If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you may have noticed that we don’t go out like we used to. It’s been estimated that our first year writing From Away, the year we moved to Portland from Mexico, we ate out more than two hundred times. Oh man, did we do it up. Slabs of pizza from Micucci, sandwiches from the West End Deli, Whole Foods sushi for lunch every day. And after a long afternoon in front of our respective computers, we would dress up, have a drink, and head out for dinner at a neighborhood restaurant. We were within walking distance of almost everything because you can get from the West End alllll the way to the East End in about twenty minutes. You also may have noticed that almost exactly a year ago we had a baby girl. (Happy First Birthday Violet Maeve!) She has most definitely cramped our style, though we are still totally cool and I assuredly don’t have prunes on my sweater right now.
We’ve moved twice. Once, to a farmhouse with goats in Topsham, which was lovely, but our dining out options there and in nearby Brunswick were pretty limited. Next and finally, we moved up to Rockland. The Midcoast has many good and great places to eat and we’ve been metering them out slowly, when we can find a babysitter, and aren’t putting all our money toward cage-free diapers and organic, hand-crafted wooden shoes. While I have always enjoyed pleasing shops, I have definitely taken full advantage of small local merchants more here lately, since it’s a way to get out on the town and buy lovely things, chat with shopkeepers, and see what’s fresh and pretty. One of my new favorite stops along Route 1 is Bleecker and Flamm/Maine Street Meats inside the Maine State cheese store. The bearded butcher is awesome but not intimidating and everyone who works there is so helpful and kind. Cool butchers are the new cool record store guys, I suspect.
I didn’t have a plan today for what I wanted to cook. At the butcher shop I found ground lamb and a picture began forming in my mind. A second stop back toward Rockland at Fresh Off the Farm, where I picked up tricolor Moroccan couscous and golden beets, certain I could make something delicious from such simple ingredients. Finally, I hit Rockland Food Service for wine and eggs, which I didn’t end up using. I really love this restaurant wholesale depot, and often use it as my local grocer as much as I can. This lamb is so fantastic it really needed nothing else, just a little feta to hold it together. But it’s the sauce that is my new best thing ever. You will be spooning it out of the pan and dunking anything you can find. It’s spicy, but nicely balanced by the sweetness of the roasted beets.
Spicy Lamb Meatballs with Roasted Golden Beets and Moroccan Couscous
- 1 lb ground lamb
- 1/3 cup grated feta cheese
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 cup dry vermouth
- 1/2 cup beef broth
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
- 4 small dried chiles japoneses, reconstituted in boiling water
- 2 tablespoons basil leaves, ripped
In a large mixing bowl combine lamb and feta. Form into 1-inch meatballs. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown the meatballs, seasoned with salt and pepper, 4 minutes, then remove them to a plate. Turn down the heat to medium-low and add the onions and garlic to the pan, cooking until soft, about 5 minutes. Pour in vermouth and cook another 5 minutes. In a food processor/blender, blend onion mixture with beef broth, diced tomatoes, chiles, and basil. Return sauce and meatballs to the pan and simmer over low heat, 10 minutes.
For the beets:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Scrub and dice beet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast 35-40 minutes, stirring/shaking once or twice.
For the couscous:
Cook one cup of couscous in two cups of chicken stock, simmering 10-15 minutes. Toss beets with couscous. Plate meatballs on a bed of couscous, and spoon sauce over everything.