Seamus Mullen’s name would give you no clue as to this particular chef’s specialty. Chef Mullen is the chef/owner of two wildly popular and critically acclaimed restaurants specializing in modern Spanish cuisine. The first, Tertulia in Greenwich Village (359 6th Avenue, NYC 10012 Tel: 646-559-9909) has the stars to prove it. The second one, El Comado, is located in the Gotham West Market, a food court unlike any other in the city. For one thing, it’s at 600 11th Avenue, a neighborhood so far west in Hell’s Kitchen, the owners of the apartment building above it conceived the place as a way to draw tenants. Otherwise these poor souls would have to walk blocks before they found anything to eat. Instead, they can go downstairs to 8 highly original food destinations.
Andrew and I were intrigued enough to head there in the dead of winter when it first opened. There’s a beer bar, a largely vegetarian place called Little Chef, which sits opposite a carnivore’s dream called Cannibal. There’s the mandatory coffee outlet, in this case, one called Blue Bottle Coffee. There’s a pricy food and cookshop called the Brooklyn Kitchen. And there is a Ramen Noodle place called “Slurp Shop” which gets rave reviews and, the times we’ve been there, packed seats. And then there is Seamus Mullen’s El Comado. The name means ‘grocery store’ in Spanish. Here it means ‘superb tapas bar’. We find El Comado so irresistible that Andrew and I have yet to even sample the Ramen Noodles or the sandwiches made at the Court Street Grocer’s Sandwich Shop or the all-day diner called Genuine Roadside. Instead, we belly up to the bar overlooking a stretch of Eleventh Avenue and eat food that might as well put us in Barcelona. That city was one stop on Chef Mullen’s path to creating great contemporary Spanish dishes. Not bad for a kid who grew up on an organic farm in Vermont.
Chef Mullen’s passion for Spain began early in life. At Kalamazoo College, he majored in Spanish language and literature then took off to study in Spain at Universidad Autonoma de Extremadura in the ancient city of Caceres. Somewhere along the line, Chef Mullen became fascinated by cooking and since his graduation in 1996, he’s been hard at it. He’s been in New York since 2005 and we’re lucky to have him. He’s also the author of a fascinating book called “Hero Food: How Cooking with Delicious Things Can Make Us Feel Better” (Andrews McMeel 2012). In it, he details his struggles with rheumatoid arthritis and how he turned his diet around and minimized his symptoms. And he did this with minimal sacrifice. He said his greatest challenge was to field recipes that were ‘fundamentally delicious while being surreptitiously nutritious.’
Food and Wine, where I found Chef Mullin’s recipe for Herbed Lamb Meatballs, doesn’t publish nutritional information so I have to guess at the ‘surreptitiously nutritious’ aspects of this extraordinarily flavorful offering. What doesn’t go into it is likely as key as what does: Olive Oil. It is also one of those dishes with a frighteningly long list of ingredients. But when you break them down, it’s basically one of those ‘empty the spice rack’ recipes that look far more complex on paper than they are to make. The meatballs themselves are loaded with basil, parsley, oregano, and thyme, and raw almonds that have been soaked in milk. (I left out the mint in mine but not in the recipe that follows). The tomato sauce is simplicity itself and bubbles along while you prepare the meatballs. I served the whole dish on a bed of wilted spinach. I halved the quantity in Chef Mullen’s recipe. But here is the original recipe, which would easily serve 6-8 hearty eaters. It was phenomenal. Here is the recipe:
Recipe for Seamus Mullen’s Herbed Lamb Meatballs with Rich Tomato Sauce and Ricotta
Total Time 1hour and 30 minutes. Serves 6-8
For the Tomato Sauce:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 cup lightly packed basil leaves, torn
2 tablespoons oregano leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Two 28-ounce cans whole Italian tomatoes with their juices, crushed
6 large anchovy fillets, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
For the Herbed Lamb Meatballs:
1/2 cup raw almonds, finely chopped
1/2 cup milk
2 1/2 pounds ground lamb
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped basil leaves, plus whole leaves for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon dry red wine
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Ricotta cheese, for serving
First, make the sauce:
1. In a large saucepan, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the garlic, basil, oregano, bay leaves and red pepper and cook over moderately high heat for 30 seconds.
2. Add the tomatoes and simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until the tomatoes are saucy, 1 hour. Stir in the anchovies and season with salt and black pepper.
While the sauce is cooking, make the meatballs:
1. In a bowl, cover the almonds with the milk and let stand until most of the milk has been absorbed, 30 minutes.
2. Add all of the remaining ingredients except the whole basil leaves, olive oil and ricotta and mix well. Form into 1 1/2-inch meatballs and transfer to a rimmed baking sheet.
3. In a skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Working in batches, cook the meatballs over moderately high heat, turning, until nearly cooked through, 7 minutes per batch.
Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer until cooked through, 8 minutes.
4. Spoon into bowls, top with ricotta and garnish with basil.
(The meatballs can be refrigerated in the sauce overnight.)