Saturday, May 31, 2008


Time for another recipe. I was asked to write this down by a friend who came round for dinner the other night, so I thought - hey! - why not stick it on the blog. so here it is: Dave's Legendary Meatballs.

  • 1kg beef mince
  • 1kg pork mince
  • some bread (1/3 of a normal-sized ciabatta, or 3-4 slices from a sliced loaf)
  • enough milk to cover the bread (so, I dunno, 1/2 a pint or so perhaps)
  • salt & pepper
  • 3 large-ish red onions (or white, if you like - hey, whatever works for you)
  • garlic (as much as you like)
  • 3 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 bottle of passata or sugocasa or something similar
  • 1/2 a carton of tomato juice - if you don't drink the stuff you may as well throw the rest in too, otherwise make a couple of bloody marys with it while you're cooking
  • 1 vegetable stock cube dissolved in about a pint of water
  • a slosh of balsamic vinegar
  • a similarly-sized slosh of lemon juice - couple of teaspoons or so
  • a generous slosh of red wine - maybe a glass
  • some mixed herbs
  • black pepper
It's a pretty bog-standard Italian meatballs in tomato sauce kind of thing, but there's really no call to be over-elaborating this kind of dish. There are only three secrets to this, and they are as follows:

1) Make lots

This is one of those dishes that involves a bit of fiddly preparation, so there's a strong argument for scaling things up, doing lots, and then filling up your freezer. These quantities make about 10 good-sized portions. Scale them down as required if you don't want that much.

2) Do the sauce first

Like anything sauce-y the key is long, slow cooking. So do the sauce before you start thinking about making the meatballs; then it can be simmering away while you're doing them. So: fry up the onions and garlic in some olive oil till they're softened (but not brown), chuck in all the rest of the sauce ingredients, turn the heat down a bit and leave it alone - well, stir it occasionally to make sure it's not sticking. If you can manage at least an hour of cooking before the meatballs go in then it'll be much nicer.

3) Meatball composition

Half pork, half beef, very important. Pork tends to be a bit fattier than beef, so it helps them not to dry out. The other thing that helps them not dry out is the bread and milk mix: turn the bread into breadcrumbs in whatever way you deem appropriate - food processor, coffee/spice grinder, tearing things up with your own bare hands, whatever. Then put the crumbs in a bowl, and pour in enough milk to just about cover them, stir it about with your finger (or a spoon, if you must) and leave it to stand for ten minutes or so, so that the bread can soak up the milk. Then put meat and bread in a big bowl and mash it all up with your hands. There's no substitute for your bare hands here, so don't be squeamish.

a giant meatball, yesterdayNow - balls. What you want here is something a little bigger than, say, a squash ball, but not as big as, say, a snooker ball. Too big and they'll fall apart; too small and they'll be too dry. I find the quantites here make about 45-50 meatballs. You shouldn't need to flour your hands or anything like that as it'll just make a mess - unless you've gone overboard with the milk and the mixture's all sloppy, but, well, then you're on your own, frankly. Anyway - fry them 6-8 at a time in a non-stick frying pan for a few minutes, turning them frequently. You don't want to worry about cooking them, just to give them a bit of colour and make sure they don't fall apart later. Drain them in a big bowl with some kitchen paper in it. When you've done them all, chuck them all into the sauce and stir it all around - not too frenziedly or they'll disintegrate.

You probably want another half hour to an hour or so of gentle simmering now - any more and things will dry out.

Serve with some ribbon pasta (linguine, fettucine, tagliatelle, whatever). Final tip - once you've drained the pasta, throw it back into the pan you cooked it in and ladle in a generous dollop of the tomato sauce and stir it in before dividing it up. Stops the pasta sticking together in the bowls.

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