meatballs with pasta

i’ve never made meatballs italian-style before (use the search function to find my other meatball recipes) so thought i’d better give it a try given how often friends talk about having them. it definitely involves much more effort than, say, a bolognaise sauce and to be honest i don’t think it’s something i will bother with very often – i much prefer it when the meat and tomato flavours get mixed up and create something special.

having researched various recipes i decided to use a jamie oliver recipe as the basis for mine given his generous use of fresh rosemary to flavour the meatballs. he also adds mustard which was, i thought, interesting. i added lemon zest, chilli flakes and fennel seeds as well and the result was good. so good that the double-batch i’d made somehow got snaffled as a packed lunch option by david. maybe i will have to make another batch sometime soon after all!

meatballs with pasta* (serves 4 – 6)

4 sprigs of fresh rosemary

12 cream crackers (i omitted this, you could add breadcrumbs if you want)

2 heaped teaspoons dijon mustard

500g good-quality minced beef, pork, or a mixture of the two (i just used pork)

1 heaped tablespoon dried oregano

zest of a lemon (abby’s addition)

½ teaspoon of chilli flakes (abby’s addition)

1 teaspoon fennel seeds, roughly crushed (abby’s addition)

1 large egg, preferably free-range or organic

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

olive oil

a bunch of fresh basil

1 medium onion

2 cloves of garlic

½ a fresh or dried red chilli

2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

400g dried spaghetti or penne

parmesan cheese, for grating

to make your meatballs:

pick the rosemary leaves off the woody stalks and finely chop them. if using the crackers, wrap them in a tea towel and smash up until fine, breaking up any big bits up with your hands then add to the bowl with the mustard, minced meat, chopped rosemary and oregano (and lemon zest, chilli flakes and fennel seeds). crack in the egg and add a good pinch of salt and pepper then, with clean hands scrunch and mix up well. divide the mixture into 4 large balls then, with wet hands, divide each ball into 6 and roll into little meatballs – you should end up with 24. drizzle them with olive oil and jiggle them about so they all get coated (mine were too delicate to do this so i didn’t bother) then put them on a plate, cover and place in the fridge until needed.

to cook your pasta, meatballs and sauce:

pick the basil leaves, keeping any smaller ones to one side for later. peel and finely chop the onion and the garlic and finely slice the chilli. put a large pan of salted water on to boil and use this to cook your pasta.

next, heat a large frying pan on a medium heat and add 2 lugs of olive oil. add your onion to the frying pan and stir for around 7 minutes or until softened and lightly golden then add your garlic and chilli, and as soon as they start to get some colour add the large basil leaves, tomatoes and the balsamic vinegar. bring to the boil and season to taste.

meanwhile, heat another large frying pan and add a lug of olive oil and your meatballs. stir them around and cook for 8–10 minutes until golden (check they’re cooked by opening one up – there should be no sign of pink). add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer until the pasta is ready, then remove from the heat

to serve your meatballs:

saving some of the cooking water, drain the pasta in a colander. return the pasta to the pan and spoon half the tomato sauce into the pasta, adding a little splash of your reserved water to loosen the mix. serve on a large platter, or in separate bowls, with the rest of the sauce and meatballs on top, sprinkled with the small basil leaves and some grated parmesan.

* this is a jamie oliver recipe with some additions