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A Taste From Lucca: Caramelized Lemon Meatballs with Roasted Broccoli Rabe

 The recipe for these zesty caramelized lemon meatballs is adapted from a Tuscan family recipe. Best enjoyed with a side of roasted broccoli rabe! {Jump to Recipe}

Caramelized Lemon Meatballs with Roasted Broccoli Rabe // FoodNouveau.com

Back in 2006, when I  toured the Chianti region of Italy, I really wanted to attend a cooking class. Eating being the main reason why I wanted to go to Italy, I figured I should be able to bring new recipes home as a souvenir.

I researched the numerous cooking school options but in the end, I didn’t want to pay a fortune and didn’t need anything fancy. I simply wanted to spend some time with an Italian cook and learn a few basic and traditional recipes. I ended up choosing a class at the Koinè Center, which also offers language classes. I think their offering might have changed a bit, but back then I was able to register for one single class held at night in the heart of beautiful Lucca.

A sunny piazza in Lucca, a fortified city in Tuscany, Italy // FoodNouveau.com

My teacher was the dynamic and friendly Alessandra, a thirty-something mother working in an office by day, teaching cooking classes by night. Very passionate about cooking and disappointed by the youth’s lack of interest in Italy’s cooking heritage, she said she was trying to do her part to get her grandmother’s recipes passed on, whether it was to fellow Italians or food lovers from around the world.

Together with Alessandra, I cooked a complete dinner composed of an appetizer, a pasta course, a meat dish, and a dessert. I had a great time with Alessandra, who wasn’t shy to talk about her culture, country, and favorite recipes. By the end of the evening, my belly had never been fuller–so much so that I had to walk around Lucca’s fortified walls at midnight before going to bed! I loved all the recipes we made together (I still dream about the silky Strawberry Panna Cotta. Whenever I miss Italy, I take Alessandra’s recipes out and make them again.

One easy but very flavorful dish Alessandra shared with me was the Caramelized Lemon Meatballs. Alessandra served these as an appetizer, but they are so delicious that I’ve found myself making them again and again, most of the time mixing them with pasta and veggies for an easy and complete meal.

Attending a cooking class organized by the Koinè Center in Lucca, Italy // FoodNouveau.com

Below, along with the Caramelized Lemon Meatball recipe, I’m sharing my favorite meatball sidekick: garlicky, roasted broccoli rabe. Simply add al dente pasta and dinner is done!

Roasted Broccoli Rabe // FoodNouveau.com

This Recipe for Caramelized Lemon Meatballs is: 

  • Easy: Rolling and cooking meatballs is fun and easy. Even kids can do it!
  • Versatile: You can serve the Caramelized Lemon Meatballs with any roasted vegetable and with any type of pasta. Serve the meatballs, veggies, and pasta side-by-side on a plate (kids love that!), or toss everything together and shower with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
  • Kid-Friendly: Most kids love meatballs! These Caramelized Lemon Meatballs are super tender and flavorful. There’s no heavy sauce, which puts off some kids. Broccoli rabe can be an acquired taste for kids, so you can easily substitute broccoli. For kids who only like raw veggies (like my son!), simply save a bit of raw broccoli to serve them and roast the rest for the adults.
  • Scalable: You could easily double or triple the meatball recipe and freeze them once cooked and caramelized. The meatballs will be less saucy when you reheat them, but they’ll be just as flavorful. If possible, only cook the pasta and roast the veggies prior to serving.

Caramelized Lemon Meatballs with Roasted Broccoli Rabe // FoodNouveau.com

 

 

Caramelized Lemon Meatballs with Roasted Broccoli Rabe

Prep

Cook

Total

Yield 6 to 8 servings (about 36 meatballs)

The recipe for these zesty caramelized lemon meatballs is adapted from a Tuscan family recipe. Best enjoyed with a side of garlicky, crunchy roasted broccoli rabe!

Ingredients

For the caramelized lemon meatballs

  • 1 thick slice of stale country bread, crusts removed
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) milk
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 lb (454 g) ground veal
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) fresh thyme leaves, or 1/4 tsp (1 ml) dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp (2 ml) kosher salt, or fine sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons)

For the roasted broccoli rabe

  • 1 lb (454 g) broccoli rabe, trimmed of thicker, tough stems, rinced clean and thoroughly dried using paper towels (you can substitute broccoli)
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated or minced
  • Flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

To serve

  • Cooked pasta of your choice
  • Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions

For the caramelized lemon meatballs: In a food processor, or a mini food processor, combine the bread, milk, and parsley. Process to get wet breadcrumbs. Alternatively, you can tear the bread into small pieces, then transfer to a bowl and mix in the milk. Let rest for 10 minutes, then stir in the parsley.

Transfer the breadcrumbs to a large mixing bowl. Add the ground veal, thyme, salt, and some freshly ground black pepper. Using your hands, crumble the meat and mix it with the flavorings, making sure to thoroughly distribute the flavorings.

Shape the meat into 2 tbsp (30 ml) round meatballs and transfer to a clean plate. Scatter the flour over the bottom of a second plate.

Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick saute pan. Lightly roll each meatball in flour, shaking off the excess before adding it to the skillet. Repeat for all meatballs. Cook the meatballs 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning them until they’ve cooked for about 12 minutes.

When the meatballs look golden and crispy all over, pour the lemon juice into the pan. Shake the pan to coat the meatballs with the lemon juice and increase the heat to high. Cook for about 2 minutes more, shaking the pan often, until the juice is almost completely evaporated and the meatballs are caramelized. Remove from the heat, cover, and keep warm.

For the roasted broccoli rabe: Preheat the oven to 425°F (210°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the broccoli over the prepared sheet. In a small bowl, combine the olive oil and garlic, then drizzle over the broccoli rabe. Rub the broccoli rabe all over with the garlic oil. Season with flaky sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Roast for about 10 minutes, or until the broccoli rabe stems are tender and the leaves and florets are crisp at the edges.

SERVING: Serve the caramelized lemon meatballs with roasted broccoli rabe and al dente pasta seasoned with extra-virgin olive oil and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

STORAGE: Roasted broccoli rabe is best enjoyed right away. Always cook pasta right before serving. Store cooked caramelized lemon meatballs in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Reheat in a low oven before serving. You can also freeze the meatballs for over 1 month.

Cuisine Italian

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