HELLO MEATBALLS, MY OLD FRIEND.
Meat, made into balls. Submerged in red wine tomato sugo. Showered with cheese. Read on for two Very Important Tips that will revolutionise your meatball game.
Jill: What do you feel like for dinner?
Jill: Okay, coral trout it is.
A week passes.
Jill: Any thoughts on dinner?
Terry: I was thinking meatballs.
Jill: There’s a cool recipe for slow-cooked peppers in Stephanie’s new book, that I thought I might try.
Terry: Does it go with meatballs?
Another week passes.
Jill: I think it’s time we had meatballs for dinner.
Terry: I’ll get the red wine. Oh look, I’ve already poured it.
Meatballs being - quite literally - meaty balls, I don’t feel like eating them every other day. Every other month, however, it’s a big yes. I’ve also worked on making them lighter to eat, and serving them with things that lift them rather than bring them down, so that there’s always room for meatballs in my life.
Ah yes, the tips.
Tip Number One is for the meatballs: Using fresh ricotta will lighten the meat, and gives it a floaty softness that is very, very pleasing. It also helps stop the meat from contracting and tightening when hit with heat, and makes it more tender without altering its flavour. No, it won’t ooze out when you pan-fry, because it bonds with the beaten egg and just disappears into the meat.
The next best thing to adding ricotta is a ‘panade’ of stale bread (no crusts), soaked in milk for 10 minutes. Squeeze out any excess milk and mix the soft bread through the meat mixture with your hands. This suits chicken polpette quite well, see recipe here. (If you go this route, don’t add the extra breadcrumbs in the recipe below).
Tip Number Two is for the sugo: Red wine will make it deep, dark and mysterious. But don’t just slosh it in. Reduce it by at least one-third first – bring, say, 200 ml red wine to the boil and let it simmer away until you have 125 ml. This will achieve two things: the alcohol will partially evaporate so there will only the flavour of the wine with no harshness; and the flavour will be condensed. Your sugo will be next level.
The Meatball Variations
Make tiny ones and serve them with bloody marys at brunch.
Make large ones, like giant kofta, and serve them as a sort of cold meatloaf to hack into with crusty bread and olives at sundown.
Add pasta. Spaghetti is the norm, but it’s really good with smaller, curlier shapes (shown below, Berkelo long-ferment sourdough pasta shells). Consider, once pasta, sugo and meatballs have combined, baking it for 30 minutes before serving. The flavours settle into something like a meatball lasagne, only not.
Forget the pasta and serve with couscous, nutty brown rice, or mash instead.
Top with grated cheese, or gremolata (lemon zest, garlic and parsley) or a crunchy, punchy, pangrattato (breadcrumbs fried with garlicky, chili-flecked oil and parsley)
Squish left-over meatballs into a bread roll the next day with whatever sauce still clings to them; heaven right there.
MEATBALLS IN RED WINE TOMATO SUGO
The best way to cook meatballs is to pan-fry them first to get a nice browning then finish the cooking by half-submerging them in the sugo, which maintains their beautiful lightness. You can also bung them in the oven to finish baking, then serve them in the sugo; just be careful not to overcook. Serves four.
For the meatballs:
500 g minced pork (or beef or lamb)
100 g fresh ricotta
2 tbsp grated parmigiano
1 egg, beaten
2 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
Half tsp dried oregano
1 garlic clove, grated
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
1 tsp sea salt and half tsp cracked black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
For the red wine tomato sugo:
200 ml red wine
2 x 400g cans tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
250 ml stock or water
1 garlic clove, finely sliced
Pinch of dried chilli pepper
1 tsp ground cinnamon (optional but beautiful)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
TO MAKE THE MEATBALLS:
1/ In a large bowl, combine the meat with the ricotta, parmigiano, egg, breadcrumbs, oregano, garlic, parsley, sea salt and pepper. Squish it all together with your hands until well-combined.
2/ Shape the meat into balls the size of - well, it’s up to you. I like mine larger than a golf ball and smaller than a tennis ball, which will net you 10 balls.
At this stage, you can chuck them in the fridge while you make the sugo.
TO MAKE THE RED WINE SUGO:
1/ Bring the red wine to the boil in a small pan and allow to simmer for 3 minutes to burn off some of the alcohol and reduce it to about 125 ml (half a cup).
2/ Combine tomatoes, tomato paste, stock or water, garlic, oregano, chilli, sea salt, pepper and olive oil in a heavy saucepan, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes.
3/ Add the wine to the tomato sugo, stirring, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for acidity – if sharp, add 1 tsp brown sugar and stir through – and for sea salt and pepper, and set aside until needed.
1/ Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and brown the meatballs on all sides.
2/ Heat the red wine sugo in a heavy frypan or casserole. Use tongs to nestle the meatballs into the sugo, cover and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes until cooked through.
3/ Serve in pasta bowls, or indeed, with pasta. Grated parmy and parsley wouldn’t go astray.
So, what’s for dinner, then?
Thanks for reading! And liking, commenting, subscribing, or sharing. Special thanks to my right-hand man, Terry Durack, for being my constant inspiration - to cook meatballs.
I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the lands and waters upon which I work, live, cook and play; the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. I fully support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice to be enshrined in Australia’s Constitution.
Haha. We are having meatballs tonight. Always do the stale bread/milk thing, but love the ricotta idea. Will try it. We also add red onion and a tin of cherry tomatoes, for sweetness, to the sugo. I love the contrast between the 2 ‘balls’