I am a big fan of grazing. A little of this, a little of that. Antipasto, mezze, tapas, a ploughman’s lunch, the smörgåsbord: I’m into all of it. (Though strangely, the American grazing standards of salad bars and all-you-can-eat buffets tend to give me the creeps. Something about those sneeze guards.) A variety of flavors, textures, and temperatures keeps the taste buds tuned in and on high alert. (What’s going to happen next? Will it be crispy? The cater-waiter carrying those bacon-wrapped things is coming back this way!)
Putting out a big spread of apps and nibbles is one of the easiest ways to entertain, too, rather than a full-blown culinary production. Supplementing half (or all) of the meal with store-bought goodies (a beautiful goat cheese, baba ganoush from the super-nice Lebanese guy around the corner, a platter of figs), sticking to a general theme, and serving ample amounts on nice dishes feels just as thoughtful to me.
And the thoughtful gesture is really the whole point of entertaining, isn’t it? I like you people, it says. I enjoy spending time together. I want to nurture you with good food and laugh with you over drinks. You don’t have to be a knockout cook to say all that. You don’t even have to be a cook at all, really.
For a warm addition to an apps party (serving one warm dish for every two or three cold ones is a good rule of thumb), these lamb meatballs are simple to make, homey and incredibly satisfying. (I would chase a cater-waiter around a room if he was offering these to guests.) I use ground lamb because I love its distinct meaty flavor, and as an appetizer it lends itself well to a Mediterranean or Middle Eastern style mezze, my white-girl version of kofta. (You can add a bit of ground cumin or coriander to punch them up in that direction.) Substitute oregano for the thyme and they’ll work for an Italian-style graze with a tomato sauce for dipping. The recipe doubles or triples easily (just cook the meatballs in batches) and you can easily substitute ground turkey; use equal parts dark and light meat to keep them moist.
makes about a dozen 1 1/2″ meatballs
- 1 pound ground lamb
- 3 Tbsp flat leaf parsley, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 Tbsp fresh thyme, minced
- 1 tsp salt
- ground pepper
- 3 medium garlic cloves, minced or pressed
- 1/4 C + 1 Tbsp shallot, minced
- 1/4 C seasoned breadcrumbs
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
In a large bowl, add first nine ingredients. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg and pour over the ground lamb mixture. Mix gently with your hands and form into meatballs no larger than a golf ball. (As with burgers, a soft touch will ensure a tender finished product; overworked, compact meatballs will end up dense and heavy.)
Allow meatballs to come to room temperature.
In a 12″ skillet, heat 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil until shimmery-hot. Cook until deeply, evenly browned on all sides. (An internal temperature of 150-155 degrees will give you a medium-well meatball; if your butcher ground the meat from a solid hunk of lamb herself, feel free to aim for medium rare, if you like.) Drain on paper towels and blot dry.
Serve warm with a tomato or yogurt sauce or prepared Turkish red pepper paste.