Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Balls to us all...

I don't really know where today has gone - I've done a lot of laundry and played with the boys (including setting up Christopher's playden in the sitting room and later, on his request, burying him under a pile of teddies and other assorted 'cuddlies'). Other than that, who knows? Suddenly it was 5 'o' clock and time to sort out the dinner. I'm taking the boys to visit their Granny for a week on Friday, but as yet I haven't done any packing. Oh well, there's always tomorrow...

The dish I cooked for our supper tonight originally arose because I had a load of meatballs in the freezer that needed using up and didn't fancy pasta. I always make meatballs in large quantities and open freeze them before transferring them to a large freezer bag. This means that, rather than an amorphous lump of fused meatballs, I can just defrost the number I need for individual meals. I use fine semolina for binding them, which gives a good dense texture without making the meatballs at all 'bready', but make sure you do use the fine stuff; the coarser, more 'gritty' sort that you use for semolina puddings won't do at all. As for the herbs, use what you've got - I normally use a couple of sprigs each of fresh thyme, rosemary, sage and oregano. I have all of the above, and more, growing just outside the back door so it's easy to cut what I need when I need it. Don't buy loads of those silly little packets to make up a mixture, you won't get any grief from me if you just use a big pinch of mixed dried herbs.


500g minced pork
500g minced beef
2 tbsp grated parmesan
2 tbsp fine semolina
1 egg, beaten
fresh herbs, chopped (see above)

Mix the minced meats in a big bowl. The easiest way to do this is with your hands. Squidge in the parmesan, semolina, herbs and seasoning to your liking, then add the beaten egg and squelch it all together thoroughly. Form the meatballs to the size you want by rolling some of the mixture into a ball between your palms. To open freeze, place on a baking sheet lined with clingfim. Transfer to a large freezer bag once solid, and seal it well. Defrost the meatballs as you need them, covered, overnight in the fridge.

Meatballs are so versatile, and very popular with the children (the parents love them too!). We usually have 'spaghetti and meatballs', in a smooth tomato sauce, with garlic bread and salad alongside, but they're also good cooked in a thick, meaty gravy, with mashed potatoes and vegetables, or skewered to use as 'kebabs', with or without chunks of onion and peppers. To turn a dozen meatballs into this supper dish, I cover them with a thick, tomato-based sauce and top with cheese. Served with some basmati rice and a bowl of salad, it makes a change, for a nice easy dinner when insipration is at its lowest ebb.

Meatball Bake

12 meatballs, defrosted if frozen
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, fresh or dried
400g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato purée
150g strong cheddar cheese, grated

Heat the oven to 180°c. Put the meatballs in the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish and bake for 10-15 minutes while you make the sauce. Heat a little oil in a pan and fry the onion, carrot and celery together until softened. Add the chopped pepper and the bay leaf, then tip in the tomatoes and tomato purée, plus about 75-100ml water. You want the sauce to be very thick at this stage, don't worry. Let the sauce bubble for 5 minutes or so, then fish out the bay leaf. Take the dish out of the oven and pour the sauce over the meatballs. Scatter the cheese over the top and return the dish to the oven for a further 15 minutes.

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