The most random of influences can trigger a craving. As a child, The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe made me obsess over Turkish Delight. Sounded gorgeous but when I finally managed to try it I was bitterly disappointed - sweet perfumed soap. Urgh. Not the heavenly food of the gods I was led to believe.
In the Lady & The Tramp it was the famous meatballs and spaghetti scene that got me. The animation of the dish with its clearly defined swirls of spaghetti noodles is somehow way more appetising than the real-life red lumps on yellow lumps, even when said lumps taste fantastic.
I was at a loss for inspiration for dinner the other night and aimlessly wandered round Sainsburys until I thought of the Italian-American classic. I pimped it up with few herbs I had left over, a teensy firecracker of a chilli from my mum’s bountiful crop and the ubiquitous splash of cream.
The result was pretty damn good. The sauce had a deep flavour and tang coming from the tomatoes, with the merest hint of richness from the cream and a subtle warmth from the dried chilli flakes. A tablespoon of brown sugar and finely diced carrots gave it a sweetness that balanced the tomato sharpness.
Although overall I was happy with the recipe, there are things I would change next time. My purse was light on the coinage, so I used basics beef mince. Mistake. It was pretty coarse with the few the odd lumps of gristle. I’m a hardnut and could cope with it but Alex couldn’t after a few dodgy mouthfuls. Stay away from budget mince.
Further, the couple of sprigs of rosemary chopped finely in the meatballs were a bit overpowering. In future I’ll either reduce the amount, or leave out entirely. Don’t be alarmed at the length of the ingredient list; you’re likely to have most of it hanging around in your cupboard.
Ingredients. Serves 4 (or 2 very greedy people, with leftovers)
Enough spaghetti for 4 people
400g beef mince
1 egg yolk
Sprig of rosemary
1 white onion finely diced
1 medium carrot finely diced
Half a stick of celery finely diced
4ish cloves garlic crushed
1 teaspoon dried chilli flakes
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Finely chopped red chilli
About 6 tomatoes skinned (if your bothered) roughly diced
½ Handful of breadcrumbs (blend a piece of old bread)
300 ml passata
Heaped tablespoon of tomato puree
1 beef oxo cube
tablespoon brown sugar
handful of flat leaf parsley finely chopped (including stalks)
1) Put the mince, breadcrumbs in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl mix the 1 crushed garlic clove, the diced chilli and chopped parsley stalks and teaspoon of olive oil. Mush with a spoon or hand blender than add to the mince and breadcrumbs. Add a generous sprinkle of salt and pepper. Add the egg yolk and mix well using your hands.
2) Wash your hands well (it gets under your nails). Take around a heaped teaspoon of mince mix and roll lightly into a ball between your palms. It should be around the size of a ping-pong ball. Repeat with the rest of the mixture and it makes about 30 meatballs. Put the meatballs onto a plate in the fridge to firm up a bit while you get on with the sauce. Oh and wash your hands again.
3) Put a deep frying pan or saucepan on the hob on a medium heat with a generous glug of olive oil (about 3 tablespoons). Fry the diced onions, carrot and celery for 20 minutes till the carrots are soft and the onions soft and translucent.
4) Add the 3 remaining cloves of crushed garlic, dried chilli flakes, oregano and big pinch of salt and pepper. Heat another pan till smoking and add the dripping or butter(if using splash olive oil first to stop it burning).
5) After a minute add the tomato puree, then the chopped tomatoes. Increase the heat and fry stirring well for about 3 minutes. Add the passata, the brown sugar, crumble in the oxo stock cube then the splash of cream (roughly 1 ½ tablespoon) Mix well the bring to the boil then reduce the heat to slow simmer.
6) Heat another pan till smoking and add the dripping or butter (if using butter splash olive oil first to stop it burning). Get the meatballs out of the fridge and fry in batches till their golden brown and crispy on all sides then add to the tomato sauce.
7) Give it a stir and simmer for about an hour. About 12 minutes before the end cook the pasta according the packet instructions and drain.
8) Serve the meatballs and sauce on top of the spaghetti with some grated cheese and the chopped parsley.