Saucy, with a Chance of Meatballs

You could draw a culinary Venn Diagram with two overlapping circles.  Label one circle Comfort Food.  Label the other Goofy Food.  Where the circles overlap would be the Meatball Zone.  That’s where you’d find Lamb and Pork Meatballs with Simple Tomato Sauce.  Good, but funny.

Is there anyone who doesn’t smile at the sight of meatballs?  A lone diner – pencil thin mustache, sagging shoulders – contemplating a plate of pasta with tomato sauce and a single giant meatball is inherently risible, man vs. meatball, an absurdist premise that if a little of something is good, then a lot must be much better.  Too much, and yet we still feel the impulse – I think I could eat that.  When we were cooking this dish and debating portion size Jody observed that six of this recipe’s meatballs would be too much for her (24 meatballs divided among 4 people).  When our son visits, he and his friends are too young for the humor of the giant meatball to register – Yeah, that’s a big meatball.  Are there any more?  Can I have two? 

Jody taught me to eat meatballs without pasta.  (There are already breadcrumbs and cheese – why do you want pasta?  Have a slice of bread.)  And I have to admit, a plate devoted exclusively to meatballs, simple homemade sauce, a slice of good bread and a glass of Chianti is the poor man’s Lucullan feast.  In the photographs each portion holds 5 tasty lamb and pork meatballs.  Look carefully, smile, but be honest with yourself – you know you want 6.   Ken

Lamb and Pork Meatballs with

Simple Tomato Sauce

Makes 24 meatballs

Assemble all of the ingredients.  Begin with the meatballs and then, while they chill, prepare the sauce.

Meatball ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup minced onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • ¼ cup ricotta, drained
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • ½ cup fine breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or paprika
  • 1 teaspoon garum or Asian fish sauce
  • ½ cup chopped parsley
  • ½ pound ground pork, cold
  • ½ pound ground lamb, cold
  • 1 recipe Spicy Tomato Sauce, see below
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt


  1. Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook 1 minute.  Season with salt and pepper and cool.
  2. Beat the egg, then mix it with the ricotta, pecorino, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, Aleppo pepper, garum and parsley.   Season with salt and pepper.  Let sit 10 minutes to allow the bread to absorb the liquid and soften.  Mix well.
  3. Add the ground meat and sauteed onions.  Using your hands, gently combine the meat and ricotta mixture.  Take care not to over work the mixture or you’ll end up with tough meatballs.  Pinch off a small piece and fry it in olive oil.  Taste, and then adjust the mixture seasonings as necessary.
  4. Form into 24 balls.  Chill for 30 minutes.
  5. Prepare the sauce according to the directions below.
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the meatballs and sear on each side 3 minutes (they should still be pink in the middle). Reduce the heat to low, add the tomato sauce to the pan, cover and cook 5 minutes. Top each meatball with a spoonful of yogurt and run under the broiler.  Serve immediately.

Tomato Sauce ingredients:

  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ¾ cup onion, diced ¼ inch
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 28 ounces canned plum tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs of thyme
  • ½ teaspoon ground fennel seeds
  • 2 inch piece of a cinnamon stick
  • a cheese rind


  1. Heat the oil with the onion and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cover and cook 10 minutes.
  2. Remove the cover, season with salt and pepper, add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, cinnamon stick, fennel seeds and cheese rind and cook 35 minutes.  Remove the bay leaf, thyme sprigs, cinnamon stick and cheese rind.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

Jody notes:

Meatballs never figured into our family meals when I was growing up and Ken and I never really made them either.  After making this recipe, I asked myself why we hadn’t given them a try.  They’re delicious, small  and fun to eat, so perfect for kids.  At the same time they take a little work–you have to roll them by hand.   Now I feel guilty.   

This recipe deviates from the classic meatball formula of ground beef, bread crumbs and eggs.  I prefer lamb and pork to ground beef–lamb for flavor and pork for fat.  In addition, I want to taste and feel the meat so I’ve reduced the proportion of egg and breadcrumbs.  Instead of topping the finished meatballs with cheese, I’ve added Greek yogurt, a little tang in an otherwise rich dish. 

And of course, even with the sauce, I couldn’t leave well enough alone.  I added a few extra seasonings to our simple recipe.  As always, feel free to leave them out or use a recipe of your own.

35 thoughts

    • Hi, Donna–nice to hear from you again. Well, there are other suppers coming up… and I’d be be willing to bet that given where you live your supper was considerably more exotic than mine! Ken

      • Not always. I think it was sausage and gravy over rice that night, and leftovers at that.

        You two make cooking look so great. Very inspiring. Keep it up! I like that you just have one post a week. It’s so well done, and not overwhelming.

  1. Oh my gosh, I think I want these tonight instead of pizza Too bad I’m Catholic. Maybe tomorrow :) And I agree pork & lamb are the way to go!

  2. I think you’re on to something: forget the pasta! As always, your tweaks are great–a meatball is a meatball is a meatball, except when it’s not (from Jody and Ken). Also, love the light in these photos, Ken. Nice job.

    p.s. If you have a smallish scoop, it goes a lot faster (you probably know that).

  3. Now that you’ve jumped on the meatball train, try Swedish meatballs (popular here in Scandinavian Seattle). Meatballs, mashed potatoes and lingonberry preserves (or cranberry sauce). Big hit with the kids.

    • I love Swedish meatballs! They’re big where I grew up in the Midwest too! Maybe we’ll do a post on them, but I’m not sure they’re a good recipe for cycle-training season! Ken

  4. Jody, these look fantastic! Can I do these without breadcrumbs for the gluten issue? Or I know I can buy gluten-free breadcrumbs too if you think that’s better.

    PS: I am making the blood orange/pistachio torte this weekend, cannot wait.

    • Heidi–We’re in Napa Valley, where Jody is one of the judges in the 2012 San Pellegrino Almost Famous Chef Finals. Jody’s off at Greystone working with the young chefs (I’m sitting in our hotel room, answering comments). I’m sure she’ll answer your question directly, but just so you’re not left hanging… You can do the meatballs either w/out the breadcrumbs, or with g-f crumbs. The texture, particularly in the case of the first option, may be different. Good luck with the torte! We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who’ve made it successfully! Ken

    • Heidi,
      You can absolutely do these without breadcrumbs. They will be a little firmer, but many meatball recipes don’t have breadcrumbs. As for gluten free bread I’ve never worked with it, but my guess is it would be fine. Good luck with the cake. Jody

  5. Love meatballs with no pasta — I’ve been making a version with veal, pork and beef with a spicy marinara, but these lamb ones with the different flavor twist in the sauce sound great!

  6. Ken, fantastic pictures, as always. I’m going to have to try these with the ground lamb I have in the freezer. I have a fellow ski instructor here at Sugarloaf who breeds lambs for real money (what’s the difference between a pizza and a ski instructor? A pizza can feed a family of 4). Anyway, fantastic lamb – the boys insist it is the best meat they’ve ever had. This will make a nice change up from the lamb burgers.

    We used to make meatball subs with the leftovers from my Mom’s spaghetti and meatballs. A great post-bike ride snack! Ride on Team Rialto-Trade!

    • Pizza/ski instructor – Ha! (although a little harsh for ski instructors). I veer back and forth when asked if you were trapped on an island with only one kind of meat for the rest of your life?–lamb or duck would be my answer. Some days it’s one, some days the other. Man, locally bred lamb, you ARE lucky! Ken

      P.S. Yes! Go Team Rialto-Trade!

  7. This comment has nothing to do with meatballs, but I wanted to let you know I ate at Rialto last night for the first time and what a spectacular meal to celebrate my birthday! Had the char crudo, lobster bucatini and eggplant parm. Seriously seriously good food. And the curry ice cream? A pint of it, please! (not sure if you’ve heard of Jenni’s Ice Cream in Columbus OH but they have a crazy range of flavors – rhubarb cardomon and blueberry sweet corn are the two come to mind – and so yummy.)

    • so glad to hear you had a good time at Rialto and so sorry I mised you. i LOVE jenni’s. i’m in napa as a judge for the “Almost Famous Chef” cooking finals. They are impressive. jody

    • Hi, Steve–Now I’m feeling a little guilty. Yesterday I came across an article in LIVING WELL about meatballs (great minds and all that…) and they said suggested TWO meatballs per serving, which represents a level of restraint I’m hoping for in my next life. Ken

  8. Hi Jody and Ken –

    Jamie and I made these meatballs last night, perfect Sunday family meal, they were delicious! Used fine gluten free breadcrumbs and it was fantastic!

    On a separate note, Jamie and her boyfriend helped me make the orange/pistachio torte on Saturday, we all attended a raclette dinner party on Saturday night and the dessert was devoured. The kids really enjoy cooking together so we have agreed to make a Garun Factory recipe once each week as a new tradition.

    Fun was had by all.

    • How sweet! (And dedicated!) We normally don’t double recipes up, but we made meatballs again this weekend as well. My Texan brother had sent me a load of venison, including a couple of packages of ground meat. We combined the venison with ground pork and some 85% ground beef because the venison was so lean, then because we’d used tomato sauce earlier in the week we finished them in a curry-cream mixture. They were great by themselves, but next time with buttered noodles.

      I’m going to freeze the remainder just so I’ve got something jolly available for a great, unusual dinner with some kick.

      Keep us posted on how things go with recipes. Ken

    • Thank you, Cindy. I haven’t dared look at this post since we changed themes since the transition did so much damage to the layout of previous posts. Slowly working my way back through them. Glad this one is still appealing. Ken

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