This recipe takes meatballs in sauce in a Middle Eastern direction with a lacing of baharat, which lends warm spice notes, and a tomato-based sauce spiked with earthy saffron. This can be served with soft pita bread as a starter or part of a feast of mezze, or dial it up into a more substantial meal by serving it with a pilaf-style rice dish. The meatballs also improve when reheated, so any leftovers are quite the treat – and they're as good cold as they are hot.
extra virgin olive oil
1 white onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tsp salt flakes
2 tbsp baharat
600g fine beef mince
600g Italian pork and fennel sausages, skins removed, meat crumbled
300g fresh breadcrumbs
100g pecorino or parmesan, finely grated
1 tbsp dried Greek oregano
zest of 1 lemon
80g pine nuts
½ bunch of dill, fronds picked and finely chopped, plus extra for garnish
200g feta, crumbled, to serve
For the sauce
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
150ml white wine
10 saffron threads
1 fresh bay leaf
5 ripe roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 tbsp tomato paste
500ml reduced chicken stock (1L reduced by half)
juice of ½ lemon
1. For the meatballs, heat 1½ tablespoons of olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat, then add the onion and grated garlic, season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until the onion has softened and is translucent. Add the baharat and stir through, then tip into a large bowl.
2. Blitz the meats, breadcrumbs, cheese, egg, oregano and lemon zest in a food processor to a smooth paste, then tip into the bowl with the onion.
3. Add the pine nuts and dill to the bowl and combine, then shape into walnut-sized balls with your hands.
4. Heat 1½ tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Fry the meatballs in batches, adding more oil each time, for about 4 minutes, rolling around to brown evenly. Set aside.
5. For the sauce, heat the 100ml olive oil and sliced garlic in a wide, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Fry until the garlic is fragrant and starts to turn lightly golden, then add the wine, saffron and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer, then stir through the fresh tomato and tomato paste. Season and simmer for about 5 minutes.
6. Add the passata, stock and meatballs to the pan, then bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to low and cook for about 1 hour until intense and thickened.
7. To serve, stir through the lemon juice and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Spoon onto a platter and sprinkle over the feta and extra dill. Serve with soft pita bread or a rice pilaf.