Conor’s Italian Meatballs

So my pal, the mighty Conor Farrell was live tweeting this recipe last night (you will find him at @conorsthoughts) and I thought you guys might enjoy it so I asked him to do a guest post for us. So here it is. Compliments to the Chef!

Easy Italian Meatballs

I first cooked this dish kind of out of necessity, because I had lots of leftover ingredients from a chilli con carne (you’ll notice the half measurements in a bit) and wanted to use up the rest instead of throwing good food out. The recipe is fairly easy on the pocket, and although there are few things to do throughout, cooking this dish is very simple, so it’s ideal if you want to show off a bit in the kitchen if you have a guest 😉

My Italian housemates are foodies too and they really liked the dish so once they say it’s good then I’m happy! One of the things I like about this dish is that you can customise it easily: add more chilli for a stronger kick, use wine instead of vinegar, add a bay leaf or two to the pan, add some chopped vegetables… Once you make it the first time, you’ll easily figure out if you want to change anything, so don’t be afraid to experiment.

The special ingredient to this is the fennel seeds. You need to be careful with these as they can be quite strong if you add too much. However, they add a really nice depth to the dish and an interesting flavour. It’s important to use a pan when cooking this dish as it helps the sauce to reduce down properly. I tried it in a pot before and it didn’t work out as well as I wanted.

The main ingredients are minced beef, chopped tomatoes, and tomato puree. Around 250g of mince (half of a 500g pack!) is what I use and is enough for two hungry people, or two main meals and a lunch. Depending on the type of mince you get and where you get it, you could pay anywhere from €3 to €7, usually about €5.

Any 400g tin of chopped tomatoes will do, as will a small tin or tube of tomato puree (remember you’ll only use half of each to serve two people). In Tesco a tin of chopped tomatoes is €1.09 and the Tesco brand puree is 56c. Different ranges of products will be different prices so shop around.

Herbs play a big part in this dish but if you like to cook it’s very likely that you already have a collection of herbs in your kitchen. If not, be sure to shop around for herbs. Aldi do jars of dried herbs for extremely good prices (well under a euro), which is great value compared to other brands which might cost two or three euro per jar. A fiver’s worth of herbs is a great investment and will last you months. Balsamic vinegar is another worthwhile addition to any kitchen. It can vary in price, but for everyday cooking there’s no need to spend much more than a few euro on a bottle.

Ingredients

  • 250g of minced beef

  • Half an onion, chopped

  • Half a tin of tomatoes (200g)

  • Half a small tin or tube of tomato puree (70g)

  • Two cloves of garlic (or more or less, depending how much you like/dislike it)

  • Balsamic vinegar

  • Salt

  • Pepper

  • Fennel seeds

  • Chilli flakes

  • Basil (if you don’t have this the mixed herbs on their own will do)

  • Mixed herbs

Method

  1. Put the mince into a mixing bowl and add a teaspoon each of salt, pepper, and fennel seeds. Add half a teaspoon of chilli flakes. These are just guideline amounts and are not overpowering, so feel free to add more. Mix up the mince by hand, and shape into slightly flattened balls a little smaller than a golfball. There should be enough for around 10-12 meatballs.
  2. Image
  3. Put a little oil on a hot pan and carefully place the meatballs onto it. When the underside starts to look cooked, flip them over to cook the other side. If possible, stand them on their sides to seal the outer edges.
  4. When the meatballs have browned, turn down the heat to a medium setting and leave the balls for a couple more minutes to seal up.
  5. Chop your half onion and add to the meatballs and let them fry gently for a few minutes.
  6. Add the garlic and stir gently – don’t let the garlic burn.
  7. Now add half a tin of tomatoes and half a tin of puree to the pan, and mix them together gently. Alternatively you could mix them in a jug before adding to the pan.
  8. Now add a teaspoon each of basil and mixed herbs (or two in total of whatever you have in your press!) and mix them into the sauce.
  9. Let the sauce simmer gently and reduce down for a few minutes. It will thicken nicely and become a much deeper red colour
  10. Image
  11. Taste the sauce and see what it’s like. It’s likely to be a little tart at this point, so add in about two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar and stir, then taste it again. If you need to add more vinegar, or any more herbs or seasoning, you can add it now.
  12. At this point the meatballs are pretty much done, but they can be left on the heat for the sauce to reduce to whatever consistency you like, and for the flavours in the tomatoes and vinegar to mellow out with each other.
  13. Plate it up!

Pasta

Serve this with whatever pasta you wish. Keep in mind that there is about 20 minutes or so between putting the meatballs on the pan to serving up so keep this in mind when preparing your pasta. I find tagliatelle goes really well with these meatballs, and that takes only a few minutes to cook.

Overall Pricing

The meat and tins of tomato stuff work out at just under €7. An onion and a bulb of garlic is around €1. As we use only half of these to serve two people, that’s about €4, or €2 per person.

Jars of herbs and seasoning might be about 70c each on average from Aldi, and the balsamic vinegar is about €2 from Tesco for 200ml. If you’re buying these new, you could spend about €5, and they’ll last ages. But because you will use relatively little in this dish, let’s say you spend about €1 on those extras just for this recipe, or 50c per person.

Overall (excluding pasta and any other sides you use), this meal for two works out at roughly €2.50 per person, which is not bad going.

What About the Other Half?

Brown the remaining mince in a pot, then add some kidney beans and the rest of your chopped onion. After a few minutes, throw in the chopped tomatoes and puree, and stir. Add a teaspoon of chilli flakes and a teaspoon of cumin, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and allow to simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste to make sure it’s hot and spicy enough, and when you’re happy, serve with a bowl of rice, grated cheese, and sour cream. Ta-da! Two more servings of an easy chilli con carne.

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