Not only did I leave with the lamb I needed, but some red wine vinegar, canned San Marzano tomatoes, and Romano cheese--sparing the need to make another stop at Micucci's.
(Many thanks to Lisa at SPPL for making that recommendation!)
Why did I need those things? I had checked out My Calabria by Rosetta Costantino from the library. I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the cover photograph of all those multicolored hot peppers. Reading the book during a Maine winter is a bit painful. For too many of the recipes, the necessary ingredients are long since out of season, available only via truck from California or Florida, or perhaps shipped in from Chile, and already on the verge of being either rotten or tasteless. But I was able to find several tempting recipes that can be made with readily available produce, the most immediately intriguing of which was Zucca Gialla con la Menta--butternut squash marinated with garlic and mint. So simple, and perhaps now my favorite winter squash preparation. You just fry the squash in olive oil:
In retrospect, this would have been a perfect Hanukkah recipe.
Then season it coarse salt, pepper, red wine vinegar, shredded mint and thinly sliced garlic. Here's the first layer:
Here's the first layer.
Repeat with two more layers of squash:
The final product.
Then just let it marinate the rest of the day at room temperature.
I reserved the cooking oil for making the meatballs. I wanted lamb--I figured it would go with the mint. But I didn't want to make my keftedhes (Greek meatballs)--I didn't want to shlep down to Saco for trahana (a small, yogurt-based pasta I love to put into by keftedhes), or hunt all over for kefalograviera. Costantino doesn't have a lamb meatball recipe, but refers in several places to the Calabrian propensity for making fried balls out of just about anything, and mentions lamb specifically. The following recipe is adapted from the recipe for her grandmother's pork meatballs.
"Calabrian" Lamb Meatballs
Start with the sauce:
- Heat 3 Tbsp oil over moderate heat.
- Add 2 large cloves of garlic, cut in half lengthwise, and saute for a minute.
- Add a can of San Marzano tomatoes, hand-crushed, with their juices.
- Add 10 mint leaves, shredded, a dried hot red pepper, cut in half and mostly de-seeded, and salt to taste.
- Simmer vigorously until sauce is thick. Set aside.
Now, time for the meatballs themselves:
- Mix--with your bare hands--1.5 lbs of ground lamb, 1 egg, 3/4 cup of bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of finely chopped mint, 1/4 cup of grated romano, 1 teaspoon of coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper and 1/3 cup of water.
- Form the mixture into 1.5 inch balls (recipe for the pork says it makes 36 meatballs--I only got 15 with the lamb!).
- Make sure your frying oil is half an inch deep. Heat large pan on medium high. When oil is ready, add the meatballs, making sure not to crowd the pan. (Fry in batches if necessary.) Turn the meatballs (gently!) to make sure they are browned on all sides.
- Bring the sauce back to a vigorous simmer and add the meatballs to it. Simmer for about 10 minutes, turning once, to make sure the meatballs cook through.
The sauce would be great on pasta, but I enjoyed just eating the meatballs as a main dish with the squash on the side, sopping up sauce with a nice piece of bread.
Again, I'm making an exception to the "ethnic" ambit of this blog to talk about regional Italian cooking.