Tomato and Olive-Braised American Lamb Meatballs with Soft Polenta

Recipe provided by | Chef/Owner Matthew Accarrino, SPQR, San Francisco, California



28 ounces Canned whole San Marzano tomatoes
4 sprigs Fresh thyme
2 sprigs Fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon Extra-virgin olive oil
2 Thinly sliced bacon strips, very finely chopped
1 medium Red onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
6 Garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3/4 cup Medium-dry red wine (like a Malbec)
1 tablespoon Tomato paste


1/2 cup Ricotta cheese
1 large Egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon Smoked paprika (pimentòn)
1/4 teaspoon Toasted cumin* (see Note)
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup Unseasoned bread crumbs
1/4 cup Finely grated Pecorino cheese
2 tablespoons Finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1 pound Ground American Lamb (preferably from sirloin)
1/4 cup (about 10) Pitted Gaeta olives


3 cups Water
1 cup Whole milk
1 cup Polenta (coarse-ground cornmeal)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons Unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Grated Pecorino cheese

To Serve

1 tablespoon or 4 large leaves Mint leaves, stacked, rolled into a tight cylinder, sliced crosswise into thin strips
2 tablespoons Grated Pecorino cheese
Extra-virgin olive oil as needed
Freshly ground black pepper as needed



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


In a large bowl, whisk together ricotta, egg, paprika, cumin, salt and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to stir in bread crumbs, Pecorino and parsley; add the lamb. Use your hands to combine the ingredients together; shape into 24 balls (use a small ice cream scooper to get evenly sized balls if desired).
Arrange the meatballs on an oven-safe skillet lightly coated with cooking spray; place under broiler until nicely browned, about 10 minutes, rotating the pan midway through for even browning. Remove pan from the broiler.
Transfer the meatballs to the sauce; stir to coat. Cover meatballs with parchment paper cut to fit. Cover pot; cook at 325ºF for one hour.


In a medium saucepan, bring water and milk to a simmer over medium-high heat. Slowly sprinkle in polenta; whisk constantly to ensure mixture is smooth. Continue to whisk until thickened. Use a wooden spoon to stir in salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low; slowly cook, stirring often, until creamy and completely cooked, about 45 minutes. Turn off heat; stir in butter, oil and cheese; stir until butter is melted and incorporated.
Remove meatballs from the oven, uncover, and discard the parchment paper, garlic and the herb bundle; stir in olives. Divide the polenta between 6 warmed plates or bowls. Top with a few meatballs, some braising sauce, and a few olives. Finish with mint, Pecorino, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of black pepper.

Note: To 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 until powder fine. Ground cumin can be stored in a cool, dry, dark place for up to 6 months.

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