It was all go on Monday – Big Sister came home from America for a week and she likes her food as much as I do. After an insanely early pick-up from the airport, we all went back to bed for a sleep then it was a rather late breakfast of delicious fluffy pancakes. I had two egg whites left over from the Eggs Benedict breakfast on New Year’s morning so I decided to make a pavlova – something I hadn’t done for awhile, but it’s always a well-received dessert here. During the afternoon, we were still too stuffed for lunch but once it came to dinner time, thinking caps went on. Big Sister came up with the idea for meatballs so it was full steam ahead on that front. She did some reconnaissance online and, instead of sticking with one recipe, she picked and chose between a few and also decided to throw in some freeform cooking. We had a host of veggies in the fridge to use up: a parsnip, carrots, celery, half a sweet potato. I had suggested we make soup because Big Sister is a soup magician but she suggested we use the veggies as a base for a really yummy tomato soup/broth that the meatballs could go swimming in.
There is no official recipe to follow, but I’ll indicate what ingredients we used. And there are no measurements either so everything below is approximate. Dishes like this are great if you’re comfortable making things up as you go along. This dish was fun because I haven’t been winging it in the kitchen lately – when cooking for yourself, it’s fine to be experimental: you can marvel at the culinary genius that has recently shone from your fingertips or you can discreetly tip the ruined glop into the rubbish bin and have a bag of tortilla chips and chocolate for dinner instead. It can be fun to cook with Big Sister but we both have very definite ideas, methods and tastes when it comes to cooking so compromise, lengthy discussion and sulking are usually inevitable. The meatballs, however, were just delicious (I thank the cheese). Kudos here goes to Big Sister.
Meatballs500g / ½ lb minced beef 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped A mix of dried and semi-dried herbs: sage, rosemary, oregano, parsley Roughly 125g freshly grated parmesan cheese 1 tsp cayenne pepper 1 egg 1 tblsp or so of duck fat Salt and pepper to taste Veggies: parsnip, sweet potato, celery, carrot, all finely diced (use about three big handfuls) Glug of red wine Tin of tomatoes + ¼ cup of passata + 2 tblsp tomato purée
1. Chop all the vegetables into small cubes, about ½cm. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, combine the minced meat, garlic, all the herbs you have at your disposal, the parmesan cheese, cayenne pepper, egg, duck fat and seasoning. Mix it all together with your hands, making sure to eveny distribute the duck fat.
3. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and a knob of butter. Test your meatball mix if desired: roll a 1 inch meatball and fry evenly, about 3-4mins each side. Pull from the pan and taste. Now’s the time to add extra seasoning, spice, cheese, whatever. When you’re happy, roll the remaining meat mix into 1 inch balls and fry in batches, 3-4mins on all sides, making sure no sides are left raw. This will not cook the meatballs entirely through in the middle but they will be cooking for a further 20-30mins later in the tomato sauce. Remove all the meatballs from the pan, set aside and keep warm.
5. Using the same pan, scrape up as much meaty bits as possible. Add more oil/butter if necessary. Sauté the three big handfuls of veg for about 5mins, or until they have begun to soften.
6. Add the tin of tomatoes and stir it up. In the empty tin can, add the tomato purée, passata, a good glug of red wine and a big splash of water. Stir to combine then pour this into the pan and stir. Season the tomato mixture with salt, pepper and about 1 tblsp of sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring regularly.
7. Once the sauce has begun to boil, reduce the heat to a high simmer. Add all of the meatballs, turning them to coat them in sauce. Half cover the pan and allow the sauce to simmer down for 20-30mins, or until the sauce is to your desired consistency (less time is better!).
8. Meanwhile, prep a salad, some garlic bread and your pasta. I had some garlic butter left over (1 oz butter, 1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped, generous pinch of salt and 1 tsp parsley).
While the dinner was cooking, some delicious white wine made an appearance. Big Sister is a sommelier which means she knows her wine and isn’t afraid to drink it.