November 11, 2014

Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce

Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce | Fork Knife Swoon @forkknifeswoon

My mom gave me an old, worn-in dutch oven when I moved into my first apartment in college. It was a dull, earthy brown and the enamel inside showed signs of the many meals that had slowly simmered away in it over the years.

It quickly became my favorite cooking pot, despite collecting plenty of newer, prettier vessels since then. I learned to make pasta sauce, beef stew and homemade chili. I taught myself how best to caramelize a heaping pot full of sweet onions from scratch, and every soup I make starts with a slick of olive oil across the bottom. It’s the sort of pot I especially rely on this time of year, when chilly, drizzly days beg for warm, comforting soups, slow braises, and hearty meat dishes.

Yesterday, as the wind whistled insistently through the pines outside the kitchen window, I pulled out my trusty old, brown pot and started on a spicy, Spanish-inspired tomato sauce. This particular day called for homemade meatballs.

Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce | Fork Knife Swoon @forkknifeswoon

It might go without saying, but when making meatballs, I like to start with really good meat. Often, that would mean chicken or pork, but in this case, I had some really good lamb in mind.

I recently began a partnership with Shepherd’s Pride, a national co-op of U.S. family lamb ranchers, who had kindly provided me with some of their high-quality, fresh lamb from a local grocer. The mild-flavored meat is ground daily in-house by the butcher, and I was looking forward to switching up my meatball game.

All of the co-op’s American lamb is sustainably raised on a high-nutrient, 100% vegetarian diet, without any added hormones or antibiotics, but what really appeals to me is that Shepherd’s Pride is the only “Where Food Comes From” source-verified lamb in the United States.

“Where Food Comes From” is a third-party food auditing program – similar to the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification for seafood – that traces products from “farm to fork.” That means, by scanning the QR code on all Shepherd’s Pride packages, you can learn about the family that raised your lamb, and where it came from, beyond your grocery butcher’s case.

Knowing where my food comes from, as well as who the farmers and ranchers are who grow and raise my food, is deeply important to me, and I am all about this kind of added transparency, safety and accountability in our food system. Not to mention, high-quality meat simply tastes better.

Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce | Fork Knife Swoon @forkknifeswoon

As the simple, spicy tomato sauce bubbled away, I got going on some Spanish-style lamb meatballs.

And. These. Meatballs…

They start with lean, all-natural ground lamb, then begin building flavor with quick caramelized onions, breaking down the natural sugar to add a nutty, sweet-and-savory richness (and also release some moisture). Next we add a bevy of herbs and spices: garlic, fresh parsley, oregano, smokey cumin, nutmeg and red pepper flakes. We follow with classic breadcrumbs and egg, then finish with the good stuff: hard, salty, grated cheese.

Usually, I would opt for Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano here, but since we’re working with Spanish flavors, I took inspiration from La Mancha, and added some super finely-grated Manchego, a firm, buttery, sheep’s milk cheese.

Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce | Fork Knife Swoon @forkknifeswoon

The meatballs are browned in the oven, then are nestled into the dutch oven to finish cooking and soak up the spicy tomato sauce. You could easily cook some pasta or polenta to accompany the meatballs, but I served them simply, layered in bowls of homemade red sauce to be nibbled on with crispy flat bread, tapas style.

You can join in on the fun too! Be sure to enter for a chance to WIN your own Dutch Oven courtesy of Shepherd’s Pride! (link below the recipe)

Find additional lamb recipes and cooking info, and learn more about Shepherd’s Pride lamb, and the many fourth and fifth generation ranchers behind the company, here.

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Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs with Spicy Tomato Sauce
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Recipe by:
Yield: 4-6 Servings
Spanish-Style Lamb Meatballs
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 pound high-quality ground lamb (such as Shepherd's Pride)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup (loosely-packed) fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, minced
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1 cup Manchego cheese*, finely grated (a microplaner works well if you have one), plus more for serving
  • 1/4 cup cream
Spicy Tomato Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh garlic, crushed
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes*, juice included
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp pimentón (Spanish hot paprika)
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
  • kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 2/3 cup good dry red wine
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
Quick caramelize the onions:
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or sauce pot over medium-heat until shimmering. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the onions are quite soft and translucent, and beginning to release some moisture.
  2. Uncover, turn the heat back up to medium, and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, until the onions are golden brown and most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir regularly, and turn the heat down if the onions start to burn. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, and let cool to room-temperature.
Make the Tomato Sauce:
  1. Add the olive oil to the dutch oven you used for the caramelized the onions. Heat over medium heat until shimmering, then add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 3 minutes. Add the fresh garlic, stir to combine, and cook another 2-3 minutes, until golden.
  2. Add the tomatoes (with juice) and spices, and stir to combine. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until bubbling, then stir in the red wine and sugar. Turn the heat down to low, partially cover (leaving about a half-inch gap) and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes.
  3. In the meantime…
Form the Lamb Meatballs:
  1. Add the ground lamb to the cooled caramelized onions, and stir to combine. Stir in the egg yolks.
  2. In a separate bowl, stir together the herbs, spices, breadcrumbs and cheese until well-mixed. Add to the lamb mixture, followed by the cream, and use your fingers to gently mix until evenly combined. Wash your hands, coat with a bit of olive or grapeseed oil, then roll the lamb into 1-inch balls, or slightly smaller than golf balls. Place them in rows on a silicone baking mat or parchment paper-lined sheet pan, about an inch and a half apart. You should end up with 28-30 meatballs.
Cook the meatballs:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping once halfway through, until nicely browned. Transfer to the dutch oven, nestling the meatballs into the tomato sauce, and simmer until completely cooked through, about 10-15 minutes.
  2. Divide the meatballs and sauce among bowls, top with grated Manchego cheese, and serve warm!
Note from Laura
If you can't find Manchego cheese, choose another hard, salty cheese such as Parmesan or Pecorino Romano.


This post is sponsored by Shepherd’s Pride. As always, all opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the companies that support Fork Knife Swoon!

Spanish Style Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce | Fork Knife Swoon @forkknifeswoon

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  • Reply
    Garlic My Soul • Meatballs with Polenta & Sautéed Greens
    January 29, 2015 at 12:07 am

    […] Listen, chickens. I’m coming at you from the not-so-hot-and-sunny Chicago, where unlike our sweaty, tanned LA counterparts, we’re forced to be bundled up and hunkered down. This means that it’s the season of sautéed greens, warm polenta, and meaty comfort food. Enter the Fork, Knife, Swoon’s Spanish meatballs. […]

  • Reply
    Weekend Links and Inspiration
    November 15, 2014 at 8:56 am

    […]  Spanish Style Lamb Meatballs, […]

  • Reply
    Lydia Plunk
    November 12, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Thank your husband for waiting to gobble them up. That took discipline.

    • Reply
      November 12, 2014 at 12:44 pm

      Thanks, Lydia! 🙂

  • Reply
    Nicole ~ Cooking for Keeps
    November 11, 2014 at 11:36 am

    Laura, I always look forward to your posts, and this one doesn’t disappoint. Those meatballs and that sauce look just heavenly.

    • Reply
      November 11, 2014 at 10:09 pm

      Thank you so much, Nicole!! I really appreciate that 🙂

  • Reply
    Oriana @Mommyhood's Diary
    November 11, 2014 at 8:48 am

    They look amazing!!! I have never done lamb meatballs. My husband loves spicy food so making them soon. Pinned!

    • Reply
      November 11, 2014 at 8:50 am

      Thanks so much, Oriana! My husband could hardly wait until I finished photographing them before diving in… 🙂