Thursday, 14 March 2013

Meatballs - A Family Favourite

Oh my word - there must be a blue moon or similar - two dinner recipes in a row from Sarah, and not a mention of cake?!! Miracles can happen, it appears.

So, getting mince today and I thought that I just couldn't face bolognaise again (we've been having a phase and usually make a massive pot so last week we had enough for two days, and then I ended up staying late at a friend's house and scoffing some of her bolognaise that she kindly gave the girls so I didn't have to rush home). Basically, the girls have discovered they like meat, but haven't quite made the leap to a chop / steak  roast type piece of beef yet (we're getting there - those super fussy "fish finger only" days are long gone now, thankfully) so I am truly fed up of mince in all it's guises; we've had loads of bolognaise, heaps of shepherd's pie (or should that be cottage pie? We always only ever called shepherd's pie - incorrectly  as it happens, but I'll stick with that), burgers (oh, home made burgers in a bun with some home made wedge-style baked chips is a happy Friday evening treat in this house - I urge you to try them soon, I know my DinnerSister Margaret is planning a chat about them shortly in these "horsemeat burger" days); anyhow, I digress (for a change). Back to mince, I was a bit browned off with it (see what I did there, "browned off", eh? Eh?!). And then I had a mini-brainwave, of sorts, and remembered a really obvious one that had slipped my attention - meatballs. We haven't had them in AGES, and I reckoned the kids would love them. I know I do... I mean, who doesn't?! (My mince-hating sister need not answer... and no, mince does not look like brains, really, since you ask and yes, that is mostly just you - I mean, now you say it, I can see a certain resemblance; but no, they aren't that alike!)

A bit like bolognaise, meatballs is the type of recipe for which everyone has there own version. I offer you here the version I cooked tonight - taken originally from Jamie Oliver's original book, "The Naked Chef", it has been well adapted over the years (as a good recipe should be, to suit yourself and your own palate) and now with the addition of slightly fussy little ones, has been beefed up with lots of veg - I honestly even threw in a really small bit of turnip into ours today! (What can I say - there is a turnip backlog in the house, we don't even like it much but it is a great thickener in a sauce or a soup, so I thought, "what the hell?!")

Ready for the pot
Oh - a little addition here, see below in the ingredient list*. The recipe calls for 2 slices of bread, crumbed. I always use up the end crusts of a sliced pan by turning them into breadcrumbs - slightly stale bread is ideal. There is usually one or two slices and the two heels, so I just whizz them up in the processor, pop in a bag and freeze. Yesterday, I also included the tail end of a white loaf that we had at the weekend, from Superquinn (you know the sort of, "slice it yourself" affair, gorgeous and a regular Saturday treat in our house). So I was able to gauge "2 slices" relatively well - I just chucked in a few fistfuls. (So unlike me, am so usually "Ms Precise"!)

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

(à la Jamie Oliver, pg 133 & pg 237 of "The Naked Chef")
serves 4 - 6

For the tomato sauce

  • 1 onion
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 medium carrot
  • Half a red pepper
  • About 3 medium / large mushrooms
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 carton of passata
  • 1 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Tomato puree
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • A pinch of ground nutmeg
  • A pinch of caster sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Whizz up all the veg in the processor (mine is small, and I need to do this in batches) and fry off in a large saucepan - bearing in mind that the minced veg seems to take a little longer to cook off
  2. Add the passata and the tinned tomatoes (my two give about about lumps of chopped tomatoes, but I find the passata a bit thick so I risk a tin! Otherwise skip the passata and go with three tins of tomato)
  3. Add the oregano, balsamic, a good dash of W. sauce, a good squeeze of puree (about half a tube) and even a squeeze of ketchup too (Heinz all the way, in this house) and season well with plenty of pepper and a little salt
  4. Bring to the boil and gently simmer for one hour (Jamie suggests - I managed about 20 minutes!)
  5. Some fresh basil would be good at this point; again, I'm still waiting for ours to grow

For the meatballs

  • 2 lbs good minced beef
  • 2 slices of bread, crumbed* (see note, above)
  • 2 tsp of dried oregano
  • 2 tsp mixed herbs
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • olive oil, for frying
  • 1 quantity of tomato sauce (see above)
  • 125g mozarella cheese
  • Fresh basil (I forgot this tonight, but would usually include it)
  • Oil, for frying (I usually use rapeseed oil)
  • Optional ingredients
    • 1 onion, finely diced
    • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
    • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • Preheat the oven to 200C / gas mark  6 /  400F
  1. Add the breadcrumbs, oregano, mixed  and egg to the minced meat in a large bowl, then season well
  2. At this stage, you can add the optional ingredients - I would if it was just for myself and Himself, but I know the two fussy pants' would baulk, so I don't bother anymore... But fry them off lightly first and then leave to one side to cool, so you add them cool. Nothing worse than biting into a lump of raw garlic in your dinner and still reeking of it three days later! The same optional extras work well with burgers, incidentally
  3. Mix well with your hands to combine (I find it impossible to mix this gunge with a spoon, and I know my hands need to get in there in a minute to roll, so you might as well go for it)
  4. With damp hands, roll the meat mixture into balls the size and shape you want (I prefer them slightly smaller, and I think they dry out less this way, although tonight's were a little large). These can also be prepared in advance and can be stored in the fridge, on greasproof paper and covered in clingfilm, for up to a day
  5. Put a thick bottomed casserole dish / le Creuset type /  heavy saucepan on a hot flame and heat til very hot, then add plenty of oil, for frying, swirling around to coat the bottom
  6. Add the meatballs and fry them brown all over, being careful not to break them up but just moving them around the pan to ensure they brown evenly (I find two teaspoons easiest for this, as a fork can split them)
  7. Frying the meatballs
  8. Turn the heat down and cover with the tomato sauce, plenty of ripped up basil and a little broken up mozarella and grated Parmesan (again, this is something I save for the adult version, but I urge you to do it, it is FANTASTIC!), then stick the pan into the oven and bake for about 15-20 mins, until the cheese is golden - just enough time to cook the pasta!
This is great variation on "comfort food", especially these unseasonably cold days, enjoy with a glass of good red, close your eyes and imagine you are in some Italian dream!

Sarah xx

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