Meatballs – one of those dishes which unites the nations, everybody cooks them, everybody loves them. But apparently, according to history, Romans knew better. When you ask an Italian about meatballs, you can get into all sorts of discussions about what goes in to a meatball. But one thing is (almost always) certain: they tell you that their mother, their grandmother or their aunt made the best polpette. Other then that, it can be debated how the meatballs should be served or eaten: on its own, with or without the sauce, or even with some pasta.
Today’s recipe is from wonderful Polpo book.
There is a bit of love required to make the tomato sauce but the polpette are a breeze and the combination of fennel and pork tastes great, just a little bit unusual. You can reduce the amount of chilli flakes or fennel seeds to suit your taste. The original recipe asks for 20g of fennel seeds (in comparison, standard supermarket’s jag is 34g), I wasn’t brave to put more than half of it, I added 10g only and it was plenty to my liking.
PORK AND FENNEL POLPETTE
For the sauce:
100ml extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely sliced
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
small pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 small handful of oregano, finely chopped
pinch of caster sugar
For the Polpette:
1.5 kg minced pork
3 medium free-range eggs
large pinch of dried chilli flakes
10g fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground in a pestle and mortar
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
- To make a sauce, heat half the oil in a large saucepan and sweat the onion, garlic, salt, pepper and chilli on a medium heat for about 15 minutes. When transparent, add the fresh tomatoes and the rest of the oil and cook on a low-medium heat for 15 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer. Leave to bubble on the lowest heat for about 1 hour. Turn off the heat and add the heat and add the oregano. Taste and see if it needs any sugar. When you’re pleased with the taste, blend together with a hand blender or in a food blender. Sometimes I like to leave my sauce chunky.
- To make meatballs, preheat the oven to 220C. Put the pork, eggs, breadcrumbs, chilli flakes, ground fennel seeds, salt and pepper into a large mixing bown and massage thoroughly. Roll into approx 45g balls, place them on a greased baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 minutes, turning once until they are starting to brown.
- Poach meatballs in the tomato sauce for 10 minutes.
- Serve on its own with some nice crusty bread or focaccia, or if you dare even with pasta.
Although we don’t eat lamb (or meat in general) very often, if I had to choose, lamb definitely would be one of my favourites. I like slow roasting the shoulder or leg of lamb, but I’ve never cooked a rack of lamb before, somehow I worry that I’ll mess the timing up and it’ll be dry and chewy. Luckily there are plenty of other ways to enjoy lamb, like these baked lamb meatballs. I’ve been experimenting with these meatballs lately, adding different spices, and so far I like this way the best. Especially the addition of cinnamon and ginger makes such a big difference. Another advantage of this dish is that it takes no time to cook, but you’ll have dish full of flavours.
BAKED LAMB MEATBALLS IN TAHINI SAUCE
500g lamb mince
1 onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/3 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup fresh coriander, chopped
For the sauce:
1/2 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
salt & pepper to taste
chopped fresh mint/ pistachios to serve (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 200C.
- In a large bowl mix together the lamb, onion, garlic, spices, olive oil and coriander, using metal spoon or just using your hands. Shape the mixture into the meatballs and arrange them in a single layer in a baking dish.
- Bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile the meatballs in the oven, combine the tahini, lemon juice, cumin and slowly add 3/4 cup of water to create a smooth sauce. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- Pour the sauce over the partially baked meatballs and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until meatballs are thoroughly cooked. The sauce will look like a thick glaze. Garnish with chopped nuts or mint. Serve with boiled rice/spinach pilau rice or lentil.
Aubergine is not the vegetable you usually find in a chilli, but their meaty, spongy texture perfectly absorbs all the flavours and together with the beans makes a delicious combo.
MIXED BEANS AND AUBERGINE CHILLI
(recipe adapted from S. Rimmer’s ‘The Accidental Vegetarian’ book)
about 80ml vegetable oil
1-2 aubergines, depends on the size, cut into chunky cubes
1 red onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2-3 red chillies, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin
pinch of ground cinnamon
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 x 400g tin mixed beans
1 cup of water
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/2 teaspoon cocoa powder (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
grated cheese/soured cream to serve (optional)
- Heat some oil in a pan and fry the aubergine pieces for about 7 minutes or until they get some colour and soften. Remove and drain on the kitchen towel.
- Fry the onions until soft and translucent, add chopped green peppers, continue to fry for another 4 minutes. Add the garlic, chillies, all spices, stir well and cook for another 2 minutes.
- Then add the beans, tomatoes, aubergines, sugar and cocoa powder (if you use it) and a cup of water. Season well, cover with the lead and cook on a medium heat for about 20 minutes.
- Check again for seasoning and serve with rice/baked potatoes, with dollop of soured cream and some grated cheese.
It is one of the simplest but most comforting soups. There’s no waste with this soup. Use the whole broccoli head, including the stalk, to really make the most of this valuable vegetable. Top it up with crumbled blue cheese or a mature cheddar, or it is just as good on its on with crusty buttered bread.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
knob of butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 leek, sliced
1 carrot, diced
1 potato, diced
approx 1 litre of vegetable or chicken stock
1 big head of broccoli, finely chopped
100g any cheese you prefer, for serving (optional)
- Heat the oil and the butter in a large saucepan and then add the onions. Cook on a medium heat until soft. Add a splash of water if the onions start to catch.
- Add the leek, carrot and potato. Allow to sweat for 5 minutes under the lid.
- Then pour in the stock and add any chunky bits of broccoli stalk. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes until all the vegetables are soft.
- Now add the broccoli and cook for a further 5 minutes. Carefully transfer to a blender and blitz until smooth. Taste for seasoning and serve.
- Serve with any cheese on top or just as it is.
I love aubergines in all forms and in any kind of dish. I was intrigued to see Gok Wan’s version of cooking the aubergine in his recent Cookbook. He braised them with pork and anchovies. The result is delicious and extremely easy to achieve.
The only thing, my dish didn’t look as good as Gok’s and looks like the pork mince rather than the aubergines was the star of the show. The aubergines literally melted and sank to the bottom, forming the most delicious base of this dish. It proved once again that you can’t judge something but its look.
BRAISED AUBERGINE WITH PORK
3 teaspoons groundnut oil
150g minced pork
4 anchovy fillets, drained and finely sliced
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
2 aubergines, trimmed and chopped into 3cm dice
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
3 teaspoons sesame oil
4 spring onions, sliced
- Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat. When hot, add the minced pork and stir-fry for 2 minutes until the pork starts to brown at the edges.
- Add the anchovy fillets and garlic and stir-fry for another 2 minutes. Add the cubed aubergines and stir intermittently for the next 3–4 minutes, until the aubergines begin to brown and soften at the edges.
- Reduce the heat to medium, pour in both types of soy sauce and add half the water. Bring to the boil and put a lid on the wok. Simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes. It’s important to ensure the pan does not run dry, so keep checking and add more water, using the entire 200ml if necessary.
- Cook the aubergines down until they are virtually falling apart. At this point, stir in the sesame oil and remove to a plate. Sprinkle liberally with sliced spring onions and serve with rice.
I also chopped some coriander on top before serving,- I like the taste, but it’s also to brighten up the colour of very brown looking dish.
Here is another one of my adaptations of a Nigel Slater recipe, from his book Eat. In this recipe, his is more like a carrot soup with toppings, which is lovely, but by making it a few times I decided to convert this recipe into the main dish.
The original recipe calls for boiled carrots, but I opted for sweet potatoes instead and to roast them first to intensify their sweet flavour.
Roasted sweet potatoes are pureed and studded with spiced black beans before being crowned with a generous scoop of fried onions.
SWEET POTATO, BLACK BEANS AND CORIANDER