THE DIET CAN WAIT.
As if the return to work, traffic jams and rainy grey skies aren’t enough to contend with, following hearty Christmas and new year celebrations we make ourselves suffer further by insisting on a new year detox, smaller and healthier meals, increased gym attendance and the locking of the biscuit/cake/chocolate tin.
There’s plenty of time for that later, but please lets get a week back at work under our belts first. I ask because after the holidays yes I do like to get my bum in the gym but I also want some comfort food to look forward to coming home to. Break me into reality gently, please. For times like this I’m after dishes that are old school, delicious and unrefined – and spaghetti and meatballs really hits the spot.
I like to make these meatballs bite sized and to season the juicy pork mince with salty Parmesan and aromatic fennel seeds. The Parmesan is an excellent seasoning for the pork and together they’re well complemented by the fennel – tiny little bursts of anise flavour that sets these meatballs apart from the competition.
I’ve made many a meatball over the years and here are my top meatball making tips, should you be on the lookout for any:
- Cook your onion and garlic and let it cool before adding it to the raw meat – the gently cooked onion and garlic gives a far better flavour than using raw in the mixture.
- Make the meatballs the star of the show and the flavour holder and keep the sauce simple, the meatballs will end up flavouring the sauce anyway.
- Don’t be scared to add a lot of flavour, they really can take it and do need a lot of seasoning – play with flavour combinations by adding different herbs, spices and even cheeses.
- Don’t add breadcrumbs or eggs to the mix. I much prefer the meaty meatball rather than one that’s been padded out, and I don’t find need for eggs either to bind them – the juicy meat and soft cooked onions creates enough natural binding to keep them together, you just need to compress them well when making the balls to make sure they’re firm.
And the final thing to say on the subject is that we don’t have a freezer at the moment, but if we did I’d make two of three times this batch size and freeze them portioned up once they’ve been browned off. They’re a great mid week go-to meal when you haven’t time to cook from scratch but don’t want to go down the ready meal route, just pop them from frozen straight into a simmering pot of tomato sauce. Bingo.
For four lunch sized portions
- 500g (1lb) pork mince
- 50g (1/2 cup) grated Parmesan
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 750g (26oz) good quality pasatta
- 250mls (1 cup) white wine
- A squeeze of lemon
- 1 small dried chilli, crumbled (if you like a little warmth)
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 golden onions, diced
- Butter and olive oil for cooking
- Sea salt
- Black pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil and more grated Parmesan to serve
- Spaghetti to serve
- In a frying pan gently cook the onion until turning lightly golden in some butter and olive oil, once it’s translucent add the garlic to the pan and cook for a minute or two more, then remove it from the heat and leave it to go cool.
- Into a food processor place the pork mince, Worcestershire sauce, Parmesan, a very generous scrunch of black pepper and the cooled onion mixture, blitz until well combined and then turn out into a mixing bowl.
- Sprinkle the fennel seeds over the top of the mince and mix them in by hand (a sticky job but one that’s rather good fun) and then form the mixture into small bite sized balls, about the size of a 10p piece.
- In batches to as to not crowd the pan, fry the meatballs on all sides in butter and olive oil until golden brown, then remove and set aside.
- In a saucepan pour the pasatta, wine, chilli, lemon and a scrunch of sea salt and black pepper and bring the sauce to a simmer, before turning the heat down a little and letting the flavours infuse and the alcohol cook out.
- Take another large saucepan and fill it with water and a good handful of salt for seasoning, bring it to the boil and put your pasta in. 6 minutes from the pasta being ready add the browned meatballs to the sauce, put the lid on and turn the heat up a little. Keep stirring the meatballs carefully and don’t let the pot boil – you want it to simmer gently and for the meatballs to gently to cook through.
- Drain your pasta and serve it in bowls topped with the rich sauce, a slug of extra virgin and light grating of Parmesan.