:: When people ask me what my specialty is, I normally end up racking my brains for an answer because truth be told, I don’t cook a lot of things more than once or twice.
My foodie magazines are all earmarked with the recipes I want to try or be inspired by and more often than not, I’ll fill my shopping basket with whatever’s in season and just make it up as I go. The conquering of new dishes and flavour combinations is just so exciting and rewarding.
Maybe it’s for this reason that I’ve never really been drawn to those time honoured, classic menu staples. No offence intended, but meatballs have always seemed to me, well… ordinary. Balls of meat in tomato sauce – not really earth shattering, right? And not a whole lot of options of jazzing it up (or so I thought).
However, I must concede they certainly have their place after making this pretty damn delicious dish. It’s not something I was craving as such, but halfway through the first bowl (and second), all I could think of was how hearty and completely gratifying a bowl of meatballs and pasta can be. The zest in the sauce might be a bit unconventional, but it gives it real zing and kick, and the parmesan adds another flavour dimension to the mince. This might be going on the repeats list after all…
1.5kg beef mince (not too lean, as the natural fat will keep them nice and moist)
2 free range eggs
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves
2 onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/2 cup tomato paste
4 tins chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp sugar
Zest from one lemon
Fresh basil leaves, about a cup
Start by pre-heating your oven to 200°C. In a large bowl, mix together the meatball ingredients and season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Use you hands to scrunch the seasonings through the mince, so that everything is thoroughly combined. If you’re a bit squeamish about this, use some light rubber gloves but it’s really important that the flavours go right through the mix.
Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and roll small portions of the meat into walnut-sized balls with your hands. Once both trays are covered, place in the over for 10-15 minutes, until cooked all the way through and nicely browned.
For the napolitana sauce, place a large saucepan over medium heat and add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Add the finely chopped onions and garliic, and let them sweat, stirring often, until translucent and golden. Add the tomato paste and sugar and season generously. Turn the heat up to high and add the tins of chopped tomato, stirring them through until the mixture just reaches the boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, adding the meatballs halfway through so they can soak up some of the sauce . In the last 5 minutes, stir through the torn basil leaves and lemon zest.
Meanwhile, place enough linguini for your diners in a saucepan of boiling, salted water and cook until al dente. Twirl portions of pasta into your serving bowls and top with meatballs and a nice ladle of sauce. Top with freshly grated parmesan and some fresh basil.
Perfect for feeding a lot of mouths, or even batching up for the freezer, this easy but comforting dish is sure to hit the spot.