Thursday, February 24, 2011

Rosemary-Lamb Meatballs with Marscapone-Shiitake Sauce and Lemony-Pecorino Pesto

Meatballs are all the rage right now.  There is even a restaurant in New York that serves nothing but meatballs.  NY's constant ability to somehow stake a claim on food/clothing/anything that has already been around forever, quite frankly, annoys me.  However, that's how it is.  I was kicking around my fridge last night trying to figure out what to make for dinner. (I almost never have a pre-planned dinner in mind.)  I had a pound of ground lamb that I had intended on making into Lamb Burgers with a tzatziki sauce.  However, I didn't have Greek Yogurt on hand and it takes hours to strain regular yogurt into Greek-style.  Also, my charcoal grill was out of fuel and I'd be damned if I was going to eat a pan-fried burger. Instead, I turned out a fantastic Lamb Meatballs and Pappardelle.  This recipe, while inspired by memories and different recipes, is 100% mine. You're either going to love it, or hate it, because I don't cook with precise measurements. 

Ben's Pappardelle Noodles:
  • 2 c. flour, *I use King Arthur all-purpose.  You can use semolina but I generally reserve that for finer pasta like angel hair. 
  • 3 xl eggs OR 2 xl eggs plus 2 yolks The more yolks you use, the more tender and rich the dough will be.
Easy so far, no?  In your Kitchen Aid stand mixer, dump in the flour and make a well in the center for the eggs.  Pour your eggs into the well and using the hook attachment, slowly allow the mixer to incorporate the flour into the eggs.  You want this process to happen very slowly until the eggs are well incorporated with at least 1/4 of the flour. Make sure keep using the hook until the egg/flour slurry is completely homogeneous and you cannot distinguish grains of flour from the egg. Do not rush this process or the dough will be grainier. 

At this point, I lose some patience.  Switch off to the paddle mixer and mix the remaining flour and egg/flour slurry into a mixture.  Do this until you hear the motor just begin straining.  As soon as you hear the KA straining, immediately switch back to the hook mixture or you can burn out your KA.  The dough should not appear the least bit sticky! It should be shiny and smooth.  If you need to add flour, do so until your dough is smooth and shiny. If your dough is too dry (rarely happens) then you need to slowly add moisture back in by misting the dough with a water bottle. It is much harder to reincorporate moisture, than it is to incorporate a bit more flour.

 This is a judgment call, but it is basically impossible to over-knead pasta dough, especially when you are working with all-purpose flour.  Turn the pasta dough, which is probably in the form of several medium balls, out onto a floured board and finish neading into a tight ball by hand.  Firmly press the dough away from you with the heal of your hand until it is smooth, resistant and springy.  When the dough is depressed with a finger, the indentation should slowly spring back.  If the depression doesn't spring back, you didn't knead it enough.  Cover the dough and rest for 30 minutes. (Begin to make your meatballs during this 30-minute break.) 

Roll the dough with a roller attachment.  Roll the dough to the finest setting that your pasta machine has.  Cut the noodles into very rustic, very wide strips, about 1-1/2" wide.  Hang your noodles to dry and start a large pot of salted water to boil.  Begin to heat your pasta water at the same time the recipe indicates to add chicken stock to the meatballs, so that your water will be at a rolling boil when you need it.

Rosemary & Garlic Lamb Meatballs
  • 1 lb. ground lamb
  • 1/2 Demi-Baguette worth of bread crumbs. (Pulse half of a demi-baguette until you have coarse to medium crumbs.  With the motor running, slowly pour a scant 1/4 cup of milk into the crumbs.)
  • 2 xl eggs
  • 1/4-1/2 c. grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese (the more the merrier!)
  • 1/2 head of minced garlic
  • 2 Tb. finely chopped fresh rosemary (more if you dare)
  • 1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all in the Kitchen Aid with the paddle until just combined.  You don't want a dense mixture here, you want to mix it until it can just BARELY hold together.  This is another reason that I use milk-moistened fresh bread crumbs.  If you can at all help it, do not use dried bread crumbs from the grocery aisle.  In a very large saute pan, heat some olive oil.  Form the meatballs with a 1/4 c. measure and loosely form into the meatballs.  Place in the pan to sear on 2-3 sides each. 

It is very important to not overcrowd the pan.  You will not gain a good sear on the meatballs.  Also, many cooks make the mistake of trying to turn the meatballs too soon.  If you do this, they will stick.  Many times, meat goes through a sticking "curve".  It sticks for awhile, but when it has formed a proper crust, it will release. You need a large, heavy-duty, traditional French saute pan with deep straight sides and a tightly fitting lid.  (A very large French or Dutch oven would also work.) If you don't have a large enough pan, brown in batches until all the meatballs are done and then return them all to the pan when you make the sauce. Make sure that the meatballs have a rich, deep brown crust on all sides before moving onto the sauce. 

Shiitake Marscapone Sauce
  • 1 qt. chicken stock or broth
  • Several ounces of Shiitake mushrooms
  • handful of chopped sun-dried tomatoes
  • 8 oz. Marscapone cheese
  • Salt and peper, to taste
Saute the mushrooms in the drippings from the meatballs, adding butter or olive oil if needed. (Whether or not you need to remove the meatballs or merely push them to one side to do this is dependent on the size and shape of your pan. Pour chicken stock into the pan until it comes about halfway up the sides of the meatballs, or halfway up the pan.  This also depends on the side and shape of your pan.  Add the sun-dried tomatoes.  Cover the pan and simmer the meatballs for at least 30 minutes, longer is better considering the proportionally large amounts of garlic and rosemary that need to be mellowed out.  When the meatballs are done, remove them and keep covered in a warm bowl or pan.  Reduce the stock, drippings, mushrooms, and tomatoes until only a cup of liquid remains.  (Hope you didn't have too heavy of a hand with the salt earlier, because you can always add salt to a reduction, but you can't take it back out!) Whisk in the Marascapone cheese, warm to temperature, and finally season to taste with salt & pepper.  This sauce breaks easily if you're too aggressive with the heat. Return the meatballs to the pan and cover.

Finally, boil your noodles.  I'm not explaining how to do this.  Drain well and return to the hot pasta pan.  Pour several GENEROUS glugs of olive oil over the noodles and toss.  I also like to season the noodles with a little salt and pepper at this point.  It really does enhance the noodles, unlike adding seasoning on top of the entire dish after its composed.  Again, this is okay as long as you didn't over-salt the sauce and meatballs. 

Finally, place a bed of the noodles in a pasta bowl and top with sauce, meatballs, a bit more cracked black pepper, and Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.  Maybe a swirl of extra-virgin.  This dish is super-rich umami deliciousness.  But wait .  .  . if you really like to cook you need an extra kick, another element, some aggressively lemony pesto.  This dish is so rich, it's really crying out for an acidic balance, and the bright green of the pesto makes it a feast for the eyes as well.  And seriously, I'm way too tired at this point to list amounts.  Use a food processor. 

Ben's Lemony Pesto (nothing makes it uniquely mine except for the massive amount of lemon I add)
  • Large bunch of fresh basil
  • Pecorino or Parmesan
  • Pine nuts (I'll let you in on a little secret.  You don't need pine nuts.  Walnuts, almonds, pistachios, even peanuts, will work.)
  • 1/2 clove of garlic
  • Olive oil
  • Fresh lemon juice
Throw chunk of cheese (1-1/2" cube) into the food processor.  Grind.  Add pine nuts (1/8 c. or more?) and the 1/2 clove of garlic.  Grind.  It is VERY important that you do it in this order before adding the basil.  Once you add the basil, it would be almost impossible to grind the cheese, nuts, and garlic fine enough without pummeling the basil leaves.  Add the basil leaves and pulse, pulse, pulse (Do not simply run the blade continuously.). What we're looking for is a nice chunky pesto that will slightly set up as a garnish on top of your pasta and meatballs, not a sauce that will run down into the dish.  Add olive oil until the dry mixture just comes together, pulsing sparingly.  Add the entire juice of a large juice lemon, or of two smaller lemons. Pulse.  What we're looking for is a chunky, aggressively acidic pesto that is more reminiscent of a vinaigrette and less like a smooth rich sauce.  Season with salt and pepper.  Use as the garnish for this pasta dish (or as the dressing for an arugula and snow pea salad.)

Enjoy and feel free to e-mail with any questions.

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