
4. Place the lamb skewers on the grill rack directly over the heat source and cook until charred on the bottom, about 4 minutes. Turn and cook until sizzling and charred on the other side, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve right away with the sauce drizzled across the top.