in the kitchen with: dani fisher’s orecchiette with orange-spiced lamb meatballs

Stylist Dani Fisher has been around the ITKW column a bit the past few months: first, when she styled Jennifer Martine’s Bagna Cauda recipe, then with her own Ricotta Cheesecake recipe. I thought having Dani back for a savory recipe would be a great way to kick off autumn. She chose one of her favorite pasta dishes, Orecchiette with Orange-Spiced Lamb Meatballs. Orecchiette are an Apulian recipe (pugliese in Italian, from the southern Italian region of Puglia) for small pasta shapes that resemble little ears (orecchiette) made from semolina and water. You’ve probably heard of these paired with broccoli raab and sausage. And if you’re lucky, you’ve actually eaten them prepared that way! Dani spent some time learning in a restaurant in southern Italy, and this recipe has stayed with her. It’s perfect for autumn. If you can’t find orecchiette, another flat-textured pasta will work just as well. — Kristina

About Dani: Dani started her career as a stylist with Cookie Magazine just a few days out of college. She then joined Food and Wine Magazine as a home and style editor, where she was also a staff prop stylist and a market and design editor. After leaving Food and Wine in 2007, she began working as a freelance prop stylist and food writer. She regularly writes reviews for BlackBoardEats LA and has recently worked on Susan Feniger’s STREET cookbook, Nancy Silverton’s The Mozza Cookbook and Bryant Terry’s Vegan Soul Kitchen and his most recent book, Inspired Vegan: Seasonal Ingredients, Creative Recipes, Mouthwatering Menus.

The full recipe continues after the jump…


Orecchiette with Orange-Spiced Meatballs

For the stock:

  • 2–3 russet or similar potatoes (cut in half)
  • 2 onions (peeled, cut in half)
  • 3–4 celery hearts + however many celery leaves you can get your hands on
  • 3–4 carrots
  • 2–4 arugula leaves (optional)
  • kosher salt to taste

Simmer ingredients in a stock pot full of water for a couple hours, until the veggies are very soft and all their flavors have seeped out.

For the meatballs:

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 1/2 cup of crumbled, day-old country bread (you can food-process the bread as well, but it’s easy to do by hand)
  • 3 garlic cloves (minced)
  • zest from 1 large navel orange (microphone or traditional zester is fine)
  • good pinch of salt
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped marjoram
  • 1/4 cup grated grana padano or parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs (lightly beaten)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and then mix well with your hands. Roll small balls in your hand, measuring 1/2″ to 3/4″ in diameter and place in a rimmed pan coated with extra virgin olive oil. Brown in a 450-degree oven for 5 minutes. Set aside until combined with sauce.

For the sauce and finishing the dish:

  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 8 celery hearts, sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup of chopped parsley, plus a couple extra pinches for finishing
  • 3/4 cup of stock
  • 2 loose cups of grated grana padano or parmesan (to taste, for finishing)
  • olive oil for pan

Heat a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over a low flame in a sauté pan. Cut the cloves of garlic into thirds and add to the oil. Let the garlic sizzle in the oil until the moment it starts to brown. Use a slotted spoon to remove the garlic and discard. Then turn up the heat to medium, add the celery and parsley and cook until the celery is translucent. Once the celery is cooked, turn down the heat to low, add in 3/4 of the stock and the meatballs. Stir the mixture occasionally and allow the liquid to reduce to about half. This takes approximately 15 minutes.

While the sauce is reducing, cook your orecchiette. If you can get fresh, that’s great, but good-quality dry (which I use here) works well, too. Once the sauce has reduced, add the cooked pasta and combine. Add a handful or two of grated grana padano or parmesan cheese and another big pinch of chopped parsley. Serve immediately.


Photography by Carin Krasner

Why Dani Chose This Recipe

This recipe is based on one of the dishes we served at L’Oasis, the restaurant in Campagna, Italy, where I stayed a few years ago. In a (misguided) effort to live in the moment, I wrote little down while I lived in Vallesaccarda, but this pasta dish was one of my favorites, and I have done my best to create a recipe that captures my memories of orange-spiced orecchiette with polpettini di agnello. The celery was my own addition, and I think it adds a bit more depth of flavor — a quality that was always part of Chef Lina Fischetti’s food. I love this recipe because it’s quite easy, uses accessible ingredients and reminds me of my grandmother, who also used to finish her own mini-meatballs in homemade chicken stock.

  1. Rose says:

    This recipe sounds amazing! I love lamb.

  2. This looks AMAZING!! Autumn with a hint o’ summery spice — cannot wait to try this one!

  3. EG says:

    I’d love to get tips from Dani on how to get orecchiette not to clump together! I have this problem with no other pasta, but even using Rustichella d’Abruzzo it happens. I don’t want to use oil in the water as the sauce won’t stick as well. Any advice?

  4. Teresa says:

    My local market has been displaying ground lamb all week and I avoided buying it because I didn’t know what to make with it. I think I will go back tonight! Thanks for sharing this, Kristina.

  5. Joni says:

    I can’t wait to try this recipe. Thanks Dani Fisher, for living in the moment!

  6. Courtney says:

    My stomach is growling at me after reading and re-reading this recipe. I’m very excited to try is this weekend! Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. I love a new meatball recipe. I usually make mine with parmesean, currants and pine nuts, but orange-spiced lamb sounds different and delish. I used lamb this week to make Greek-Style Nachos, so next week I’ll give this recipe a try.

  8. Gwen says:

    I’m going to make this tonight! My husband is Turkish and I lived in Italy for a couple of years…Finally, a recipe to satisfy both our tastes! Thank you so much!

  9. jeannine says:

    quick question–how many people does this recipe serve and approx how many meatballs should we be getting out of the meat mixture? it sounds delicious and i’d like to know how to scale up or down as need be. thanks!

  10. I don’t normally fancy myself a lamb person, but this looks so delicious, I’ll have to give it a try!

  11. This recipie is filled with ingredients I’m in love with. Dying to try it!

  12. A.W. Tran says:

    The dish looks so warm and inviting. Indeed the perfect autumn dish!

  13. Man, I just got hungry by seeing these beautiful food pictures. They are of really high quality, and full of pleasant colors. I just want to use some of them in my works. :)

  14. I can’t wait to try this recipe! Love the photos and styling. Perfect!

  15. mel mccarthy says:

    This looks so good I can practically smell it cooking. Gorgeous photos & thanks for a fab twist on the ol’ meatball.

  16. eva says:

    this sounds absolutely mouthwatering. Yum. Yum. Yum.

  17. Dani Fisher says:

    @EG If you stir pasta immediately after dumping it in the water that minimizes sticking.
    @Jeannine The recipe serves 4 people generously.

    Thanks for you feedback everyone!

  18. emily says:

    “microphone”? I think you mean “microplane”! Thanks for giving us a lovely recipe… and maybe a little chuckle, too. :D

  19. Hilary says:

    Just tried this one last night and blogged a review. Thanks for the culinary adventure!

  20. eva says:

    somehow seemed to have missed this post, but it sounds delicious!

  21. Kris says:

    Just made this tonight. It was perfect for a cold wet and blustery night! Finished it w/ a squirt of fresh lemon and served it on quinoa.


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