**UPDATE: Thanks to all of your votes, I am moving on to round 2 of the Lamb Pro Am competition! I’ll pair up with Chef Dante de Magistris of Restaurant dante , and together we’ll serve my flatbread recipe to Lamb Pro am event attendees on May 19th! If you’re free and in the Boston area, please come and check it out!!! You can get tickets here. **
I think it’s only fair if I get this off my chest up front: I don’t like lamb. That’s probably an awful admission to make when I’m about to tell you all about the 9-pound leg of lamb I battled to create this recipe, or the reason I did it. But it’s the truth – and I always tell you exactly how it is here!
So now that you know that terrible, awful, horrible fact, I’ll tell you about how this lamb adventure started. I was invited by Boston Chefs to participate in the Lamb Pro-Am Blogger Competition (sponsored by The American Lamb Board), which challenges a select group of bloggers from the Boston area to create a recipe with a pre-determined cut of lamb. This year’s cut of meat was a boneless leg – a nearly 9-pound boneless leg that landed in my uncertain hands looking very large and completely daunting.
I eagerly agreed to participate in this opportunity because I love a good challenge. To me, the idea of creating a lamb recipe I found desirable sounded like quite a task, and I wanted to see if I could make it happen. I just knew I’d have to get very creative in order to make it work – but to still keep the integrity of the meat and the flavor that many people really love.
The idea of roasting this massive piece of meat did not sound appealing, nor did it sound like something I could ever make palatable for myself, so early on I realized I’d need to think of other options. I considered making a lamb burger, though worried that could be a bit plain, but the idea of grinding the meat did appeal so I tried to think of what other things I could do with the ground meat. About the same time as I signed on board with Boston Chefs, I saw a recipe for lamb pizza with ground lamb, that looked quite delicious, and that seemed like a great way to go.
Butcher Will from Savenors, kindly (and expertly) grinding up my massive leg of lamb
As soon as I’d decided on making a pizza recipe, I got to thinking about what toppings I’d want to use to compliment the lamb. I immediately thought of mint because it’s such a traditional pairing, but I’m not a big fan of things that have a really strong mint taste. To keep the fresh mint flavor but tone it down so it was more to my taste, I made a mint basil pesto that I planned to use as the sauce.
From there, the ideas just flowed. I wanted to use tomatoes for their color, texture and taste, so I roasted some in the oven with loads of herbs to give them a really rich, full flavor. I also decided to add crumbled feta, for a bit of a take on Meditteranean fare. Pulling tastes from different cuisines seemed a bit risky at first, but the more I thought about it, the more the flavors seemed like they’d be delightful together.
Somewhere along the line, it occurred to me that making meatballs would be a lot more exciting than just using ground lamb, so I searched around online for some meatball ideas. The only thing left to do? Make some crust!
After thinking about the components of the pizza, I knew I wanted a base that would nicely complement all of those big flavors. I knew I didn’t want a plain white crust, because that didn’t seem like it would do justice to the other flavors, so I opted for a multigrain flatbread recipe featuring rolled oats, flax seed and whole wheat flour. The hearty, earthy crust acted as the perfect base for the deliciousness that adorned the top, and had a really fantastic taste and texture.
This pizza required many components, all of which were homemade, so it was definitely a bit of a time investment – but well worth it and a lot of fun. I started with the crust, which is exceedingly easy and only took about 10 minutes to assemble. I did that first so it could rest for a good hour or two while I made the rest of the components.
Next up were the pesto and the roasted tomatoes, which both came together easily. The pesto had a 2:1 mint:basil ratio, which produced a really wonderful balance of minty pesto that wasn’t too overwhelming. For the tomatoes, I tossed them in a 325-degree oven for an hour with garlic, olive oil, thyme and rosemary. They made the kitchen smell absolutely incredible, always my second favorite by-product of cooking (the first, of course, is the FOOD!).
The last component was the lamb meatballs, which was definitely the most involved part by far. The reason? My 9-pound leg of lamb needed to run through a meat grinder before it could be made into these glorious lamb meatballs. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t have a meat grinder in my tiny kitchen! So that left me with only one option: find someone who does, and beg tem to let me use it.
The first couple of places I called, I felt like a complete weirdo – who calls a meat shop/restaurant/butcher and asks if they have a meat grinder for borrow? Probably not that many people, right? But by the time I finally found someone up to the task, they didn’t seem to think I was crazy at all!
I ended up lugging my lamb leg to Savenors on Charles street, where a friendly and accommodating butcher named Will expertly broke down and ground about 7 pounds of my lamb – leaving the other two as steaks that I plan to distribute to someone who will appreciate them. I was so excited that he was willing to help me out, and I really couldn’t have done this without him. Thanks, Will!
Once home with my ground meat, I got to work on the meatballs, which are also easy and so mightily delicious. Did you hear that? My lamb meatballs were delicious!!!! Whether you’re a lamb-lover or lamb-averse, this meatball recipe is a real keeper.
When it came time for assembly, I got all of the components together and got to grilling my flatbread crust. A few minutes on one side give it a nice cross-hatch and crispy exterior, which I topped liberally with mint-basil pesto, roasted plum tomato halves, lamb meatballs and feta crumbles. I grilled it a few minutes longer on the other side, and then wa-la – it was done! To draw it all together, I gave it a quick drizzle of greek yogurt, for the nice aesthetic and a bit more Mediterranean flair. This pizza was downright delicious.
As this is a competition, I would love your support!!! You can vote for my recipe here: http://bit.ly/YxDJXm, and see what the other participants have cooked up!
Oven Roasted Tomatoes
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
a handful of fresh thyme sprigs
a few springs of fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
1 pound plum tomatoes
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Prepare a shallow baking dish with tin foil.
Pour the olive oil into prepared baking dish and add the garlic, thyme and rosemary.
Remove the stems from the tomatoes, then cut them in half horizontally. Toss the tomatoes with the olive oil and herbs to coat, then arrange them cut side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Bake for about an hour, until the tomatoes are completely softened and wrinkled.
Basil Mint Pesto
1 1/2 cups lightly packed fresh mint leaves
3/4 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted
3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper, plus more to taste
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place the mint, basil, walnuts, cheese, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor, and pulse until the herbs are finely chopped. With the machine running, gradually pour in 1/3 cup olive oil until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
1 large shallot, minced
1 pound ground lamb
4 ounces salt bacon, finely minced
2 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
In a small pan, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Once heated, add shallot, jalapeno and garlic, and cook for 1-2 minutes just to soften. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
While the shallot mixture is cooling, prepare the rest of the meatball mixture. Combine lamb, bacon, mint, salt and pepper, and mix with hands to thoroughly combine.
Line a sheet pan with tin foil or parchment paper. Using your hands, form mixture into small meatballs about an inch in diameter, and place onto prepared pan.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Brown half of the meatballs, turning a couple of times so all sides are cooked, about 8-10 minutes. Drain finished meatballs on a paper-towel lined plate. Repeat with second half, adding an extra tablespoon of olive oil to the pan if necessary.
3/4 cup warm water, 100-110 degrees
1 package active dry yeast (about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3 tablespoons uncooked old fashioned oats
1 tablespoon ground flax seed meal
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon olive oil
In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast and sugar over warm water, and stir once to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes. The mixture will foam up and bubble, which is how you’ll know it’s active and ready to use.
In a medium bowl, whisk together both types of flour, oats, ground flax, salt and pepper. Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the yeast mixture into it. Using a fork, start to incorporate flour into the yeast mixture, stirring continuously until all of the flour is moistened. The dough will be shaggy and clumpy. Dump the flour yeast mixture out onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead for about a minute to bring the mixture together into a cohesive ball.
Spray that same medium bowl with nonstick cooking spray or a teaspoon of olive oil, and place the dough ball into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free place for at least an hour, until doubled in size.
When dough has doubled in bulk, remove from bowl and place on a lightly floured work surface. Using a rolling pin, roll into a large circle, about 1/4″ thick (or thicker if you prefer chewier crust). Transfer to a sheet pan or pizza board, and prepare as desired (either grill, about 3-5 minutes per side, or cook in a hot oven).
Make each of your pizza components (pesto, tomatoes, meatballs), and have them at the ready with 1/2 cup crumbled feta.
To make your pizza crust, preheat the grill while the dough is rising, and make sure the grates are clean. Once your dough ia rolled out and ready to use, coat your grill grates lightly with olive oil, to prevent sticking. You can do this by putting olive oil onto a paper towel, and with tongs rubbing the oiled towels across the grates.
Once the grill is ready, place your pizza crust onto it and and cook for 3-5 minutes, until the crust is bubbling on top, and golden brown with grill marks on the bottom. Remove from grill, flip over, and add toppings. Start with a generous layer of mint basil pesto, and then layer oven roasted tomatoes, meatballs, and crumbled feta on top. Return to grill for 3-5 more minutes, and you’re done! Serve with a drizzle of greek yogurt after the pizza has come off the grill, if desired.