A good meatball is a thing of beauty that can be made with endless variations. Round and comforting, they're delicious served with pasta or a soft creamy polenta. This particular version perfectly suits the heat of summer, with a hint of chilli and lots of ricotta to give the meatballs a little spice and an airy, creamy texture. These lovely, delicate balls need no further accompaniments.
- 100 g butter
- 4 large garlic cloves, finely sliced
- 1 medium red onion, finely diced
- 2 long red chillies, finely chopped
- 1 x 680 g jar tomato passata
- 500 ml chicken or vegetable stock
- River salt and black pepper
- 500 g pork shoulder, minced coarsely
- 500 g veal, minced finely
- 100 g ricotta
- ½ cup breadcrumbs
- 2 eggs
- Rind of 3 lemons, finely sliced
- 2 tsp chilli flakes
- 30 ml extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- River salt and black pepper
- 100 g shaved parmesan
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.
To make the tomato sauce, place the butter and the garlic in a cold saucepan, before transferring the pan onto a medium heat. Gently melt the butter, making sure you stir the garlic around quite often. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the garlic starts to sizzle and change colour. Add the onion, fresh chilli and some salt, then continue cooking and stirring for another couple of minutes.
Gently throw in the tomato passata and simmer for about half an hour, stirring occasionally.
Add in the stock and bring to the boil. Use a stick blender to blend the sauce until it's smooth, then taste for seasoning before setting aside, covered, in a warm spot.
To make the polpette, place all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to vigorously combine everything, gloves are a good idea at this stage. You want all the bits to become fully incorporated and the mix to make a nice sticky mass.
Preheat your oven to 200°C, then grease a couple of flat baking trays with oil.
Rub a little oil on your hands and start forming nice small balls with your hands, about 40 g each. You should end up with at least 30 meatballs. Keep oiling your hands as you go, as it will help prevent the mixture from sticking. Place the balls on the tray leaving a small amount of space between each one.
Once all your balls are nice, round and ready, place them in the oven to roast for about 20 minutes. Once they are ready you should notice that they are slightly browned, shrivelled a little and have leached out quite a lot of liquid.
At this stage, pull them out of the oven and drop the temperature to 160°C.
Remove all the balls and gently place them in a deep baking dish, discarding any liquid. Cover them with the hopefully still warm tomato sauce, cover the dish with foil and place them back in the oven for another 40 minutes to let them slowly braise and become one with the sauce.
Once cooked, the polpette are ready to be eaten straight away. Serve them on a large platter, spoon the sauce over and finish the dish with a nice drizzle of olive oil, shaved parmesan and some cracked pepper.
Serve with a bitter green salad and some fresh bread.
• You will find that this polpette mix is quite soft and a little tricky to work with because of the inclusion of ricotta, don't worry about that too much as without it the texture would be a lot denser. Instead just work slowly and carefully and don't be scared if you end up with uneven or slightly misshapen balls, they'll be delicious and that's what's most important. The cooked polpette will last for a good week in your fridge and are also happy to be frozen in readiness for a quick meal when you need.
Photography by Benito Martin. Styling by Trish Heagarty.