Meatballs

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!

 

 

Meatballs

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

1 egg

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.

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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.

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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.

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Bake the meatballs for 30 minutes turning them after the first 20.

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Halfway through, you can see that the meatballs have started to harden on top.

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The meatballs can now be frozen, served in a sandwich, on pasta, pizza or even just eaten as is!

 

Basic Tomato Sauce

Serves: 3

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

H

 

 

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup

“Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad” – Miles Kington

The same could be said of the bell pepper. The entire family of peppers (bell peppers, chillies etc.) are technically fruits but you would never see them on a dessert platter – except possibly in some ‘ground-breaking’, edgy restaurant. I guess potentially I could be marketing this recipe as a smoothie bowl but let’s be realistic, it’s just soup.

I have a very mixed relationship with peppers. I’m not a huge fan of the texture but I do quite like the taste so turning them into soup seemed like a perfect solution to my problem. Obviously as I was also using tomatoes, red peppers were the obvious choice for a bright, vibrant soup but if you don’t like tomatoes, pepper soup is also very tasty and can be made in a wide range of colours. Peppers come in more than the standard four varieties (red, orange, yellow and green); you can also find them in white and both light and dark shades of purple. Purple isn’t a colour that appears in many dishes as there isn’t a wealth of naturally purple food out there so a bowl of bright purple soup is really exciting!

Peppers differ from their spicy counterparts as they exhibit a recessive trait – they do not produce capsaicin. This is the molecule responsible for the burning sensation when eating chilli. It is a strong irritant and is very hydrophobic so is not affected by water at all. This means rinsing your mouth with water will do nothing to alleviate the heat from chillies but milk (which is an emulsion of fat in water) can help relieve the pain. For the same reason, washing your hands with just water after chopping chillies will not remove the capsaicin so it is still dangerous to rub your eyes but using soap – something designed to bond to both water and fats – will help clean the capsaicin off your skin. Interestingly for the same reason, even bleach will not remove capsaicin but oil will so swilling your mouth out with oil, whilst gross, will remove the heat. In the same vein, capsaicin is soluble in alcohol so rinsing with vodka or another spirit would also help alleviate the pain but do not swallow it as this just moves the capsaicin to an area which you can’t clean as easily. Of course you can then proceed to wash your mouth out with water which will remove the remaining vodka.

The difference between red/yellow/orange peppers and green peppers is time. All peppers start out green and as they ripen they change colour. As a result, red peppers are sweeter than their green counterparts although you can get some varieties which stay green even when fully ripe. This means you can make soups of all shades.

I hope you enjoy the recipe!

Tomato and Red Pepper Soup:

Serves 6

Time: 1 hour

Cost per portion: about 50p

Ingredients:

3 large red peppers

6 medium tomatoes

1 medium to large onion

2 cloves garlic

500ml vegetable stock

2 tbsp tomato paste

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

For cheese tuiles, grate 200g cheddar or parmesan.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6 (2000C).

Halve the tomatoes, remove the seeds and stalks from the peppers and place on a baking tray.

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Drizzle with olive oil, season with a little salt and pepper.

Roast the vegetables in the oven for half an hour. Give them a mix halfway through to ensure nothing burns and everything is roasted evenly.

Once the peppers and tomatoes have been cooking for 20 minutes, roughly chop the onion and the garlic.

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a large pan and start to fry the onions and garlic.

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When the peppers and tomatoes have finished in the oven, add them to the pan with the onions.

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Add the stock and simmer for fifteen minutes.

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Using a stick or jug blender, blend the soup until it is smooth.

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To make the cheese tuiles, decrease the oven to gas mark 5 (1900C).

Arrange circles of cheese on baking parchment or a silicone mat.

Bake for 5 minutes until the tuiles are pale gold and lacey looking. Make sure they do not turn too dark as this will make them taste bitter!

Serve the soup hot with a drizzle of cream, a few tuiles and a little fresh coriander.

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This soup is ideal as it freezes very well and can be kept in the fridge for several days. It makes a perfect lunch when you’re in a hurry and tastes delicious.

If you really love your soup, I have posted recipes for both butternut squash and curried parsnip soup so you should check those out. If you are looking for a more substantial meal, why not try out a beef stir-fry or for a delicious dessert (which is simple to make vegan), treat yourself to an apple tart!

Have a good one and I will be back next week with my foolproof meringue recipe.

H