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.
Thai Green Curry is another successful recipe from Simply Nigella, a book which includes this recipe. Since the book came out, it’s placed itself comfortably into a spot in my regular rotation. Although, this recipe cannot pretend to be totally authentic (I don’t think turkey is much used in Thai cuisine), I love how flavoursome this curry is and the turkey meatballs just melt in your mouth. I love the spiciness and the coconut flavour in the curry, plus the smell of it is intoxicating.
THAI TURKEY MEATBALLS CURRY
500g turkey mince
3 spring onions – finely chopped
2 cloves garlic – grated
2cm piece of fresh ginger – grated
fresh coriander – finely chopped
1 tsp dried chili flakes
1 lime – zest and juice
1 tsp sea salt
3 tbsp Thai green curry paste
1 can (400ml) coconut milk
3 tbsp fish sauce
500ml chicken stock
350g sugar snaps
small handful Thai basil leaves/fresh coriander (optional)
2 to 3 limes, cut into wedges
- To prepare the turkey meatballs, peel one of the courgettes and coarsely grate. Squeeze out as much excess liquid as possible then put in a large bowl with the turkey mince, the whites of the spring onion (reserve the green parts for later), grated ginger, garlic, chilli flakes and zest of the lime. Add seasoning and mix together by hand until combined.
- Roll into equally sized meatballs, using a teaspoon of mixture as guidance and set aside.
- Next, add the remaining green parts of the spring onion to a large pan with a couple of glugs of a flavourless oil and fry briefly.
- Add the Thai green curry paste, the cream from the top of the coconut milk and whisk together in the pan, before adding the rest of the coconut milk, fish sauce and chicken stock.
- Whilst you’re letting the mixture come to a gentle boil, peel the remaining courgettes, quarter each lengthways and then chop into 1cm pieces.
- Add the courgette pieces of the bubbling broth and then carefully place the turkey meatballs in the pan as well, being careful not to break them up. Once the pan has just started bubbling again, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes with the lid on.
- Check the meatballs are cooked through, then add the juice from the zested lime and sugar snaps. Check the flavour and add seasoning, adjust as you wish.
- Cook for a couple more minutes then take off the heat. Serve with a bit more chopped coriander/Thai basil leaves and lime wedges for extra spritzing.
It’s not the most sophisticated dish, to be honest, but it works on so many levels. It helps to tidy up the loose ends from your fridge and takes minutes to assemble the dish, and goes so well on a midweek cold evening.
LEFTOVERS CHEESY GRATIN
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
200g mature cheddar, grated
3 cooked potatoes, sliced
200g frozen peas
200g any cooked meat/ham (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
- Heat the oven to 200C.
- Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the onion, cook until it’s soft and translucent. Then stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually stir in the milk until smooth with no lumps, (I prefer to use a whisk for that) keep stirring until the mixture begins to bubble and thickens to a creamy sauce. At this stage add the mustard and cheese, leaving a handful of grated cheese aside for the topping. Check for seasoning and remove from the heat.
- Place potatoes, peas and cooked meat or any other cooked vegetables you’d like to use up, in a deep oven proof dish. Pour over the cheese sauce, then sprinkle with remaining cheddar.
- Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the topping is golden and crisp.