This meal is like a hug on a plate. That sounds pretty weird but you know those meals that you just know you love, you think about making them a few days in advance, you plan them for a day when you have plenty of time to eat slowly, chat over wine and then go and collapse in an undignified heap on the sofa afterwards? This is one of those meals. Originally a Nigella Lawson recipe we think, but possibly adapted over time (sorry Nigella!) the meatballs are soft, fragrant with oregano and with a delicious salty tang from parmesan or pecorino cheese. They’re served with a rich tomato sauce which is so simple to make and mountains of pasta.
Ingredients (serves 4, generously – we actually made half of this mixture as our freezer is fit to bursting so we didn’t want leftovers but this freezes beautifully if you have the space!)
- 250g pork, minced
- 250g beef, minced
- 1 egg
- 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1 garlic clove
- 1 tsp fresh oregano
- 3 tbsp breadcrumbs or semolina
- 1 pinch pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp olive oil (preferably not extra-virgin)
- 700g tomato passata
- 1 pinch sugar
- 1 pinch salt and pepper
- 100ml full fat milk
So it looks like a lot of ingredients but plenty of them are storecupboard favourites, it’s really not intimidating at all! To make the meatballs you basically chuck everything in a bowl and then get your hands messy but there are some cheats you can do to make it even easier! This is a no chopping recipe, a knife free zone (almost).
Grab yourself a mini chopper or food processor and blitz up a hunk of parmesan, once it’s finely chopped whack it in a bowl. Pop the clove of garlic (peeled) and about 10-20 oregano leaves (depending on size) into the blender, whizz until chopped and chuck them straight into a big bowl which you will make your meatballs in. Now you will have some bits of garlic and oregano stuck to the side of your blender… do you want to waste them? Do you want to spend forever scraping them all out? No. So grab a small piece of bread, whizz that up to breadcrumbs and then chuck all of that in the large bowl too. Whizz up a bit more bread so you’ve got enough breadcrumbs to perfect the texture of your meatballs and you’re ready to go! Add all of the other meatball ingredients to the bowl, the measurements above usually work fine but if you have a particularly small or large egg then you will need to adjust the breadcrumbs accordingly. Get your hands in there and squish it all together, but try not to squash all of the texture out of this, you want the meatballs to be light and still retain a bit of texture. Once it’s mixed fairly well shape into meatballs, this should make around 16-20. Pop these on a plate or a tray in the fridge, they need at least half an hour to chill but can be left for hours.
To make the tomato sauce you’ll need your food processor/chopper again. It would be a total lie if we said we washed ours between using it for the breadcrumbs etc, a quick wipe and it’s good to go. Peel the onion, chop into large chunks and put it in the blender along with the peeled garlic cloves and dried oregano. Whizz this up really well, you want a grainy paste rather than finely chopped. Place a large saucepan over a low heat and add the olive oil and butter, once bubbling scrape in the onion/garlic/oregano paste and cook for about 10 minutes stirring almost constantly. This mixture shouldn’t colour, it should just soften and become really aromatic. After this time tip in the passata, and then half fill the jar/carton with cold water, give it a shake to get all of the bits off the side and add this to the pan too. Season it with the sugar, salt and pepper at this stage. It will seem really thin but it’s got a fair bit of cooking to do. Simmer this for about 15 minutes. Pour in the milk and mix well, then take the meatballs out of the fridge and gently drop them into the tomato sauce, you want them to be completely submerged and not on top of each other which is why you need a big pan! Resist the urge to stir at all or prod them around as they will just break apart. Put a lid on half covering the pan and leave them to gently simmer away.
Now is the time to get some water on for your pasta, the meatballs will take about 20-25 minutes to cook, we served ours with tagliatelle which takes about 8 minutes to cook. Once the meatballs have had around 15 minutes cooking time they will be less fragile so feel free to have a gentle stir of the pan to make sure nothing is catching on the bottom. Once the pasta is cooked we like to drain it, then put in a couple of spoonfuls of the sauce to coat the pasta and then serve the meatballs on top with more sauce, but you could just whack a big bowl of pasta and a big dish of meatballs on the table for everyone to help themselves! Serve with the leftover grated cheese (and if you’re anything like us, the block of cheese and a grater), a glass of red wine, a few twists of black pepper and prepare to feel like you’re getting the best hug in the world from an old friend.