Meatballs. Funny word. It’s a food we love and people we think are goofs. Goofy aside, meatballs are one of those dishes that are universal. Western folks are like to say “spaghetti and meatballs” as if it were one continuous phrase. I grew up on that dish. You may have too. Suzen has an Italian godmother, the marvelous Ann Nurse, who has shared with Suzen her unsurpassed recipe for meatballs. Italian style. Put plate in front of me, and I cannot constrain myself.
Of course, meatballs exist around the planet. And they don’t all taste like you are in a Roman piazza indulging on pasta and red wine. No, meatballs come in a bounty of flavors. Try some alternatives, and you quickly realize that it is pointless to ask, “Which is the best?” You can simply enjoy the different combinations you will find in the restaurants and home and even campfires around the world.
From the exceptional book Ottolenghi [Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi] comes this Middle Eastern version. Here the meatballs have that base flavor accelerated with allspice, parsley, cinnamon, and lemon zest — I said this was Middle Eastern! More importantly, the meatballs are cooked by baking them in tahini.
The flavor profile here is not understated. Authors Ottolenghi and Tamimi admit this dish is not pretty. When it comes from the oven, the tahini has dried and clings to the meatballs. Elegance is not as aspect here. Flavor is. And, by adorning the dish on the table with more herbs or zest, you can gain some prettiness.
After the first bite, pretty will not be your concern. Consumption will be. Why not? These are meatballs.
Beef and Lamb Meatballs Baked in Tahini
Yield: serves 4 to 6
For the Tahini Sauce:
- ⅔ cup tahini paste
- ⅔cup water
- 4 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Pinch of salt
For the Meatballs:
- 1 ¼ ounces stale white bread, crusts removed
- 10 ½ ounces minced beef
- 10 ½ ounces minced lamb
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- ⅔ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped, plus 1 tablespoon for garnish
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 ½ teaspoons ground allspice
- 1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 free-range egg
- Light olive oil for frying
- Grated zest of ½ lemon, for garnish
To make the tahini sauce, in a bowl, mix together the tahini paste, water, vinegar, garlic, and salt. Whisk well until it turns smooth and creamy with a thick, saucelike consistency. You might need to add more water. Set the sauce aside while you make the meatballs.
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Soak the bread in cold water for 2 to 3 minutes, until it goes soft. Squeeze out most of the water and crumble the bread into a mixing bowl. Add the beef, lamb, ⅔ cup parsley, salt, spices, and egg and mix well with your hands.
Shape the meat mixture into balls, about the size of golf balls. Pour olive oil to a depth of ¼ inch into a large frying pan. Heat it, being careful it doesn’t get too hot or it will spit all over when frying. Shallow fry the meatballs in small batches for about 2 minutes, turning them around as you go, until they are uniformly brown on the outside.
Put the meatballs on paper towels to soak up the oil and then arrange them in a single layer in an ovenproof serving dish. Place in the oven for 5 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven, pour the tahini sauce over and around the meatballs, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. The tahini will take on just a little bit of color and thicken up; the meatballs should be just cooked through. Transfer to individual plates, garnish liberally with the 1 tablespoon parsley and lemon zest, and serve at once.
Source: Ottolenghi The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi
Photo Information: Canon T2i, EFS 60MM Macro Lens, F/2.8, 1/100th second, ISO-2000