Friday 4 November 2011

Magnificent meatballs to leave him wanting amore

Beef meatballs with rosemary tomato ragu
I’ve received an urgent recipe request on my Facebook fanpage for the perfect meal for a romantic night in. Like a savvy lady’s pre-date beauty regime, the dish needs to be dressed to impress without breaking the bank balance or taking hours to prepare.

For me, Italian food is ideal for inspiring intimacy – and the classic combination of pasta and meatballs is the ultimate embodiment of this. The heady scent of rich tomatoes and fresh herbs instantly conjures up images of gondolas gliding over Venetian canals, and what better way to get into the mood for amore than by recreating the infamous spaghetti-sharing scene from Lady and the Tramp?!

These magnificent meatballs will wow any potential partner but are as easy to make as a traditional bolognese. The recipe below will make enough meatballs for 4 people, so there will be plenty of leftovers (depending on the appetite of your suitor!). They say that you should always leave a date wanting more, but if you’re still hungry for something sweet afterwards then I’d recommend serving my heartwarming apple and blackberry crumble for dessert.

For the meatballs:
500g beef / lamb mince
1/2 onion grated
1 clove garlic, diced / crushed
1 egg
1 tablespoon dried / fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tablespoon grated parmesan (optional)
a dusting of flour and seasoning
For the tomato sauce:
1 tin (400g) chopped tomatoes
1/2 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced / crushed
1 large / 2 small bay leaves
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1 - 2 tablespoons dried / fresh rosemary
150g pasta (preferably linguine as it’s slightly thicker)
NB. Rosemary works particularly well with lamb mince, but basil is another herb you can use to provide an authentic Italian flavour.

Making meatballs (around an hour for preparation and cooking, depending on the time you have available):
1. Mix all the meatball ingredients (except the flour) together in a bowl, and then roll into balls using your hands. You should be able to make 16 medium meatballs (up to 24 if you make small ones, which will also cook more quickly).
2. Lightly coat the meatballs in the flour to help them maintain their shape when you fry them. The meatballs may occasionally stick to the pan if your oil’s very hot - you can leave out the flour stage and just boil the meatballs in the sauce if you want to ensure perfect presentation, but you'll then need to cook them for longer to make sure they're cooked properly inside.
3. Heat a dash of oil in a frying pan and sear the meatballs on a medium heat for about 5 - 10 minutes, turning them over in the pan until all the sides are browned. Drain the seared meatballs of any excess oil and leave them in a bowl.
4. Fry the other diced half of the onion and the garlic in a large saucepan with a dash of oil until soft and translucent. Add the bay leaf and rosemary / basil and stir for a minute or two on a medium heat.
5. Add the chopped tomatoes and let the sauce simmer for about 5 minutes, then add my secret ingredients - balsamic vinegar and honey. I find the balsamic vinegar gives the sauce an additional depth of flavour, and the honey balances out the acidity of the tomatoes - you can play around with the proportions depending on how sharp or sweet you like your sauce to be.
6. Ladle the meatballs into the saucepan (especially if you haven't fried them first) and add seasoning to taste. The sauce will be ready to serve when it is thick and luxurious but still runny enough to coat all the meatballs and the spaghetti.
If you don't have much time, keep the pan on a medium heat and the sauce will cook down to a thick consistency within about 10 minutes. However, the longer you can leave the sauce to cook the richer and more authentically Italian it will taste. Therefore if time allows, let the sauce simmer on a low heat with the lid on for at least 30 minutes.
Don't forget you can always add a bit of boiling water to the mixture if it gets too thick. Check the seasoning towards the end of the cooking time and alter as required  - you can also add a bit more balsamic or honey at this stage if the sauce is slightly too sweet or too sharp.
7. Around 20 minutes before you intend to serve your delicious date dinner, boil the linguine in salted water with a dash of olive oil. When the pasta is al dente (ie. still firm when chewed, but not hard and crunchy), take some tongs and drop the linguine into the tomato and meatball mixture, ensuring that the strands are coated in the sauce. If the mixture is a bit too thick, add a tablespoon or two of the water from the pasta - this will give the sauce a really silky finish.
8. Use the tongs to place the pasta into two deep bowls, and top with 4 or 5 of the meatballs. Top with a sprinkling of parmesan, and serve over candlelight.

Spaghetti and meatballs

1 comment:

  1. This looks delicious. I may have to give it a go...