Farmers' Market Share: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs


So hopefully the omnivores in the audience haven't given up on me yet. I know I burst onto the Gut Check scene in 2009 promising to explore the full spectrum of local foods, yet I've barely glanced at foods with faces.

To the patient among you, rejoice!

  • Alissa Nelson
The reason for the absence of meat in this column is twofold: First, it's basically seasonless. Most of the local farmers have their wares frozen before hitting the market, so I have yet to notice a difference in what they're selling from month to month. Second, I was a vegetarian for a decade (nearly to the month), so it's been tough for me to expand my repertoire in my mere four years back on the dark side. Besides, vegetables are really just so damn good.

Once I started eating meat, I binged a little on the few dishes that I'd missed, but I quickly came to the realization that most of the time it just wasn't worth it to me to eat meat. The times it was actually worth it? When I could get high-quality meat. My tastes steered me toward grass-fed varieties since I find those the most flavorful. I've heard some folks complain about the gaminess of grass-fed meat, but since I'd gone so long without, I didn't know the difference.

Thankfully, we have plenty of antibiotic-free, naturally raised meats in the St. Louis area, from lamb to pork to beef to bison (and supposedly goat, if you can get your hands on it). It's not horrifically expensive, and I just feel better about having the option of driving out to the farms to see how my food is raised. In fact, I'm hoping for some field trips this summer.

I found this recipe a few months back. First, I need to confess that I knew nothing of Ina Garten prior to some awesome chocolate-orange cake at a party, so all I knew was that she was a former nuclear-weapons analyst for the Johnson administration. I have dreams of being fabulously successful in multiple fields, so she is basically living the dream -- my dream, anyway. But apparently she is also the Barefoot Contessa? And kind of annoying? I wouldn't know, but I will say that she makes one tasty meatball.

My biggest alteration to this recipe is that I switched a mixture of pork and veal to straight lamb. It's a fairly big leap, but lamb is just SO GOOD. I got my lamb from Prairie Grass Farms and my beef from Missouri Grassfed Beef. The pasta was from Mangia.

  • Alissa Nelson
Spaghetti and Meatballs

Adapted very liberally from Ina Garten
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground lamb
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs (the packaged kind will not have the same effect)
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp minced parsley
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
Olive oil
Neutral vegetable oil like canola or grapeseed
1. Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and mix with a large fork. Form into 2-inch balls.

2. Combine the oils about 50-50 in a large skillet to fill by about 1/4 inch. Heat over medium heat. Add a few meatballs at a time, being careful not to crowd them. Turn periodically, until they are browned on all sides. Removed with a slotted spoon or spatula to paper towels to drain. Don't worry if your meatballs are not cooked through, they have time.

3. Heat a pot of tomato sauce. (I really have to suggest that you find a good recipe here. Canned tomatoes are great and readily available.) Reduce the heat to a simmer and add the meatballs. Cook for 30 minutes or more, they can go for up to an hour. Serve with pasta.

Alissa Nelson is a graduate student and compulsive buyer of cookbooks. She enjoys scouring seed catalogs and thrift stores alike. Every Wednesday she seeks the bounty of local farmers' markets -- and then cooks it.