There is a scenic recipe route for cooking meatballs. Lavish, sepia toned landscape affairs of frying onions, soaking cuts of bread in milk, cracking eggs, grating garlic, combining two bricks of ground beef and sausage and then a laborious amount of dexterity.
This isn’t that recipe.
If that recipe is hiking the Himalayas to meatballs, this recipe is the elevator there. And I feel no kind of way about it.
The times I want meatballs are the times when I want to do the least amount of work. Times when chopping an onion just seems like an incredible waste of time. Even peeling and grating a garlic clove makes me already want to slam my face into the wall. So because I still want meatballs but don’t want to rearrange my face, here is my solution.
‘THEN WHY DON’T YOU JUST BUY MEATBALLS, MIKEY?’ you ask. Because meatballs in shops suck. I get offended by the size mostly. Like what if I don’t want meatballs that big? And there’s never any seasoning in them. Just balls of beef, pork and other spooky bits ready to be blandly fried. Nah, you’re alright. I’ll have these instead.
Plus, I always have sausages in my fridge. Not only do I need them for sandwiches and to slap them on top of pillowy mountains of mash and gravy but I like to take them out of their skins and add to ragus. And of course… meatballs.
There is a certain amount of ritual here – the balling up of the meat still stands – but by using sausages, I have already cut several corners that save me half of the effort. They’re already seasoned (which I amp up a little bit anyway – but you don’t have to if you don’t want to) and the fact the meat has already been stuffed into sausages means that the meat is a lot more compact which means they’re less likely to fall apart in the pan.
The pasta is usually long and thin, a linguine or spaghetti will do, but they are so small that they also work so perfectly with short pastas, like a nutmeg-laced bowl of buttery orzo, and eaten with nothing but a spoon.
If you want to get ahead with this recipe, you can absolutely make the meatballs in advance and keep them covered in the fridge for a few days, so that when you’re ready to eat, you just start with the frying. I also like to sometimes buy a whole pack of sausages and turn them into meatballs and freeze them so I have meatballs on standby.
Also, this sauce – let me introduce you to the quickest tomato sauce you’ll ever need in your life. Again, there is a much scenic route to go down for a proper, lovely tomato sauce. I didn’t have time. This is my shortcut version that is silky and sweet and punchy all at the same time
6 sausages – any will do, to be honest
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
1 tablespoon milk
As much grated Parmesan as you want
1 tablespoon olive oil for frying
For the sauce
3 or 4 roast red peppers – from a jar
1 cup passata
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or 1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
Parsley and Parmesan – to serve
- Remove the sausage meat from their skins and drop the naked meat into a large bowl.
- Add the oregano, fennel seeds, garlic granules, milk, Parmesan and a little salt and pepper to the bowl and using your hands – or a spoon if your squeamish – mix until thoroughly combined. Mix thoroughly but gently. Overmixing will make the meat a little tough.
- Break teaspoon sized morsels of the meat away with your fingers and using the palms of your hands, roll them into small balls the size of small gobstoppers. Place each ball on a plate until you have used up all of your mix. You can continue cooking straight away, or you can cover and fridge until you need them.
- When you’re ready to cook, heat a little olive oil on a medium heat in a skillet or wide frying pan with high sides.
- Once the oil is hot (but not piping hot), one by one, add the meatballs to the pan. Keep them in their place for a few minutes, just to seal the bottom and then gently start pushing your meatballs around with a spoon. Forceful enough to get them off the bottom of the pan, but not so brutal you smush them. It’s highly likely there’ll be a little sausage residue stuck to your pan once you start moving them around. Don’t worry that’s meant to happen – that’s more flavour for later. Cook them for about 3 or 4 minutes, just so they lose their raw colour. Don’t worry about cooking them through – they’ll do that in the sauce.
- Remove your red peppers from their jar and slice into thin-ish strips and add to the pan. The pan will sizzle and that’s fine. Push the peppers around the pan and their oil will start releasing to the pan, use this to deglaze, scraping your spoon on the pan to loosen any sausage meat stuck to the pan. This will intensify the flavour of the sauce.
- Pour in the passata and add the vinegar along with a small splash of water and turn up the heat on the hob. Sprinkle in the Aleppo pepper (or chilli flakes) and stir.
- Bring the pan to a big bubble and then drop the heat to a gentle-ish simmer. Keep them simmering for 20 – 25 minutes. In this time, the sauce will reduce down to a thick, silky yet chunky sauce.
- Take the pan off the heat and sprinkle over some finely chopped parsley, a generous grating of Parmesan and a further sprinkle of Aleppo pepper to finish.
- Serve with some pasta which you adorn with butter and a generous grating of nutmeg.
- Bread optional for some but mandatory for me.
TIP – Make more than you need and put some leftover meatballs, peppers and sauce in a Tupperware box for tomorrow. Butter two pieces of thick, flappy white bread, shove the meatballs in between and have yourself a sandwich. You could even fry the sandwich in a little butter first. Thank me later.
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