A hearty late winter meal with a hint of spring
Lamb meatballs, peas, carrots, and potato wedges, all flavored with fresh thyme, satisfy in winter, taste like spring.
This week’s recipe was born of disaster. I spent much of Sunday afternoon in the kitchen, filling it – and the entire apartment, in fact – with heavenly smells, if I say so myself. The taste of the finished dish delivered on the aroma, and the dish was acceptably photogenic. Sadly, it was also irreparably dry and chewy.
At moments like this, I sometimes question what I’m doing here in the food blogosphere.
But everything seems brighter and more hopeful in the morning, even in bad horror movies. Monday morning rolled around, and I decided I would figure something out. And I did. Inspiration came from a very different lamb meatball recipe, one for spiced lamb meatballs to be used as a pizza topping, in the current issue of Bon Appétit. As delicious as they sounded, I was in the mood for the thyme and fresh peas and carrots that had all figured into my unfortunate Sunday adventure. The dish as you see here pretty much formed itself in my head in a few minutes.
Lamb is eaten almost everywhere, as I pointed out in my Moroccan Lamb Chop. But often when I think about it, I remember tooling around the UK one summer with my brother and seeing sheep grazing in every churchyard, on every hillside … virtually anywhere grass was growing. It wasn’t much of a stretch to see how the fresh peas and thyme would give the recipe a vaguely English flavor.
I recently made a Lancashire hotpot, a traditional English dish with lamb, potatoes and, yes, thyme. And almost exactly two years ago, I made a vaguely Irish lamb stew (also with thyme – I’m spotting a trend here). Those both call for chunks of stew meat that, in turn, call for long, slow cooking. As a result, flavors meld together into something hearty and soul satisfying, perfect for a cold winter’s night.
Ground lamb, however, cooks quickly, and individual ingredients maintain their separate identities, even as they play nicely together. And while the lamb meatballs and potato wedges give this dish a stick-to-your-ribs quality, the sweetness of the peas and carrots and the fresh garden taste of the thyme offer a promise of spring. And considering its origins in disaster, it was really, really delicious.
Lamb Thyme Meatballs with Vegetables
Serves 3 to 4 (see Kitchen Notes)
1 pound ground lamb
1 scallion, white and pale green part only, minced
1 rounded tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, divided (or 1-1/2 teaspoons dried)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium potato, about 1/2 pound (I used Yukon Gold)
1-1/2 cups fresh peas (you can substitute frozen – see Kitchen Notes)
3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced on a diagonal
1 medium shallot, sliced
1/2 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
Break up ground lamb in a large bowl. Add the minced scallion and half the thyme. Season generously with salt and pepper and work the lamb with your hands to combine. Form meatballs of the lamb mixture, about 1-1/4 inches in diameter or so, and place on a large plate. You should get 18 to 20 meatballs from the lamb. Set aside.
Peel the potato. Slice in half lengthwise and cut each half into 4 wedges. Rinse in cold water to remove excess starch and place in a covered, microwave-safe container, still wet. Microwave for 2 to 3 minutes, until just tender – the tip of a knife blade should pierce potato wedges easily. Let cool until you can handle and blot dry with paper towel. Toss with a drizzle of oil and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
Meanwhile, cook the peas and carrots in a pot of boiling water until just tender, about 15 minutes. If using frozen peas, follow package instructions. Drain and set aside.
Cook the meatballs. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium flame. Add 2 tablespoons of oil and when it starts to shimmer, add the meatballs. Brown, turning a few times, for about 6 minutes. Transfer to a plate (the same one you had them on before cooking will do fine). Drain the fat from the skillet and wipe with a paper towel, but do not wash.
Cook the potatoes. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and heat over medium flame. Add the potato wedges and cook until nicely browned, turning occasionally, about 6 to 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate (it can be the meatball plate, if there’s room).
Cook everything all together. Add the shallot to the pan and sauté until it begins to soften, stirring frequently to avoid burning, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the remaining thyme and cook until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add carrots, peas, broth and wine. Scrape up any browned bits and return meatballs and potato wedges to the pan. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lamb and potatoes are heated through, about 3 minutes. Divide among shallow bowls or plates and serve.
How many servings? This will easily serve three people. Start with a salad or appetizer and add a generous dessert at the end and you can stretch it to four.
Fresh is best. I’ve been finding pre-shelled fresh peas in the produce section of some supermarkets these days. If you can find them, the flavor and texture really are wonderful. If not, look for the plainest, least messed with frozen peas you can find. No butter, no nothing.
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