Greek Pasta with Meatballs

Tonight was a bonus night in the kitchen.  Normally the four footed diva and I have obedience class on Tuesdays, but it was canceled tonight.  I took advantage of the extra time to make a dinner that takes a little extra time.  Gotta say it was totally worth it.  This meal was so good that I have a list of acknowledgments that I’ll save to the end.

I followed this recipe with only two exceptions: I made my own marinara; and I used one whole egg instead of two whites because I only had one egg in the house.  You can absolutely use pre-made marinara, but be sure you get a good quality one. If you decided to make your own marinara start that first so it can be cooking while you do your chopping and make the meatballs. These meatballs are pretty standard, but they include just a touch of cinnamon.  I’m used to a little nutmeg or cinnamon in a savory cream sauce, but not in dishes with tomato sauce.  It sounds a little strange for meatballs, but don’t skip it.  It adds a wonderful depth to the flavor.

A couple of tips about the meatballs.  Mix them with your hands.  If you squeeze the mixture through your hands it will mix well quickly.  You don’t want to handle the lamb mixture too much.  If you overmix it the meatballs will be tough.  When you cook the meatballs heat the pan until it smokes.  I recommend a cast iron skillet.  It will keep the heat the most consistent temperature and the most evenly distributed.  Place them in the pan and flatten them just slightly.  Leave enough room around them in the pan for you to turn them easily.  Don’t move them for at least 2 minutes (it’s longer than you think).  That will allow the heat to put a nice sear on the meatball.  If you try to move them too early you’ll tear them and they’ll end up dry and crumbly.  Use tongs to turn them over gently.  They won’t be cooked quite through when you take them out.  They finish in the oven.

I love that this dish uses orzo instead of spaghetti.  It’s so much easier to eat politely if you’re serving guests.  Or if you just don’t want to end up with red sauce on your shirt.  I love the feta.  If you get good feta a little goes a long way.  The higher the quality the more intense the flavor. If you use too much it will overpower everything else.  As you know if you’ve been reading long I generally recommend using local food when you can.  I find this to be particularly true with lamb.  New Zealand is famous for its lamb, but New Zealand lamb always seems a little gamey to me.  I buy local lamb.  The flavor is distinctive, but smooth and subtle.  So, if you think you don’t like lamb this might be a good way to give it another try.

This was the best dinner I’ve turned out in a while so I feel compelled to say thanks to the folks who helped make it so good.  I’ll start with Relay Foods since they did some of the shopping.  All I had to do was pick it up at a location five blocks from my house.  And kudos to the Mediterranean Bakery for providing such good feta at a reasonable price.  Hats off to Pair-a-Dice Farm for the amazing lamb.  I’ve never had a cut of their lamb (or one of their eggs) that wasn’t fantastic. I’ll be very glad to see the Hollicks again at the South of the James farmers’ market in a couple of weeks.  And finally a round of applause for my mom who spent a whole day with me in a 104 degree kitchen canning tomatoes last summer.  You just can’t beat tomato sauce made from local tomatoes canned in your own kitchen.

Good? Oh, so good.  So, so good.
Easy? Not too bad. Made easier if you let someone else make the marinara.
Good for company? Absolutely. It’ll make for very happy guests!
Special shopping? The ingredients really count here so get good ones.

Greek Pasta with Meatballs

Ingredients

2 cups hot cooked orzo
1/3 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound lean ground lamb
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, divided
1 large egg
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
2 cups marinara sauce
3/4 cup (3 ounces) crumbled feta cheese

Preparation

1. Preheat oven to 375°.
2. Cook orzo according to package directions; drain. Keep warm.
3. Combine breadcrumbs and next 6 ingredients (through garlic) in a medium bowl; stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons parsley. Add egg, stirring mixture with your hands until just combined. Shape mixture into 12 (1-inch) meatballs; cover and chill meatballs 5 minutes.
4. Heat oil in a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add meatballs to pan; cook 8 minutes, turning to brown on all sides. Drain well; wipe pan clean with paper towels. Return meatballs to pan. Spoon marinara sauce over meatballs; sprinkle with cheese. Bake at 375° for 11 minutes or until meatballs are done. Sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons parsley. Serve over orzo.

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