Friday, 6 May 2011

Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

Yesterday's meal still needs a bit of refinement before I post it. I got it from the Observer Food Monthly and it was ok... just a bit bland. I did everything I could to jazz it up but, meh. By contrast the meal I cooked for my fiancĂ©e was good, maybe a bit fiddly, but I think my execution of it was poor. So a couple to work on again another time.

In the meantime, here's a classic that simply works. The meatball recipe is foolproof and makes loads of lovely tasty meatballs that freeze well, and you can vary the flavourings with whatever you have to hand or feel like. My suggestions would be:

  • pork, ginger and chilli
  • lamb and mint
  • beef and mustard
  • lamb, beef and rosemary
  • chicken and lemongrass

The recipe below is a simple generic Italian style that works with any pasta sauce; I actually made a big batch a few days ago and just took 10 out of the freezer this morning. My family loves to layer them in a deep casserole dish with cooked pasta, tomato sauce, ricotta cheese and wilted spinach, then top with cheese and bake for half an hour. As a fast weekday meal after walking out to vote, tonight we served them simply with tomato sauce and pasta - and I felt like peas, so I made peas!

For the meatballs:
Meatballs and tomato sauce
  • 3-4 slices stale bread
  • a good chunk of parmesan
  • a small bunch of parsley
  • 500g beef mince
  • 500g pork mince
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • milk
For the tomato sauce:
  • 1 red onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • a splash of red wine
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp mixed herbs
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

Meatballs fresh from
the oven
Whiz the bread in a food processor in batches until it forms medium-coarse breadcrumbs, removing each batch to a very large mixing bowl as it is done. To one or two of the batches, add the leaves of the parsley and grate in the chunk of parmesan. Put the pork and beef mince directly into the mixing bowl - blending them would give you a very finely minced, bland meatball. Add the egg and season well with black pepper.

Using your hands, combine the ingredients; you're aiming for a texture where the mixture sticks well to itself but not to the sides of the bowl. If your bread is very stale, you may need to add a tablespoon or so of milk, but be careful not to make the mixture sloppy. When the mixture is well-combined, but not completely homogeneous, form meatballs of your desired size. I like them large, rather than bite-sized; if you like them small, make sure to reduce the cooking time later.

From here you can either fry the meatballs in batches, which can take awhile if you're making a large batch, or you can roast them in a 220 C oven for 20 minutes, or until golden brown on all sides. Allow them to cool if freezing, or use straight away with, for example, the tomato sauce:

Finely chop the red onion and gently fry it in a deep-sided frying pan until translucent and beginning to colour. Crush in the clove of garlic and cook for a further minute, stirring halfway to make sure it doesn't stick. Pour in a splash of red wine and deglaze the pan, then add the rest of the ingredients and stir well. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, checking that the mixture doesn't stick to the bottom. If it appears watery, remove the lid and allow the steam to escape; if it is very dry then add a splash of hot water. For the last two minutes, add the meatballs and allow them to heat through in the sauce (or five minutes if cooking from chilled). Serve with a long pasta like tagliatelle or spaghetti, torn basil, and plenty of parmesan cheese at the table.

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