This is a healthy, quick recipe for any night of the week. Can be made gluten free with the addition of GF breadcrumbs or cooked rice.
- Ground meat of your choice (pork, beef, veal, chicken, turkey) with a reasonable amount of fat
- Breadcrumbs (regular, gluten free, or plain cooked rice)
- Fresh ground black pepper
- Fennel seeds, ground
- Fresh grated parmigiano reggiano or pecorino romano (or any other hard, aged cheese)
- Fresh ricotta cheese (optional)
- Strained tomatoes (sometimes called “passata”) or a can of tomatoes crushed by hand or pureed in the blender
- 3-4 cloves chopped garlic
- 1-2 anchovy filets (optional)
- Dried chili flakes
- Olive oil
- Sea salt
- Fresh basil, parsley, mint (or all 3) to finish
Firstly, I’m not a big fan of including exact proportions of ingredients because a) it’s not realistic in the real world (how often are you going to weigh and measure an onion?) and b) it doesn’t actually teach someone to cook. It’s OK to burn your rice or over salt a steak every once in a while. Trial and error is important because we learn from it, getting better each time we cook. Learning to cook is a lifelong pursuit, not something that happens from reading a recipe.
For the meatballs, add the ground meat to a bowl and spread out in as thin a layer as possible, pushing it up the sides of the bowl. Next, sprinkle the meat with sea salt, black pepper, and the ground fennel seeds. Cover generously with the breadcrumbs (or cooked rice). Seasoning like this allows for more even distribution throughout the meat, rather than seasoning the outside of a huge ball that doesn’t get to the inside. Add the grated parmigiano / pecorino, ricotta (optional) and then mix thoroughly to combine. The breadcrumbs allow for a vehicle to soak up the juices of the meat when cooking, and help make the balls lighter and not as dense. If you’re not sure you seasoned enough, pinch off a chunk of the meat and fry it in a pan to taste before moving forward.
Cover the meat mixture and set aside in the fridge while you prepare the sauce.
Chop the garlic and anchovy together, and add to a large high-sided pot with a generous amount of olive oil – ¼ – ½ a cup, depending on how many meatballs you’re making and how much tomato you’re adding. Olive oil is good for you so don’t be shy; this is a sauce, not a soup!
Heat the oil on medium heat and fry the garlic and anchovy, making sure not to burn or brown too aggressively.
Add as many chili flakes as you like, and fry for another 30 seconds before adding the strained tomato. Careful, as it will likely spit and sputter when the cold tomato hits the hot oil.
Season the tomato sauce with some salt and simmer over medium heat for 20 minutes, stirring often.
Take the meatballs out of the fridge and begin rolling into balls. I prefer meatballs the size of golf balls as they cook quicker and more evenly. Set aside on a sheet pan or in the fridge until the sauce is cooked.
After the sauce has cooked and reduced, taste for seasoning. It should taste good enough to eat on it’s own, but not overly salty as the meatballs are hopefully well seasoned. Add the raw meatballs to the hot sauce, cover, and simmer on low heat for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes the meat will have firmed up, and you can stir them gently. Allow to cook for another few minutes then turn the heat off and cover with the lid.
In terms of fresh herbs to add at the end, basil or parsley are great, but mint can be nice too especially if it’s a spicy sauce. Or, try all 3 together.
Serve the meatballs on their own, or toss the sauce with cooked pasta and extra cheese, or serve the meatballs on polenta, sautéed kale, quinoa, etc.