Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Meatballs in Sauce - Lip-smackingly good!

It’s funny how all the little grammar lessons I learnt at school have come flooding back since I have been writing this blog. Well, I say that and you may be thinking the word ‘flooding’ is a bit strong. Perhaps ‘dribbling’ would be a more accurate description? However, my red and green underlined mistakes according to Word are becoming much less frequent. I like to think that I’m making my old English teacher proud. And hopefully not too shocked or worried. I’ll crack on.

If you had to choose one meal that you had to live off for the rest of your life, what would that be? It’s a very tough and probably an odd question but I made my chosen meal the other day for the crew and had to give you the recipe for Suzy’s Spicy Meatballs. Spicy meatballs in a rich and moorish tomato sauce with black olives, served on a bed of tagliatelle, a peppery rocket salad on the side, with lots of parmesan shavings and a glass of red wine. Absolute heaven. What else is there in life? I’m trying to think…nope, that’s it.

Now the key ingredient here is cumin. Not the most Italian of spices I know but it works and I simply can not make meatballs without cumin now. Well okay I could but I do get a bit stroppy. The cumin adds a real mellow depth and added ‘meatiness’ to the meatballs. A dilemma you might come across is whether to pop one in whole or politely break it up into a tidier mouthful. Though meatballs, sauce and long pasta is never going to be a polite meal is it? Expect to get through a few napkins, don’t wear white and enjoy flinging out some of those table manners for this one. Get stuck in. (Invisible exclamation mark right there)

For 5-6 people, you will need;

For the meatballs;
2 x 500g packs of minced beef                                                                       
1 tbsp dried oregano
look at those little rascals awaiting the pan.
2 tsp fine salt
1 tsp ground cumin
4 thick slices of white bread, crumbed (blitz in a food processor)
3 tbsp milk
Black pepper
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

For the tomato sauce;
2 onions, finely chopped
You guessed it, 1 tsp sugar
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
3 small dried birds eye chilli’s or 1 fresh hot chilli (or as much or as little as you please)
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 cans of tomatoes
A good handful of black olives in brine
A bunch of fresh basil
Salt and pepper
Balsamic vinegar


  • Begin my making the tomato sauce. So that whilst you’re having fun making your meatballs, the sauce can quietly bubble away getting richer, a little thicker and even more delicious.

  • In a frying pan gently sauté the finely chopped onions in a little oil. Sauté for about 3 minutes before adding the sugar and then for another 5 minutes so that the onions start to colour a little. Add the celery, garlic and chilli’s, and continue to sauté gently for another 5 minutes. Be careful not to catch the garlic; it’s so bitter if it burns. Give it all a little stir as it cooks and the heat low.

  • Add 2 tbsp tomato puree and stir it into the vegetables, letting it have a little sizzle. Then add the 2 cans of tomatoes. If I have any left over red wine hanging about (a rare occurrence but has been known) then this will go in too.

  • Season with salt and pepper and about 3 tbsp of balsamic vinegar. At this point I will also add the brine from the olives if there is any. Bring to a gentle boil, then turn down the heat and let it sit and simmer without a lid to reduce whist you crack on with the fun part.

  • In a small bowl mix the breadcrumbs with the milk and leave to soak for a bit.

  • Put your minced beef into a nice big bowl. For 2 packs of minced beef I add about 2 tsp salt. Minced beef does need a good seasoning so don’t be shy with the salt or your meatballs may end up being a little disappointing. Add the cumin, oregano, Worcestershire sauce and give it good long grinding of fresh black pepper.

  • Add the soaked breadcrumbs and now it’s time to get your hands in there. Don’t mess about with trying to mix it all up with a spoon, it will take forever. Get both hands in and squelch it all together through your fingers, really mixing it all up well.

  • The shaping bit is fun to do with kids and great to get them involved with dinner. Take walnut sized amounts and roll into balls. They really don’t have to be perfectly shaped, rustic is good. I like to make about 4-5 per person.

  • You can chill them now at this point to help ‘set’ them, but if they have been rolled well then I do normally go straight ahead and start frying them in a pan and they have never broken up on me yet.

  • So with your frying pan on a fairly high heat, add some sunflower oil to the pan and then add about 5-6 of your cute little meatballs at a time to sear them. Don’t add too many or they wont brown very well. I like to move them around every minute or so until they are browned all over and then I plop them straight into the tomato sauce. Keep going until all the meatballs are browned and in sitting happily in your sauce.

  • Let the meatballs sit in the simmering tomato sauce for another 20 and then stir in the black olives. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

  • When you’re ready to serve with a bowl full of steaming tagliatelli or spaghetti, rip up some fresh basil leaves for garnish. 

  • Have some parmesan cheese ready for grating and a bottle of red ready for pouring.

If you are thinking of making this then I’m so excited for you. Let me know how they were please. 

Mariquita is officially 100 years old on Friday! We’re so proud of her and will be throwing a small dock party to celebrate. That’s after a day sailing around in the bay of Cannes. The race training has been going well and we’re all looking forward to our first regatta in Ajaccio in Corsica, starting on the 23rd May. Would love for you to come along and see how we do.

So many birthdays this time of year. Niki, the bosun had one yesterday. We didn’t quite manage to get her thrown into the water as is the tradition. She put up too good a fight and I had no intention of going in with her. I did make her a 3 layered cake though. One blackberry sponge, one vanilla and one raspberry, sandwiched together with white chocolate icing and covered in strawberries. It was pretty good.

I’ll see you soon, hopefully wiping tomato sauce from your face and looking forward to another recipe to try out on your loved ones. I’ll let you know how the 100th Birthday celebration goes. And hopefully without a headache. See you soon.

 P.S My lemon-thyme plant is thriving so apparently they don't get sea sick.