Tomato and Olive Braised Lamb Meatballs.
Tomato and Olive Braised Lamb Meatballs.
Tomato and Olive Braised Lamb Meatballs.

Tomato and Olive-Braised American Lamb Meatballs with Soft Polenta


December 13, 2015

Chef/Owner Matthew Accarrino of SPQR in San Francisco, California, created this mouth-watering recipe. He brings all of the flavors of Italy to this dish of lamb meatballs topped off with creamy polenta.

  • Prep: 1 hrs
  • Cook: 2 hrs
  • Yields: 6 Servings (24 meatballs)



1 can whole San Marzano tomatoes (28 ounce)

4 sprigs fresh thyme

2 sprigs fresh rosemary

1 tsp extra-virgin olive oil

2 thinly sliced bacon strips, very finely chopped

1 medium red onion, minced

1 tsp salt

6 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

¾ cup medium-dry red wine (like a Malbec)

1 tbsp tomato paste


½ cup ricotta cheese

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp smoked paprika (pimentòn)

¼ tsp toasted cumin (see Note)

¾ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

½ cup plain breadcrumbs

¼ cup finely grated Pecorino cheese

2 tbsp finely chopped fresh Italian parsley

1 lb ground American Lamb (preferably from sirloin)

¼ cup pitted Gaeta olives (about 10)


3 cups water

1 cup whole milk

1 cup polenta (coarse-ground cornmeal)

½ tsp kosher salt

½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

¼ cup grated Pecorino cheese

1 tbsp (4 large leaves) fresh mint leaves, stacked, rolled into a tight cylinder, sliced crosswise into thin strips

2 tbsp grated Pecorino cheese

Extra-virgin olive oil, as needed

Freshly ground black pepper, as needed



1Pass the tomatoes with their juice through the large-hole setting of a food mill; set aside. Wrap butcher’s twine around the bottom of the thyme and rosemary and tie together; set aside.

2In a heavy-bottomed, oven-safe pot or Dutch oven heat the oil over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook until the fat softens and begins to render into the pan, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in onions and salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Pour in the wine and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. When the wine has mostly reduced, after about 5 minutes, stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring the sauce to a simmer and add thyme and rosemary. Reduce the heat to low; gently simmer the sauce while preparing the meatballs.


1In a large bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, paprika, cumin, salt, and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to stir in breadcrumbs, Pecorino, and parsley; add the lamb. Use your hands to combine the ingredients together and shape into 24 balls (use a small ice cream scooper to get evenly-sized balls if desired).

2Arrange the meatballs on an oven-safe skillet lightly coated with cooking spray; place under the broiler until nicely browned, about 10 minutes, rotating the pan midway through for even browning. Remove pan from the broiler. Preheat the oven to 325ºF.

3Transfer the meatballs to the sauce; stir to coat. Cover the meatballs with parchment paper cut to fit. Cover pot and bake for one hour.


1In a medium saucepan, bring the water and milk to a simmer over medium-high heat. Slowly sprinkle in the polenta, whisking constantly to ensure mixture is smooth. Continue to whisk until thickened. Use a wooden spoon to stir in the salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and slowly cook, stirring often, until creamy and completely cooked, about 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, oil, and cheese. Stir until the butter is melted and incorporated.


1Remove the meatballs from the oven, uncover, and discard the parchment paper, garlic, and the herb bundle. Stir in the olives. Divide the polenta among 6 warmed plates or bowls. Top with a few meatballs, some braising sauce, and a few olives. Finish with the mint, Pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of black pepper.


1To make the toasted cumin, heat a small skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook, shaking the pan often, until they turn a nutty brown color and are fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and immediately turn the cumin out onto a medium plate to cool. Once cooled, transfer the seeds to a coffee mill or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Ground cumin can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 6 months.

Recipe and image provided by the American Lamb Board


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