Weeknight Recipe: Pork Meatballs with Lemon and Thyme

updated Jan 29, 2020
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

November can feel so single-minded. It’s all about Thanksgiving, turkey, cranberries, and feasting! But Thanksgiving is only one day, and life goes on around it. This is a recipe for a weeknight when you want something comforting, but not too heavy. These petite meatballs are fresh, lemony, and meltingly tender. And, perhaps best of all, they’re not turkey.

This recipe was actually inspired by (and adapted from) Chez Panisse. I visited the café at Chez Panisse a couple years ago. While I was there I had a simple yet sublime meal; everything tasted just right, which Chez Panisse of course makes into a high compliment. After I came home I was flipping through the Café cookbook to find a recipe for a dinner party with friends. I just had a pound of ground pork in the freezer to use up, and I came across the book’s simple meatball recipe. I subbed pork for the meatballs and improvised a lemon sauce instead of the more traditional tomato sauce.

These were delicious – tender, moist, and tangy from the sauce. They’re a lovely little window into the simple yet delicious and balanced food that Chez Panisse is known for, with a twist for palates jaded by heavy holiday food and too much richness.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Pork and Sage Meatballs
(Adapted from Chez Panisse Café Cookbook)
serves 4

1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound ground pork
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage leaves
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Freshly ground black pepper

Put the milk and breadcrumbs in a small bowl and mix with a fork. When the crumbs have softened squeeze out the milk and discard it.

Gently sauté the onion in a little olive oil until it is soft but not colored. Season with a pinch of salt and set it aside to cool.

Combine in a medium bowl the pork, breadcrumbs, onion, egg, Parmesan, sage, thyme, cayenne, black pepper, and 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with hands thoroughly.

Shape the mixture into walnut-sized balls. This can be done several hours or even a day ahead.

To cook, heat a skillet large enough to hold all the meatballs in one uncrowded layer. Add a little olive oil. When the skillet is heated, add the meatballs, shaking the pan to keep them from sticking. Using tongs to turn so they brown evenly, cook the meatballs until they are no longer pink in the center and lightly browned on all sides. Remove from the pan to a plate and immediately make the sauce.

Lemon Thyme Sauce

1 1/2 cups chicken broth
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (from one lemon)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
Zest of one lemon, to garnish
Roughly chopped thyme, still on stems, to garnish

Remove meatballs from the pan, and deglaze it over medium heat with the chicken broth and wine. Simmer until reduced by at least a third. Add the lemon juice and thyme, then add the meatballs back in again as well.

Simmer until ready to serve – at least 10 minutes, but up to half an hour. Serve meatballs with the sauce poured over and garnished with lemon zest curls and thyme sprigs.

(Images: Faith Durand)