Ground meat is on my weekly grocery list – usually beef, turkey, or lamb. (I don’t often buy ground chicken because I roast a whole chicken each week.) Ground meat is a great fridge staple for so many reasons: it’s inexpensive, quick to prepare, and easy for little ones to eat. I’m sure I’ll be sharing lots of ways to use this versatile ingredient as we are always coming up with ideas to keep it interesting. Today I want to share with you my version of a classic: meatballs in tomato sauce. It’s easy and fast, and I have a few tips to make this one pot meal special.
There are a lot of meatball recipes out there, but did you know you can literally make them out of ground meat and nothing else? Especially if you use meat from grass-fed animals, there will be plenty of flavor and little need for adornment. I find that adding a little bit of filler improves the texture, though, and gives the meatballs the softness we’ve become accustomed to. I often keep mine Paleo by using almond flour for this purpose, but I’ve also used bread crumbs mixed with a little milk. This variation calls for ground lamb, but feel free to use any ground meat you prefer. The herbs and spices are optional and particularly suited for the gaminess of lamb, which pairs well with fresh parsley, earthy cumin, and citrusy coriander.
Aside from a pinch of salt and a glug of olive oil, this tomato sauce relies on only three ingredients – tomatoes, onions, and bay leaves – yet packs a punchy flavor. First, I cook the onions a little longer than typically called for. The few extra minutes of sautéing takes them past translucent to just slightly caramelized and amps up the sweetness of the sauce without added sugars. Second, I double up on the bay leaves to increase the richness for just pennies, and add them at the beginning of the process, with the onions, to make sure as much of their savoriness is extracted as possible. For the the tomatoes, you can use the kind that come already crushed, but I find it quite satisfying to squeeze whole tomatoes with my hands. As you’ll see in the recipe below, I like to mix the ground meat with my hands as well – they are my favorite kitchen tools!
While the tomato sauce recipe is a good one to use in almost any application, it gets an additional boost in this dish. As the meatballs braise in the sauce, they render out some fat that makes the sauce even more mouthwatering. In fact, my mouth is watering just thinking about it…
Lamb Meatballs in Tomato Sauce
For the tomato sauce:
1 medium onion, diced
pinch of salt
2 bay leaves
1 28-oz can tomatoes
For the meatballs:
1 lb ground lamb
1/4 c almond flour or almond meal (or bread crumbs with a splash of milk)
handful finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
2 big pinches of salt
1. Coat the bottom a large pan (I used a Dutch oven) with olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions, pinch of salt, and bay leaves and cook until just beginning to brown on the edges, then add the tomatoes and stir. If using whole tomatoes, crush them with your hands as they go in, or use a wooden spoon to break them up as they cook.
2. While the tomato sauce begins to reduce, mix the meatball ingredients together in a medium bowl and stir with a wooden spoon (or if you don’t mind, just use your hands!) until about evenly mixed. Form the meat mixture into balls – I make mine a bit smaller than golf balls.
3. Nestle the meatballs in the tomato sauce, reduce heat to medium-low, and cover. Cook about 30 minutes, flipping the meatballs at about the halfway point. You can check for doneness by cutting into one of the meatballs to see if it is cooked all the way through. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Serve over pasta or polenta, or keep it grain-free and serve alongside steamed or roasted veggies.