I couldn't find anything.
But then! It occurred to me that I was being too classical. Instead, I should be looking to open with a pop-culture reference. And I found the perfect one, too: this dish is very much like Inception. Bear with me: you know about the dream within a dream within a dream? This is goat cheese. Within meatballs. Within the pasta. Within my belly. Now I just need to work in some trains, explosions, and an all-star cast.
I may be trying too hard, but in all seriousness, this is an impressive dish that surprises you with sudden twist of flavour while you're eating it. It would well deserve an epic soundtrack. The idea is pretty simple, and accordingly relatively straightforward to implement: you mash all your meatball ingredients in a bowl first. Then you roll out small spheres of slightly chilled goat cheese, and work the meatball around it. While cooking, the cheese seeps through the meat, keeping it tender. The taste of the cheese spreads delicately in such a way that there's only a whiff of it along the outside of the meat. Of course, when you bite into one, you'll be digging right into the center, where the fresh cheesy goodness is waiting. It's an unexpected, delicious contrast.
This recipe is from another of my graduation cookbooks: "Urban Italian Cooking" by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman. Much of the food in it is just like this: the chefs take a traditional Italian dish and give it an innovative twist. Moreover, they do so without gimickery. The process is deft, never relying on a cheap "gotcha!" sensation. Instead, one wonders why food hasn't always been made like this. If you're looking to escape cheesy "American-Italian" and don't feel like reverting back to the Traditional ways, give Urban Italian a go. It's well worth it.
Lamb Meatballs Stuffed with Goat Cheese
For the meatballs:
- 3 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander seed
- 1 tsp ground fennel seed
- 1 Tbs rosemary, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup fresh goat cheese
- 1/2 lb merguez sausage, about 8 links (or 2 links hot Italian sausage, if you prefer) with casings cut away
- 1 lb ground lamb /* if you don't want to be overly decadent, beef works well, too */
- 1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1 28oz can Italian tomatoes (San Marzano, if possible) plus their juice
- 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano, preferably on the branch
- 1/4 cup Crumbs Yo! /* this is his special bread crumbs recipe -- toasted with salt, pepper, and spices of your choice. Nice, but not necessary */
- 1/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese
To make the meatballs:
- Heat olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sweat for 3min. Add the garlic and cook for 1min, stirring occasionally.
- Add the coriander, fennel, and rosemary. Cook together 1min, so that the aromas of the spices and herbs are released. Remove to a bowl and place in the fridge to cool (about 5min), so that you're not combining hot onions with cold meat.
- Meanwhile, roll the goat cheese between your palms to form 1/2-inch balls (the size of a pebble). Place them on a plate and reserve.
- When the onion-herb mixture has cooled, combine it in a large bowl with the sausage, lamb, breadcrumbs, eggs, and salt. Mix well with your hands.
- Form the meatballs: for each meatball, scoop up about 2 Tbs of lamb mixture and roll and press it into an oval, about the size of a distended Ping-Pong ball. Use your thumb to create a goat-cheese-ball-size dent in the middle, and drop a goat-cheese ball inside. Pinch the lamb mixture up around the goat cheese to close the hole, and roll the meatball between your hands till it's round and smooth. Repeat until you've used up all the goat cheese and the lamb mixture.
To make the sauce:
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until it starts to soften, about 1min.
- Crush the tomatoes in a bowl with the heel of your hand. Add them to the pot, then add the tomato juice, red pepper flakes, salt, sugar, and oregano. Mix to combine. Cook over medium-high heat for 10min, until the flavours combine and the sauce is reduced.
- Add the meatballs, being careful not to break them. Reduce the heat to low, so the sauce is at a very low simmer, and cover. It's very important that the liquid never come to a boil. You want as slow a simmer as possible, so the flavors really come together, the cheese melts, and the meat becomes rich and tender. Cook for 5min, turn the meatballs with a spoon, and simmer another 5min, until the meat is cooked and the sauce takes on the flavour of the meatballs. (Some goat cheese may find it's way out during the cooking process -- it depends on how tightly you've made your meatballs -- but don't worry about this: the meatballs will still taste good.)
To finish the dish:
Ladle the meatballs and sauce into 6 bowls. Sprinkle with the Crumbs Yo! and the grated cheese. Serve immediately.