Because there's no browning involved, these meatballs are quick to prepare – and they stay wonderfully tender. Bathed in the simple tomato sauce in which they braise, they're delicious served over pasta, couscous, polenta or mashed potatoes. Or serve them by themselves, with toothpicks for picking them up, as an hors d'oeuvre. To toast the pine nuts, set them in a dry pan over low heat and let them toast, shaking the pan frequently, till they're just golden brown. (Careful – they burn quickly!)
Makes about 30 1 1/3-inch meatballs.
For the meatballs:
1 pound ground lamb
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup dried bread crumbs
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried spearmint
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch of Aleppo pepper or red chile flakes
For the sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
A few fresh thyme sprigs
1 garlic clove, smashed slightly and peeled
1 14 1/2 ounce can chopped tomatoes, including liquid
1/2 cup red wine
1/3 cup water
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1. To make the meatballs, combine the lamb, garlic, bread crumbs, eggs, toasted pine nuts, grated cheese, parsley, dried spearmint, salt and Aleppo pepper (or chile flakes) in a medium mixing bowl. Mix them thoroughly, but don't overwork the mixture.
2. Form the mixture into balls about 1 1/3 inch in diameter, placing them on a baking sheet or platter as they're formed.
3. Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large skillet, add the onion, the thyme sprigs and the garlic and sauté till the onion is soft and translucent, about five minutes. Remove the thyme sprigs and garlic and discard. Add the chopped tomatoes with their liquid, the wine, water, bay leaf, salt and black pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn heat to medium-low and simmer about 10 minutes.
4. Add the meatballs to the sauce, handling them gently and shaking the pan a bit if necessary so they settle down into it. Cover the skillet and simmer the meatballs in the sauce about 30 minutes. If they're not completely submerged, gently turn them over with a spoon after 15 minutes, or shake the pan so they move around.
5. Adjust the sauce's seasoning and serve the meatballs over pasta, couscous, polenta or mashed potatoes, or put them in a serving dish and spear them with toothpicks as an hors d'oeuvre.