I felt that it would be quite poetic to start the second year of this blog’s life with a similar recipe to the start of the first year. The similarity between the ingredients in a bolognaise sauce and meatballs in tomato sauce is remarkable with the main difference in the recipes I use being the addition of carrots to my bolognaise sauce.
There are recipes for meatballs dating back to around 200BC and, realistically, the modern-day recipes haven’t changed tht much since then. There are lots of different variations with different meats, seasonings and bulking agents such as breadcrumbs, but the basic premise is the same. Meat is mixed with flavourings and then compressed into a small ball and cooked.
As you can imagine, there are many ways of cooking meatballs, the most common being frying and baking. Frying the meatballs allows the Maillard reaction to occur all over the surface of the meatball. This is the reaction which causes caramelisation to happen giving a little crunch to the outside of the meatball and helping develop the flavours. The Maillard reaction takes place when amino acids and sugar react on the surface of food between 140 and 165°C. It’s different to standard caramelisation because it does not just depend on the sugars in the food caramelising by themselves and it is also completely non-enzymatic.
Baking in the oven also allows the Maillard reaction to take place but this mostly occurs along the contact point between the meatballs and the baking tin (turning half way though increases the area over which this reaction occurs improving the overall flavour).The hot air in the oven also hardens the outside of the meatballs and it dries them out helping them hold together better when mixed into the tomato sauce.
Another method of cooking meatballs is steaming, however unlike frying and baking this gives a very different result as the steam doesn’t cause the meatballs to brown at all. Steaming also allows the fat in the meat to drip off during cooking which I have found removes a little of the flavour. Braising is the final relatively common method of cooking. It is a combination technique which starts by frying the outside of the meatballs to get a crispy, caramelised exterior. Once the outside is cooked, a sauce is poured over the top of the meatballs, they are covered and then left to cook in the sauce. This technique allows the flavours to meld between the meat and the sauce far better than placing the fully cooked meatballs into the sauce when you serve them.
I prefer to eat meatballs with pasta rather than in sandwiches or by themselves. Meatball pasta bake is a particular favourite of mine with a good crispy layer of cheese on the top (it’s the Malliard reaction rearing its beautiful head again) but sometimes I’m just not patient enough to wait for a pasta bake so spaghetti and meatballs it is!
Makes around 50 meatballs ~ 8 portions
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Cost per portion: around 60p
500g beef mince
1 medium onion
¼ cup flour
¼ cup breadcrumbs (optional)
4 large cloves of garlic
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the onion, garlic and parsley into a food processor and pulse until they are chopped very finely – drain off any excess liquid produced. If you don’t have a food processor, just chop the onion and garlic as finely as you can.
Break up the mince with your hands, add the onion, egg and oil and gently stir to combine.
Sprinkle over the flour, salt and pepper along with the breadcrumbs (if you are using them) and gently stir in. The aim is to not turn the meatball mix into a pulp though if it does become mushy, it will still work.
The mix can now be placed into the fridge for up to 24 hours.
When you want to cook the meatballs, turn the oven to 200°C (gas mark 6).
While the oven is heating, line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Use a tablespoon to measure out the mix and with damp hands, compress each tablespoon into a ball and roll it to make it smooth.
Bake the meatballs for 30 minutes turning them after the first 20.
The meatballs can now be frozen, served in a sandwich, on pasta, pizza or even just eaten as is!
Basic Tomato Sauce
Cost per portion: about 50p
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 -60 minutes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion – finely chopped
3 cloves of garlic – finely chopped
1 tin chopped tomatoes
¼ cup tomato paste
½ cup water
Salt and pepper to taste
½ tbsp chopped parsley/basil – optional
Place the oil and onion into a heavy based pan and fry the onion until it is translucent.
Add the garlic and fry for another two minutes.
Pour in the tomatoes, tomato paste and water and bring to the boil.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Let simmer for at least fifteen minutes. If you can, place a lid on the pan and let it simmer for an hour. If the sauce becomes too thick, add a couple of tablespoons of water. Alternatively, you can place the fried onion into an ovenproof dish along with the other ingredients. This can then be covered and cooked alongside the meatballs in the oven.
If you prefer your sauce smooth, use a stick blender to puree the lumps. I like to puree it a little but not too much so the sauce still has a little bit of texture.
Stir in the chopped herbs and simmer for another five minutes before serving.
This sauce freezes magnificently and can be used on both pasta and pizza.
Serve the meatballs and sauce with pasta for a delicious, filling dinner.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you liked this, you should definitely check out my bolognaise recipe or if you are looking for something a little bit sweeter, why not make yourself an amazing chocolate and hazelnut tart?
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a recipe for a classic piece of patisserie – the macaron.