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Italian-style Meatballs with Tomato Sauce & Spaghetti

October 14, 2014

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It’s still unseasonably warm in UK for the time of year but it’s been relentlessly wet since my return from Crete a couple of weeks ago and I’ve had a cold (it’s that time of year!). I had a packet of organic mince (10% fat) in the freezer I wanted to use up. I use mince mainly in Bolognese ragu but decided to make meatballs tonight; I haven’t done that in a while. I thought it would be nicely comforting food for the weather and the last stages of my cold. I’ve made meatballs many times but decided – since I was planning to write it up on the blog – to consult the ‘experts’ and see what they had to say. It seemed to me that the experts made it all a lot more complicated than I normally do. Angela Hartnett adds not only egg but Parmesan and breadcrumbs soaked in milk; Jamie Oliver adds mustard, Jacob’s cream crackers (!!) and egg; Gordon Ramsay adds breadcrumbs soaked in milk, garlic and Parmesan – though no egg. Gino d’Acampo actually came up with most straightforward recipe – just mince, seasoning and parsley … but then spoilt it be adding the wretched egg as well! Why do they want eggs? NO – don’t tell me. I know why people put eggs in mixtures like this but I simply don’t like it. I do, however, approve of the breadcrumbs: breadcrumbs give the meatballs a certain lightness that works well. But not too many. I added 40g to my 400g mince – in other words 10%. And as for Parmesan in the mix … yes, grated Parmesan nicely showered over the finished dish is great, but I personally don’t want it in the meat mixture. I decided to stick my with usual very simple mixture: mince, breadcrumbs, some dried herbs and seasoning. Then I’d make a nice rich tomato sauce for them to finish them off in; perhaps a hint of warming chilli in that. Perfect!

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I put 400g good quality minced beef in a bowl, with 40g fresh breadcrumbs, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and seasoning of freshly ground black pepper and sea salt. (Traditionally in Italy, a mix of minced beef and minced pork are used, so you can try that if you prefer.) I mixed it all together with my hands, making sure it was all blended together well. Don’t, however, be tempted to use a food processor or any kind of machine: that will only make you a paste and not good meatballs. Now divide the mixture into whatever size meatballs you want. I made mine about golf ball sized, but that’s reasonably big and you might prefer smaller bite-sized ones.

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Roll them in a little olive oil and if you have time, pop them in the fridge for an hour or so to firm up before frying. Then make the tomato sauce. Fry a finely chopped small onion with 1 crushed clove of garlic in some olive oil. I also added 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes. This gave the sauce quite a kick of heat, which I like, but you can just as well leave the chilli out if you prefer.

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When the onion has softened and is starting to go translucent, add 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and also add 1 teaspoon sugar to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes. Give it all a good stir, bring to almost to the boil and then turn down to a simmer gently for about 15 minutes. I like to then blend my sauce with a hand blender. It makes a smoother sauce that clings better to the meatballs and spaghetti, but it also seems to give the sauce a smoother taste. Check seasoning.

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Set aside and cook the meatballs. Fry them in a little olive oil until nicely browned on both sides.

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Now tip the prepared tomato sauce into the meatballs.

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Stir round well. Scatter over a handful of freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley.

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Stir and then put a lid on the pan and leave to cook gently for 10-15 minutes – depending on the size of your meatballs. You want them to cook through but overcooking will make them tough.

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Meanwhile cook some spaghetti (about 100g per serving) until al dente. Drain. Return to the pan and add the meatballs. I added just one portion; the other two portions I’ll bag up when cold and freeze. Gently mix the spaghetti and meatballs together and then transfer to a serving dish. I sprinkled over a little extra parsley, drizzled over some extra virgin olive oil and then grated some Parmesan over the top.

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I served a rocket salad on the side. The meatballs were really good: very tender and had held together well (no egg needed!); they were very tasty too. The sauce was so rich and delicious and its smoothness meant it clung beautifully to the pasta and meatballs. I liked the chilli hit but if you don’t like chilli or want a fresher taste, leave it out. Your sauce will still be great. It’s such a simple recipe – for both the sauce and meatballs – but such is the brilliance of Italian cooking that simple equals excellent. That’s why I love Italian cooking so much!

From → Beef, Pasta, Recipes

6 Comments
  1. this looks wonderful!

  2. Love it, so classic so tasty 🙂

    Best regards,
    Alice

  3. Oops! I usually put eggs in the mixture! 🙂

    • Well you’re in good company 🙂 ! And my son explained tonight the scientific reason why people put Parmesan in … something to do with fat content … but I was never very good at science 🙂

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