Monday, 11 April 2011

Meatballs with Tomato Sauce

I'm worried that I'm a bit addicted to Jamie Oliver. It all began when we were given a copy of "Jamie at Home". Flicking through it in those early days, it all looked beautiful but seemed totally out of kilter with our lifestyle. Yes, I'd love to grow my own asparagus if we had a sprawling country estate but in a tiny flat in London's Zone 1, where a window box is a major commitment, these recipes didn't seem very relevant to me. At that stage, I could take him or leave him.

But then we tried some of the recipes. They were just delicious, and easy, and relatively healthy (Nigella, I'm looking at you with an accusatory but still fond eye). That encouraged me to try more. Then an unfortunate bout of illness left me sofa-bound and hungry when "Jamie's 30 Minute Meals" was shown every day on Channel 4. After my parents bought me the book, almost every page just shouted out to be made and enjoyed (and, in a masochistic frame of mind, timed! Nothing like a challenge). 

That's how habits are formed. No, not every recipe was exactly to our taste, and yes, his olive oil usage is completely ridiculous, but by now, we were building up trust. Soon, any recipe googling started on his incredibly comprehensive website, and we started to look to him as our recipe oracle. Which is how we came to these meatballs, and came back to them, and came back to them again. 

Through habit and greed we tend to use just pork mince and skip the beef but otherwise, we follow his instructions completely and don't quibble. Crushed up cream crackers? Surprising but ok, if you say so, Mr Oliver. Mustard? I wouldn't have thought of mustard but actually, it does really work, you're right. Drizzle everything with extra olive oil? But of course!

I think Jamie Oliver, the meatballs and I will all be very happy together. 

From Jamie Oliver's Ministry of Food
Serves 4 (and freezes well)

- 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 12 cream crackers
- 500g of pork mince (as noted above, Jamie recommends pork, beef or a mixture)
- an egg
- 2 heaped teaspoons of mustard (he says Dijon, we only ever have grainy)
- 1 heaped tablespoon of dried oregano
- salt and pepper
- olive oil (of course!)

Bash up the crackers into crumbs, and strip the rosemary leaves from their stalks, then finely chop. Add to a big bowl with all the other ingredients and squish the whole lot together with your hands until well combined. Roll into balls - we tend to get 20-24 out of this quantity. Drizzle with oil and shake the bowl a bit until they're covered and glossy. At this stage you can either stash them in the fridge or get straight into cooking.

When you're ready to cook, get a big frying pan on the heat and cook the meatballs for 8-10 minutes, shimmying the pan around to  brown the meatballs all over. You can break into one to check that they're cooked through - you don't want any pinkness in the middle. When they're cooked, drop them into the tomato sauce (below) to simmer until you're ready to serve. 

Simple Tomato Sauce (enough for this quantity of meatballs)

- 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 onion
- a shake of dried chilli flakes (Jamie says half a fresh chilli, I never seem to have any)
- 2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
- salt, pepper
- handful of fresh basil

Warm some olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, then add the finely chopped onion and garlic. Fry them, stirring frequently, until golden and soft, then add the tomatoes, chilli flakes, balsamic vinegar, basil and seasoning. Bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer until your pasta and meatballs are cooked. 

Serve with pasta and cheese - parmesan to be authentic, cheddar for the ultimate childish comfort food factor. After a long day at work, no prizes for guessing what we went for. See the grating action shot below!

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