As the days get shorter and the nights get cooler, I find that I spend more time at home than I did in the heady days of summer. For one, pub gardens aren’t as fun if you have to put a coat on and huddle together. Also, I find that my credit card bills from the holidays and living it up at a variety of weddings, festivals and trips to the seaside are so obscene that I reining it in seems the only option.
One thing I like to do on these cold evenings is fill up my freezer. It’s probably the instinct for stocking up for winter kicking in, and all of a sudden I am digging out all of the Tupperware and filling it with things that I can eat later. Hearty stews, soups and casseroles to be defrosted on a cold winter’s day when a trip to the supermarket is just too much to bear. My two favourite things to keep in the freezer are meatballs and homemade tomato sauce.
Meatballs are a godsend as you can freeze them after they have been cooked and then, once defrosted, just heat them through in the sauce for about 10-15 minutes before serving. A little fresh pasta and a sprinkle of parmesan and you have an excellent meal.
I have tried a number of different meatball recipes, but these from the Polpo cookbook are my favourite. They use pork and beef mince, which give them an excellent flavour, and the addition of a little pinch of chilli gives just a smidge of warmth. The best thing about these meatballs is that they are cooked in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, which means that they do not have the crisp edges that frying gives and remain soft all the way through. Because of this, they tend to break up less than other meatballs when cooked in the sauce.
The sauce is also from the same cookbook and uses both fresh and tinned tomatoes. It too contains a bit of chilli for that extra warmth, which you can leave out or adjust to your own taste. I have adapted the sauce from the original recipe by adding a little red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce to give it a little more depth.
This recipe makes about 50 meatballs, which is more than any family can eat in one sitting.
1kg minced pork
500g minced beef
3 medium eggs
½ tbsp fine salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
Pinch dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 220ºc / 425ºf / gas 7. Lightly grease two baking trays.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients by mixing together with your hands until fully combined. You can make the meatballs any size you wish, but I always weigh out 35g of the mixture for each ball. Roll into a sphere and place on the baking tray. Repeat until all of the mixture has been used up.
Bake the meatballs in the oven for ten minutes, turning once. When ready to serve, poach in the tomato sauce for 10-15 minutes until heated through. The meatballs can also be refrigerated or frozen at this stage.
100ml extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp fine salt
¼ tsp black pepper
Pinch chilli flakes
750g fresh tomatoes, quartered
3 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Heat 50ml of the oil in a large pan and saute the onion and garlic until soft, approximately 10 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and chilli and stir in. Add the remaining 50ml of the oil and the fresh tomatoes and cook on a medium heat for a further 15 minutes.
Add the tinned tomatoes and simmer on a low heat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oregano, caster sugar, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Taste for seasoning. Puree thoroughly using a hand blender.
Recipes adapted from ‘Polpo’ by Russell Norman