Monday, 10 March 2014


Of this I am not ashamed; I was recently irreversibly transformed to become a fanatical fan of that most wonderful of cities, New York. In which other city can you completely unintentionally happen upon your first Michelin starred restaurant armed with only the intention to grab a bit of lunch somewhere inviting? Walking each Manhattan street offered up a pleasurable assault on the senses. I was swept away by the palpable charm of the history under my feet. My passion for this city now burns deep and seldom is the day I don’t fondly think of my time there or yearn for my next New York adventure. April Bloomfield was a huge part of sparking those emotions. I went to one of her three restaurants, The Breslin gastropub in the Ace Hotel, and came away wondering how something so charmingly familiar could pack so much impact. Scotch egg? No expectations. Mind blowing. Blood sausage with fried duck egg and creamy tarragon dressing? Interesting. Way more than interesting, eye opening. Chargrilled lamb burgers whisking about the dining room. Butter oxtail and beef tongue, guinea hen, roasted duck, razor clams, merguez salad, burrata etc etc etc. I can’t wait to go back. I fell in love with this woman, her food, and the city where i found it. Forget love at first sight, it was love at first bite.

Fast forward a few months and I’m home in Toronto, feverishly pouring over her book, A Girl and Her Pig. Her food is honest, and impeccable. She considers every detail. Be not fooled, it might be rustic, but it is certainly not clumsy or fuss free. For instance, her attention to detail convinces her to slice carrots for stews that certain way so as to maximise the carrot’s contribution to the depth of that stew. She is a woman with passion and although my culinary expression differs from her, I stand in awe of her brilliance. In my examination of the book, I come across a recipe for lamb meatballs that is influenced by African flavor, and it encourages me to play with the idea. Make no mistake; this recipe is heavily rooted in April Bloomfield’s genius.

I decided to shift the flavor profile away from the wonderful earthiness towards something lighter. Using both the more traditional Italian buffalo mozzarella and dill provides a clean finish to the dish. Soaking the meatballs in milk adequately provides a moisture defense in the meatball. The minted yoghurt and the rosemary-mint sauce also brings it all together, by balancing the fire of the harissa, not to mention that the minted olive oil delicately encourages that same balance. These were all departures from Bloomfield’s recipe to lighten and refresh the dish. 

Most important to me though, although April Bloomfield probably will never know it, she kept a light burning in me at a time when I really needed it. She rekindled memories of a city I fell in love with. She inspired me to remain focused on my love for food even when life got overwhelming. She reminded me of the power of passion. For this I am eternally grateful, and I have fantastic meatballs to show for it. After all, what is a meatball without passion?

INGREDIENTS (serves 4):

·         2 lb lamb mince, peeled and cut into rings
·         2 tbsp kosher salt, or to taste
·         3/4 cup fine bread crumbs, soaked in milk
·         Handful dill, chopped
·         Seasoned flour
·         3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
·         3 garlic cloves, peeled sliced
·         1 large onion, finely chopped
·         2 tsp cumin
·         1 tbsp harissa paste
·         1 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes, drained and roughly chopped
·         3 cups water
·         ½ cup yoghurt
·         Salt and black pepper
·         Handful of mint leaves, chopped, leaving a few leaves intact to finish and the stem to flavour the olive oil
·         100 g fresh buffalo mozzarella
·         3 sprigs rosemary

-          Remove leaves from a mint stem and place the stem in a little olive oil, reserving the leaves to be used later
-          Make the meatballs by combining the lamb with the breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, chopped dill, and 1 tsp of cumin and rolling them to golf ball size with lightly floured hands
-          Roll the meatballs in the seasoned flour and place in the freezer for about 1 hour to firm up
-          Remove from the freezer and cook the meatballs in sauté pan with the oil at medium heat until browned
-          Remove the meatballs from pan and place onto a plate
-          Refresh the pan with oil and sauté the onions, garlic, cumin until the onions go translucent and add the harissa paste for about 1 minute
-          Add the tomatoes and rosemary and turn the heat to low, simmer until the tomatoes begin to stick to the pan 
-          Add the water to the pan and stir, add the meatballs and gently simmer for 30 minutes to allow the flavours to come together
-          Meanwhile create the rosemary-mint salt by extremely finely chopping a few mint leaves with the needles of one rosemary sprig and combining with about 1 tsp kosher salt
-          Chop a few mint leaves and mix with the yoghurt
-          After 30 minutes has passed, after tasting and adjusting seasoning of the sauce, slice the mozzarella and place onto the lightly simmering meatballs
-          Sprinkle a little rosemary-mint salt over each of the mozzarella rounds
-          Distribute dollops of yoghurt over the dish
-          Finish the dish with a few mint leaves and a sprinkling the minted-olive oil 

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