Is there a more comforting meal than meatballs? Lovely soft balls of minced pork and veal make a hearty and delicious treat when simmered in a full-flavoured sauce until tender.
They are so easy to make, but cut one corner or leave out a single ingredient and you have a disaster - dry, tough meatballs that are no comfort at all. For me, good-quality minced meat is essential, as well as soaking the bread well. I like to add some grated pecorino cheese to the mix to give it an extra boost. I've even heard of someone using Weet-Bix instead of bread, which they claimed gave the meatballs a slightly sweet, malty taste; the cereal still has to be soaked in milk.
There are many meatball-friendly sauces, including this simple tomato one. Cooking the tinned tomatoes in the oven intensifies the flavour. This sauce is also perfect for potato gnocchi.
PORK AND VEAL MEATBALLS
100g 2-day-old bread, crusts removed
600g minced veal
500g minced pork
90g pecorino, grated
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp fine sea salt
Large handful parsley, finely chopped
180ml extra virgin olive oil
100g blanched almonds
4 Japanese eggplants, cut into strips
lengthways 1cm wide
1 brown onion, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp plain flour
250ml white wine
Soak bread in milk for 20 minutes. Squeeze out milk and break bread into rough pieces into a large bowl. Add veal, pork, pecorino, eggs, nutmeg, salt and half the parsley and mix well, using your hands. Shape mixture into 36 golf-ball-sized rounds and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Cover and set aside. Heat 80ml olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Add almonds, stir until golden and remove with a slotted spoon. Add another 50ml of oil and cook eggplant over high heat until browned. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towel, season well with salt. Heat remaining oil in a pan and cook meatballs in batches over a high heat for 2-3 minutes until browned all over, then remove from pan. Add onion, bay leaves and garlic to pan and saute for 15 minutes. Sprinkle flour over the mixture and stir for 1 minute, then add wine and water and bring to the boil. Add browned meatballs, simmer for 10 minutes. Add almonds and cook for 20 minutes. Add eggplant, stir through until warm and serve, sprinkled with remaining parsley.
SIMPLE TOMATO SAUCE
2 x 400g tins whole peeled tomatoes
80g salted butter
Salt and ground black pepper
Pour tomatoes into a roasting tray and bake in the oven at 160 degrees for about an hour or until the tomatoes are dry on top. Remove tray from oven and crush tomatoes with a potato masher. You don't want to puree them, just break them into even pieces. In a heavy-based pot, heat the butter until it turns nut brown, then add the tomato - be careful as it may spit a little. Season then simmer for a few minutes. Remove from heat; you don't want to overcook it.