Proper comfort food using thrifty ingredients, these easy meatballs are a far cry from the tinned meatballs or those ones that come vac-packed in the supermarket!
Being in isolation has been a great way for me to re-visit dishes I first made and loved when I was a boy: dishes that have a very special place in my heart.
Over the years I have tweaked this recipe as the mood takes me. Sometimes I keep it very simple (as I have here) but at other times I like to gild the lily somewhat: perhaps stuffing the meatballs with smoked mozzarella or maybe some finely chopped garlic mushrooms. Or going for a ras el hanout sauce with dried apricots in there. Even a little chilli for a spicy kick….
Once again I raided the freezer and the cupboards for these meatballs. I always have mince in some form, and frozen tomatoes (this time from last year’s allotment harvest: perfect in a stew or for a tomato-based sauce such as this). And as the basil is growing very happily, I need no excuse to raid its branches!
I often use a mixture of beef mince and pork mince, but you can use just one type. Crucially, try to go for the mince that isn’t too lean because if it doesn’t have a lot of fat it won’t have a lot of the flavour.
As for breadcrumbs, I always freeze the crusts for use at any other time. such as for bread-crumbing or making croutons for salads.
Recipe: meatballs in tomato sauce – serves 2 generously
- 300g mince (I used a mixture of pork and beef)
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
- heaped tablespoon of breadcrumbs
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika or harissa powder
- a little salt and pepper
- about 400g fresh, tinned or frozen tomatoes (or passage)
- 3 tablespoons tomato purée
- 1 large onion, peeled and sliced
- 3 fat cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
- 2 rounded teaspoons smoked paprika
- a small handful of basil leaves, roughly torn
- 1-2 teaspoons dried mixed herbs or dried oregano (or the leaves from a few sprigs of fresh oregano)
- a glass or two of red or white wine
- 1 teaspoon sugar (any type)
- salt and pepper to season – a good grinding of each
you will also need a tablespoon or so of vegetable or sunflower oil for pan-frying the meatballs
(1) Put the meatball ingredients into a bowl and use your hands to squish everything together to a lovely meaty mass.
NB: you can leave this for a few hours overnight if you want to, which will let the flavours develop a little bit more – or you can just go straight into the shaping.
(2) Take about a tablespoon at a time and shape into balls, squeezing tightly so they hold their shape.
NB: written while keeping as straight a face as I can!
(3) Heat the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat until it becomes hot. Add the meatballs and leave them alone for about a minute, before continuing to cook over a low heat for another five minutes or so, turning them around every now and then until the outside is a nice deep golden colour. Transfer to a plate while you make the sauce.
NB: you can fry these off a day or so before you want to eat them. Just put them in the fridge when they are cool where they will firm up nicely.
(4) For the sauce, add the onions and garlic to the pan used to brown the meatballs. Fry gently for about five minutes stirring from time to time so that they take on a nice light golden-brown colour but be careful not to let them burn.
(5) Add the remaining sauce ingredients bring it all to a simmer. Keeping the heat on medium to low, let it all simmer away for about 10 to 15 minutes.
(6) Pour the sauce over the meatballs give them a gentle stir so as not to break up the meatballs. Put the lid on and place them in an oven at about 160C (fan) for about an hour. You can add a little bit more fresh basil when it comes out of the oven and serve with a generous grating of Parmesan cheese.