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Pork Meatballs with Lemon and Thyme

August 04, 2006

Sage Meatballs

When I was in Berkeley last month I got to do something I have wanted to do for a long time, and that is eat at The Café at Chez Panisse. The classic Chez Panisse cookbooks and Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard program were some of the very first things that really inspired me to look more closely at my food and to pay more attention to my cooking.

Chez Panisse itself, the original institution, is this warm and venerable bastion of good food, nestled in a beautifully crafted Art Deco setting with grape vines growing over the front porch and sunlight filtered in through the trees. The place has a dignified and yet homey air with deceptively simple food bursting with the flavor of the season. It's immensely appealing.

We had a perfect lunch that included some superb lamb sausage and a cherry tart that was rustic, simple, and again, for the ingredients and the season, just perfect. I also got to have their gingersnaps, which was amusing because I love the recipe for these that has been floating around the web for a few years, and it was pleasant to actually have them there.

After I came home I was flipping through the Café cookbook to find a recipe for a dinner party with friends. I just had a pound of ground pork in the freezer to use up, and I came across the book's simple meatball recipe. I subbed pork for the meatballs and improvised a lemon sauce instead of the more traditional tomato sauce.

These were delicious - tender, moist, and tangy from the sauce. They're a lovely little window into the simple yet delicious and balanced food that Chez Panisse is known for. I'm definitely making them again.

Pork and Sage Meatballs with Lemon Thyme Sauce

Pork and Sage Meatballs
(Adapted from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook)

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb ground pork
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
4 tablespoons freshly chopped sage
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Black pepper

1. Put the milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and mix with a fork. When the crumbs have softened squeeze out the milk and discard it.
2. Gently sauté the onion in a little olive oil until it is soft but not colored. Season with a pinch of salt and set it aside to cool.
3. Combine a medium bowl the pork, breadcrumbs, onion, egg, Parmesan, sage, thyme, cayenne, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with hands thoroughly.
4. Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. This can be done several hours or even a day ahead.
5. To cook, heat a skillet large enough to hold all the meatballs in one uncrowded layer. Add a little olive oil.
6. When the skillet is heated, add the meatballs, shaking the pan to keep them from sticking.
7. Using tongs to turn so they brown evenly, cook the meatballs until they are no longer pink in the center and lightly browned on all sides.
8. Remove from the pan to a plate and immediately make the sauce.

Lemon Thyme Sauce

1.5 cups chicken broth
0.75 cup dry white wine
0.25 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (from one lemon)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Zest of one lemon, to garnish
Roughly chopped thyme, still on stems, to garnish

1. Remove meatballs from the pan, and deglaze it over medium heat with the chicken broth and wine.
2. Simmer until reduced by at least a third.
3. Add the lemon juice and thyme t and add the meatballs again as well.
4. Simmer until ready to serve - at least 10 minutes, but up to half an hour.
5. Serve meatballs with the sauce poured over and garnished with lemon zest curls and thyme sprigs.

Posted by Faith at 4 August 2006

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perfect... i love citrus and pork, they play so nicely together!
definitely tucking this one away for a winter's day

Posted by: ann at August 6, 2006 10:44 AM

Those look beautiful! I absolutely love sage and thyme. Whenever I cook meatballs they tend to go flat on one side and in the end come to resemble cubes, rather than balls. And that sauce sounds fantastic.

One question though. The recipe calls for 4 tablespoons freshly chopped sage as well as 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh sage. This is a typo, correct?

Posted by: Grant at August 7, 2006 04:47 PM

Oops! Thank you, Grant! Yes, I've corrected that. It should be thyme - I put a small amount of thyme in the meatballs too, as well as in the sauce.

I hear you about the misshapen meatball thing. I generally don't have the patience to make nice little shapes. Mine tend to look like lopsided torpedoes.

Posted by: faith at August 7, 2006 04:59 PM

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