I have a list of 5 pantry essentials that I cannot live without. They are:
- Cold pressed extra virgin olive oil – the best I can find.
- Fresh garlic – I have a new mincing gadget that takes the effort out of chopping garlic.
- Canned whole tomatoes – big roma tomatoes or small rosa tomatoes (they are on special often, and are SO versatile).
- Salt flakes – I prefer Maldon, because the flakes are just the right size.
- Fresh cream – these days I buy cream in 1 litre containers; the 250 ml’s just don’t last in my house.
I recently started using great quality cold pressed extra virgin olive oil as a condiment instead of an “ingredient” – that means you add it to your food after plating up, and not while cooking. It turns most pasta dishes, salads and breads into the stuff dreams are made of. That obviously means you have to use the best. I can recommend Tokara Olive Shed’s range of olive oils – my favourite is their Frantoio varietal: really fruity and robust with a wonderful green tinge. Other locally produced extra virgin olive oils that I love are Morgenster, Vesuvio, Kloovenberg, Willow Creek and Saint Sebastian Bay.
Coincidentally, I used 4 out of 5 of my listed essentials for my meatballs (I could have sneaked in the cream as well, but the sauce don’t really need it). The great thing about canned tomatoes is that you can blitz it up to make a smooth sauce, or keep it chunky for stews etc. And you are skipping all the effort of boiling fresh tomatoes in order to remove the skins. Instant bright red moreishness without any of the canned taste, available all year round.
I was inspired to make meatballs after reading an amazing recipe for “Classic Meatballs” on www.saveur.com . The recipe generated a lot of negative comments on their site – people thought they used too many ingredients and that the recipe wasn’t “classic” at all. I say: do whatever you need to do to make your food taste great. If your “classic meatballs” contain 100 ingredients, that’s cool too. Food is meant to be enjoyed, people! Lighten up!!
So here is my meatball recipe with lots of ingredients, but there is a reason for every single one. And they taste bloomin’ fantastic – ask my husband.
Ingredients for meatballs:
500 grams lean beef mince
2 slices of bread, processed to fine crumbs (I used whole-wheat, but white is also good)
about 6 sprigs of spring onion, finely sliced (white parts only)
a handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly mixed
Ingredients for rosa tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large cloves of garlic (or 5 small cloves), minced or finely chopped
125 ml (1/2 cup) red wine
2 cans whole rosa tomatoes (you can also use the bigger canned roma tomatoes and chop them roughly in chunks)
50 g (about 2 heaped tablespoons) tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or regular paprika)
salt and pepper to taste
Great quality extra virgin olive oil
Spaghetti or ciabatta.
Extra basil leaves and chopped parsley.
- In a large mixing bowl, mix all of the ingredients for the meatballs together with clean hands. Now roll balls of around 4-5 cm in diameter, arranging them in a medium size oven-proof dish. I used a 25 cm round dish.
- Pre-heat oven to 180 C.
- In a medium size sauce pan, heat olive oil over medium to high heat. Add one of the raw meatballs to the oil, breaking it up. Add the garlic and fry with the meat untill golden brown.
- Add red wine and deglaze. Cook on high heat untill the wine is reduced by half (should take about 2 minutes).
- Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, paprika, salt and pepper. Simmer on low heat for about 5 minutes, then taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
- Pour the sauce over the meatballs. Give the oven dish a carefull shake to distribute the sauce evenly.
- Bake in the pre-heated oven for 35-45 minutes, or untill the sauce starts to darken on top.
- Remove from the oven, sprinkle generously with extra herbs, and serve with spaghetti, crusty bread, and lots of great cold pressed extra virgin olive oil.