The tiny meatballs need to nestle perfectly into the orecchiette in this dish. The key to meat in pasta is that the meat, be it guanciale or pancetta or sausage crumbles, needs to be in every bite, without demanding attention or overpowering the taste of the dish.
I like to make the dish with lamb meatballs because lamb is such an iconic meat in Italy, and one of my favorites for its pronounced, slightly gamey flavor. We get merguez-y with it here, adding some coriander and dried ginger to the mix. But no matter the meat, I always keep the size of the meatballs tiny—1/4-inch pieces is ideal, but if you find that too small, don't exceed more than 1/2-inch. —Sara Jenkins
For the Sauce and Pasta
medium-sized onion, minced
extra virgin olive oil
can of San Marzano tomatoes, whole
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
Orecchiette Pasta (I recommend either Benedetto Cavalieri or Rustichella D’Abruzzo)
aged Pecorino Toscano, grated
For the Lamb Meatballs
ground lamb (medium to fine grind)
clove of garlic, finely minced
parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper, to taste
extra virgin olive oil
In This Recipe
First make the sauce. Sauté the onions with a pinch of salt in the olive oil (3 tablespoons) over low heat until translucent.
Add the canned tomatoes and add a pinch of sugar to balance the acidity. Allow to simmer gently for about 20 mins until completely amalgamated. As that happens, prepare the meatballs.
Soak the stale bread in the milk just to soften it. Squeeze the bread dry of excessive moisture, break apart, and add to the ground lamb with the egg, the chopped garlic, parsley and spices. Knead gently to amalgamate everything. Form the balls into tiny meatballs no more than 1/2-inch in size (1/4-inch is ideal).
Heat the extra virgin olive oil (1 cup) over medium heat; if you have a thermometer, it should be 300° F. Drop the meatballs in the oil and fry until golden brown and crisp. Drain of excess oil.
When the sauce has finished cooking, buzz it all in a food processor or blender. (You can omit this step, but you’ll have a slightly chunkier sauce.) Return the sauce to the pan and add the fried and drained meatballs.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt abundantly, and to cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce, garnishing the dish with cheese, parsley and bread crumbs. Serve and eat immediately.