A friend asked me for the recipe for my meatballs. “How do you make yours?” she asked. “I love to hear how other people make them.”
Good question. My meatballs are generally recipe-less. They’re usually a mix of the meat I’ve bought and what I have in the fridge. The other day I made them with about half a kilo of Italian sausage meat, some finely chopped thyme, leftover pecorino (a smallish chunk that I blitzed in the food processor) and the usual tomato passata. A note about tomato passata. Once you’ve tried it, you may never go back to tinned tomatoes.
A friend’s Tuscan mother swears by tomato passata and won’t use anything else. It makes for a richer sauce, and I assure you once you’re converted you’ll find it difficult to go back. Although naturally it has to be good quality Italian passata, as some passatas are better than others. I now have a tomato passata fetish that consists of various bottles of various types all lined up in the cupboard. The only passatas I draw the line at is the ones where they add the herbs. Don’t. Add them fresh yourself.
Today I had three boys for lunch. “Shall I make meatballs with pasta?” The response was an unanimous yes. So today’s version was about 300g of beef with 400g of Italian sausage, and some semi hard goat’s cheese that got thrown into the mixture and oozed lazily out into the sauce on cooking. I’d also added a softly browned leek, some parsley and chives chopped up using a mezzaluna to make their presence as least obvious as possible because that’s generally what you end up doing with kids. Oh, and some breadcrumbs. And for breadcrumbs I mean four slices of common or garden white sliced bread that were also blitzed and added to the mixture.
In the meantime I heated up my jar of tomato passata with a good slug of olive oil. Normally I put in a touch of onion soffrito, sometimes also a finely chopped carrot but today I didn’t have any onions or carrots, hence the leeks in the meatballs. Besides, in this way, my kids would actually eat leeks.
“Do you like the meatballs, boys?”
“They’re okay.” Okay?
“They’ve got a funny taste.”
So that’ll be the leeks.
I write this as I have the rest of the meatballs simmering away with another jar of passata, slug of olive oil, a couple of meatballs and some borlotti beans thrown in for good measure. All to be eaten with my husband when I manage to get the kids in bed at a reasonable time, and we sit on the sofa watching our favourite programmes on the Italian cookery channel Gambero Rosso. Some couples watch Netflix, me and my husband watch cookery programmes and have done for as long as I can remember. There’s a TV chef called Giorgone (Giorgio Barchiesi) who believes in true rustic Italian food including lard and anything that contains about a thousand calories. His recipes are the type of things I want to eat. As for the borlotti beans, they remind me of Tuscany and Umbria and places like that, and last weekend we were in Arezzo and I was eating beans on bruschetta.
A word about the photo of the little hand and meatballs. Simply because one day little hands will have grown into big hands, and meatballs will have become a memory.