Ok, I'm sure many Italians would argue that these aren't the best meatballs ever. You're going to tell me that the ones your nonna makes are a million times better. Well, this time I'm putting my foot down. I can honestly say that I have never eaten meatballs as good as these and if you have a better recipe, I would love to hear from you and I promise I'll give it a go to compare.
This recipe is really very easy - it doesn't take hours of simmering away on the stove and can be ready in just over an hour or so. The pine nuts give the meatballs a bit of texture, while the ricotta keeps the balls soft. The lemon is really nice in there - as is the fennel, which really goes well with the pork (if you're using it). I often like to add even more parmesan for a really cheesy meatball.This is perfect winter comfort food.
- 185 ml olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 100 g pine nuts
- 3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 5 g rosemary, finely chopped
- 40 g parsley, finely chopped
- 2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- 55 g fresh or dried breadcrumbs
- 300 g ricotta
- 40 g grated parmesan cheese
- 1 large lemon, rind grated
- 1 free-range egg
- 500 g minced free-range pork (you can use beef or a mixture of both if you prefer)
- pasta, to serve
- 125 ml (½ cup) red wine
- 2 x 400 g cans of whole peeled tomatoes
Oven temperatures are for conventional; if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml; 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml; 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time: 30 minutes
Heat half of the olive oil in a saucepan and cook the onion and pine nuts until the onion is soft and the pine nuts are light golden brown. Add the garlic and rosemary and cook for a few minutes more - making sure you don't overcook the pine nuts.
Place the parsley, fennel seeds, breadcrumbs, ricotta, parmesan, lemon rind and egg in a bowl and add the mince. Add the cooled onion and pine nuts, season with salt and pepper and mix briefly until all of the ingredients are combined. Test for seasoning by frying one small meatball and tasting for flavour. Leave the mixture to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes. This will help the meatballs hold their shape whilst cooking.
To make the meatballs, roll about 50 g of mixture into a ball about the size of a golf ball and then flatten slightly to make it easier to cook both sides. 50 g may seem like quite a big meatball, but I assure you that it's the perfect size. At this point you could put on your water for your pasta.
Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan and fry the meatballs until golden brown on both sides. You will probably need to cook these in a couple of batches to avoid overcrowding the frying pan - which will lower the heat of your frypan. A non-stick frypan is best to use for this recipe as the meatballs can easily stick on a regular pan. Once browned on both sides, remove the meatballs from the pan. Don't worry about cooking them through - we'll do this later. By just searing them each side for some colour and texture, you will keep the meatballs moist inside.
To make the sauce, pour the wine into a clean frying pan or wide saucepan and simmer it for a few minutes - just to remove that strong alcohol taste. Then you can add your tins of tomatoes. Simmer this sauce for about 10 minutes. The tomatoes, which were whole, should start to break down. You can help this along by using your wooden spoon.
Next, put the pasta into the boiling water. It should only take about 10 minutes to cook.
Gently place the meatballs into the pan, sitting in the tomato sauce. Place a lid over the top and simmer for 10 minutes. Give the pan a little gentle shake every so often, just to make sure that the sauce or the meatballs haven't stuck to the bottom, as this will cause them to burn. You want the sauce to be on a gentle simmer.
Your pasta should be ready after 10 minutes, as should your meatballs. Drain the pasta - I like to use calabresi pasta, but you could really use whatever pasta you like.