Idaho Lamb Meatballs with Raisin Pesto

“A good shepherd feeds his sheep first, even when he himself is hungry.”

― Matshona Dhliwayo

One of the kookiest weekends of the year just came and went here in the Wood River Valley – the Trailing of the Sheep Festival. Since the 1860’s our little valley has a long and proud heritage of raising sheep for meat and wool. In 1918 it was estimated there were 2.65 million sheep in Idaho, which was nearly six times the human population at the time. It was not until the 1970s, after a large decline in the sheep industry and an influx of new residents, that human numbers finally exceeded sheep in Idaho. The Trailing of the Sheep Festival is a wonderful way to hark back to the golden age of sheep ranching in Idaho, as well as a celebration of culture and local food industry. Though a parade for 1,500 sheep trailing down Main Street in Ketchum may sound peculiar; the festival brings tourists, performers, storytellers and hosts culinary events, a Wool Festival, Championship Sheepdog Trials and a Sheepherders’ Ball. If you ever want to come visit Sun Valley in the fall, be sure to check out the festival.

Peter and I have taken up celebrating the local sheep industry in our own way — by purchasing a lamb from the Carey 4-H program each summer and by buying local lamb from Atkinsons’ Market. When we buy a 4-H animal we take it to the local butcher in Jerome, who assembles the cuts of meat in neat packages. All year, I dip into the freezer and pull inspiration from the different cuts of meat. By far, the most plentiful of these nice white packages is 2 lb parcel of ground lamb. The lamb is so mild and has a delicious juicy fat that is perfect for lamb burgers and meatballs. This recipe from Bon Appetit is a great way to feed a crowd or make dinner for two. The mint and raisin pesto is refreshing with the fatty meat, and the yogurt is a cooling accompaniment to the spices. I add a little extra to my recipe by brushing pomegranate molasses over the meatballs hot out of the oven. Pomegranate molasses is a Middle-Eastern condiment, which you can find in the ethnic foods aisle at Atkinsons’ Market. The ruby syrup is delightfully sour and only slightly sweet, the perfect balance to a gourmet meal.

Ingredients

  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • ¼ tsp ground turmeric
  • ¼ cup finely chopped parsley, plus 1 cup parsley leaves with tender stems
  • 2 Tbsp plus ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1½ tsp kosher salt, plus more
  • 2 garlic cloves, divided
  • 1 lb local Idaho-raised ground lamb
  • 1-2 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
  • 2 cups mint leaves
  • 3 Tbsp. golden raisins
  • Plain yogurt for serving, preferably Picabo Desert Farm plain goat yogurt

Idaho Lamb Meatballs with Raisin Pesto
4 Servings
25 Minutes

Recipe

  1. Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 425°.
  2. Combine egg, panko, cumin, red pepper flakes, turmeric, finely chopped parsley, 2 Tbsp. oil, and 1½ tsp. salt in a large bowl. Finely grate 1 garlic clove into bowl. Add lamb and mix with your hands until evenly distributed.
  3. Gently roll lamb mixture into 1½”-diameter balls (about the size of a golf ball; you should have about 20). Place on a rimmed baking sheet, spacing evenly apart. Bake meatballs until browned and cooked through, 8–10 minutes. While meatballs cool, brush with pomegranate molasses.
  4. While meatballs are baking, purée mint, raisins, parsley leaves with tender stems, remaining garlic clove, remaining ½ cup oil, and a big pinch of salt in a blender until smooth. Taste pesto; season with more salt if needed.
  5. Spread yogurt over plates and divide pesto and meatballs on top.
Pretty gourmet meal yet effortlessly easy and delicious!

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