The idea for sausage meatballs and creamy mustard sauce/broth combo came from Nigel Slater’s recipe in Eat, his 2012 cookbook of little simple weeknight meals. For 25 years, Slater has been the food writer at the Guardian and Observer papers in England. His recipes and writings are some of my very favorites.
To add variety and accommodate food preferences, I often use this recipe to make both lamb and sausage meatballs at the same time, since each goes well with the mustard and finely chopped rosemary. I usually put diced onions in the pork and chopped leeks in the lamb so diners can easily distinguish the two meatballs. Two pounds of ground meat will yield about 2 dozen 2-inch meatballs. It takes only a little over an hour, start to finish.
The meatballs bake in the oven for 15 minutes on a sheet pan and then get browned on the stove top–that way they don’t fall apart. While the meatballs cook, a simple sauce of broth, mustard, and a splash of cream gets put together in a sauce pan and warmed. Once the meatballs are browned they finish cooking in the sauce. The ratios of cream, broth, and mustard are up to you; sometimes I make it very mustardy when I’m just doing sausage as pictured above, and other times I choose to use more broth and make a lighter sauce.
Because the only filler for the meatballs is diced onion (or chopped leeks) and chopped fresh rosemary, you want to assure great flavor and texture in your ground meat which means the animals need to have been raised on a good diet. A bonus for you also, since what they eat winds up in your body. I use Pure Country Pork from Euphrata, WA (no corn feed and humane animal care ) available at PCC Natural Markets. The grass-fed ground lamb I buy is Umpqua Valley Lamb raised in Western Oregon, which is also sold at PCC.
Pairing the meatballs with bitter greens is perfect for the mustard cream sauce, too. Any mix of greens will do– kale, swiss chard, broccoli rabe, collard, or beet greens. They can be chopped while the meatballs brown, and then sautéed briefly as the meatballs finish up cooking in the sauce. A squeeze of lemon juice on the greens and they are ready. Spoon the meatballs and sauce right over the greens.
Either a chicken or beef-based broth can be used, but homemade is best if you’ve got it. I always try to put a small jar or two away in the freezer (the recipe calls for about 2 cups) for occasions just like this. It will make all the difference in the world. When I make a braised beef dish in the crock pot like short ribs that requires lots broth and some wine, all of which is not used in serving, I take the remaining liquid and freeze it for times when I need beef stock. It’s so concentrated, I can cut it with boxed broth and stretch my reserves.
Turn oven to 400-425 degrees.
Line two sheet pans with two sheets of parchment each; if you only have one sheet pan then have two pieces of parchment at the ready to replace ones you used on the first batch.
Remove meat from refrigerator and place in large bowl (two bowls if you are doing both pork and lamb). Dice the onions and leeks if you are using those, too. Make sure the dice is fairly small so the meatballs hang together–there is no filler or egg in these. If you are using leeks, cut off the coarse tops and rooted tips, leaving some green toward the middle of the leek. Make one long cut lengthwise in the remaining portion and run water from one end to the other to remove any hidden dirt, holding the leek firmly on the back side to keep it together.
Finely chop the rosemary. Add a Tblsp to the bowl with the pork along with the onion
and a Tblsp to the bowl with the lamb along with the leeks.
Add salt and pepper. I use about 1 tsp of sea salt and ½ tsp of pepper for each pound of meat.
Mix together and form the first dozen into balls without trying to over-mix the meat. Spread the meatballs on the double layer of parchment-lined sheet pan, distributing evenly. Set the first pan in the oven. After 10 minutes remove the pan and turn the meatballs over–I use two tablespoons to do this like when serving salad; that way the meatballs stay rounded. Return them to oven for another 5 minutes.
While the first tray bakes, prepare second batch. If you only have one sheet pan, then form the balls and set on a dinner plate until the first batch is finished.
When first tray has baked for 15 minutes remove it from the oven and place the meatballs in a large skillet to await browning. Add the second tray to the oven and repeat the processes, including turning the meatballs over after 10 minutes and cooking for another five. Remove the second tray and add the baked meatballs to skillet with first batch for browning.
While the second batch bakes, you can prep your greens if you are using them. Give the greens a rinse and a rough chop, removing the ends, if desired. The kale’s center rib can easily be cut out or stripped by securely holding the tip in one hand and grabbing the the base of the leaf with the other hand and quickly pulling toward the top of the leaf. Set the greens aside.
Turn heat on skillet with meatballs to medium and drizzle 1-2 T olive oil around the meatballs. You won’t need much oil because the meatballs should have some of their own oil around the outsides. Brown the meatballs by turning every 3-5 minutes. Add more oil if required.
Gather your ingredients for the sauce (broth, cream, and Dijon mustard) and add them to a sauce pan to warm, turning heat to medium-low. Stir to incorporate the ingredients. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add more broth, cream, or mustard, as desired.
Once the meatballs have browned and the sauce warmed and seasoned, pour the sauce over the meatballs in the skillet, and set the temperature at medium-low to finish the cook time. Turn meatballs periodically so they cook through. It should take about 10 -15 minutes tops. Cut one of each type open to test for doneness.
If you are including sautéed greens, they can be done while the meatballs are in the sauce. Turn stove heat to medium and add several T of olive oil to another skillet (I use cast iron). When the pan is warm, add the greens and begin to cook them down. I use tongs to move the greens around so the bottom leaves don’t burn. You may need to add another T of olive oil or two, depending on your pan. I added a bit of crumbed sausage that came off during browning to the sautéed greens in the photo to the right. They should be ready in no more than ten minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, and squeeze juice from ½ lemon over top and mix in. Add the juice from the other half of lemon if desired.