Earlier this week I made meatballs. It was definitely a meatball day.
To start it off I had developed a stinking cold, not just a bit of a sniffle but the kind that makes you feel ill. Not only that, it was also blowing a gale and lashing it down. This change in the weather had been unexpected and I had therefore not dressed for it. The result was that I now had soaking shoes and wet feet.
On my arrival home from work, as I was blown through the front door, I was met by a damp coldness. My eldest, huddled on the sofa, was eager to confirm this. We had not yet turned the heating on as the weather had been so beautiful, but now the house felt cold through.
We deliberated about putting the heating on versus lighting the fire and agreed that it would be much nicer to light the fire. We also agreed we needed something really warming for tea. So off went my eldest to get the wood and light the fire and I dashed upstairs to change my tights then disappeared into the kitchen to concoct these meatballs.
Fast forward 30 minutes and the fire was blazing, the meatballs were bubbling in their rich tomato sauce and life felt a little better.
If you’ve never made meatballs before then I urge you to give them a go. Homemade meatballs are so much nicer than shop bought ones. You can use the meat of your choice thus controlling flavour and fat content and season them as you wish. You can also make them any size you want, from massive tennis ball size with only one meatball per person required, to little marble size, great with pasta. They are also much better value for money than ready-made ones.
The fennel in these meatballs keeps things fresh and interesting. Fennel comes as a seed and will need to be ground down using a spice mill, coffee grinder or in a pestle and mortar. Just bear in mind if using a pestle and mortar that the more you grind the seeds the more flavour will be released. Grinding the seeds effectively will make your arm ache and take a minute or two but will be worth it.
If you want to you could also add half a teaspoon of ground fennel seeds to your tomato sauce. I think that would be lovely. Sadly my children do not agree.
The meatballs are simmered in the sauce as this keeps them nice and moist and helps the flavours to mingle. Because of this you need to use a non-stick, lidded, wide pan such as a frying pan. It is important that the pan is wide enough for you to put the meatballs in in one layer so that they cook evenly. My pan has a diameter of 28cm.
This recipe makes 30 regular size meatballs which was enough for the four of us at dinner time and did two packed lunches the next day as a bonus.
Fast forward another 30 minutes and we were all sitting in a gloriously snug and cosy sitting room, watching the telly and eating meatballs and spaghetti. Well, we couldn’t leave the fire to sit round the table in the cold dining room could we!
Pork and Fennel Meatballs
Easy to make, the combination of pork and fennel in these meatballs really works. Try hovering over the serving size to change it to your needs!
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small finely diced onion
- 1 clove crushed garlic
- 1 500g carton passata
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the meatballs
- 50 g porridge oats
- 60 ml milk
- 500 g lean minced pork mine is 8% fat
- 1 small onion finely diced
- 1 clove garlic crushed
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley chopped
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds well ground - see note above
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper freshly ground
For the sauce
- Gently fry the onion and garlic ensuring they do not brown. When the onion is soft and translucent add the rest of the ingredients and 150ml water, stir, and bring the sauce to a gentle simmer. Turn the sauce off.
For the meatballs
- Place the oats and milk in a bowl and mix so that most of the milk is absorbed. Place the rest of the ingredients in with the oat mixture and mix lightly but thoroughly (a light touch stops the meatballs going rubbery). I use my hands for this but use a spoon if you wish.
- Turn the sauce on to a very gentle simmer and form the meat mixture firmly into 30 smallish balls placing them into the simmering sauce as you go. Place them right next to each other working round in a circle and they should all fit in. Put the lid on the pan and simmer gently for 30 minutes. You may wish to slide a spoon or spatula under the meatballs occasionally to ensure nothing is sticking to the bottom, just be very careful if you do this in the first 15 minutes of so as the meatballs will be very fragile. Once they are cooked through (cut one open to check or use a thermometer which should read 165°F) simply serve and enjoy.
If I am serving these meatballs over spaghetti I like to remove them to a plate and stir the sauce into the cooked spaghetti with a ladle of the pasta water. I then serve the spaghetti and place the meatballs on top. A small grating of parmesan and a sprinkle of basil or parsley finishes the job.