I was talking with my sister yesterday on FaceTime. It is a great way for us to communicate and for me to engage with my new little nephew who has just turned 8.5 months. He is the cutest little guy. Tarsh lives in Alice Springs, Outback Australia and right about now suffering a hideous heat of about 40 degrees. When it’s morning here, they are heading into the evening so often I get to watch Tarsh cook for her family and perhaps offer a few cooking tips along the way. The pork they had for dinner the other night was cooked perfectly, wasn’t it Tarsh?
Anyway one of our conversations was about meatballs (when your mum’s a chef and your sister’s a chef, you kind of get a lot of advice about food!). I mentioned that I had made some the other night and she also told me she too had whipped up a batch. This got me thinking and I asked her if she does hers in the oven? ‘No,’ was her reply; and then, ‘how do you do that?’ This then got me thinking: maybe others out there are also interested in a new, faster way of making meatballs, without compromising the deep, rich flavour…
I have taken photos of the steps so it is easier to show you; and you will also note that I am talking about a method that you can apply to pretty much any sort of meatball, be it beef, pork and veal, chicken, turkey, pork and liver…etc. I change my meatball flavours all the time and usually serve them with pasta. However, it was wet and cold here the day I made these so I decided to go with a soft polenta and added green peas at the end because I can’t serve a meal to the boys without any vegetables!
Ok, so starting off I got some delicious beef mince from the butcher and added finely diced shallots, pepper, paprika, whole cumin seeds, an egg, fresh parsley and oregano. Because I was using beef I wanted to keep the flavour light so I didn’t cook off my shallots beforehand — I like to have that slight bite once the meatballs are cooked. When the ingredients were all blended I got my hands in there and gave the mixture a good squeeze to meld the flavours and then grabbed a baking dish, pre-heated the oven to 180, lightly oiled the bottom of the baking dish and rolled out little balls, placing them in the dish until all the mixture was gone.
When the oven is ready, pop them in and cook until they brown, aprox. 8 minutes but note you do not want them to cook through at this stage, you only want them to firm up and seal so they don’t break in your sauce.
Once they are done, pull them out of the oven and let them rest while you are finishing off your sauce. At this stage you will notice the juice in the bottom of the pan: DO NOT THROW IT AWAY.
Ok, so while your meatballs are cooking you start making your tomato sauce. Sauté onions on a low heat in olive oil until they are transparent then add about three cloves of thinly sliced garlic and a dollop of tomato paste. At the same time, I also add in a good chunk of speck or pancetta to enrich the sauce. I let this sauté until the oil turns red and the aroma is intense and making me hungry. At this point, I add a tin of whole tomatoes or a tin of whole cherry tomatoes, a slosh of white/red wine vinegar and a piece of parmesan rind and then bring it to a boil.
Once it has come to a boil, turn the heat down to medium and let the sauce simmer for about ten minutes with the lid on. Somewhere around this stage, you will have pulled the meatballs out of the oven and so they should be resting on the counter. What you need to do now is tip in the juices from your meatballs into the tomato sauce mixture and continue simmering your sauce for a further 15 minutes (go and have a glass of wine because dinner is only about 15 minutes away from being ready!).
After you have cooked down the tomato and meat juices you then add your meatballs and bring your sauce back up to a light boil. At this stage you can simmer for another 5 minutes or you can turn them off and cool the mixture down and throw it in the fridge/freezer for another night or cook whatever starch you are going to serve with your meatballs and have dinner almost ready.
It is also at this stage that I add in green vegetables for a family meal. The kids don’t even care at this point, all they see is meatballs!
Just before you are about to serve, pull out the parmesan rind and pancetta, bring it up to a boil and then serve.
For those of you who have never tried making meatballs this way I urge you to give it a go, the flavour is rich, delicious and the washing up is a lot less! Now that I have come to the end of the pictures I’m starting to wish that I hadn’t given Alex the leftovers for lunch yesterday!