Thursday, September 06, 2007

Presto Pasta Night #28

For this edition of Presto Pasta Night, I'm taking a more leisurely approach and making meatballs.

I know my method will probably be at odds with the meatball traditionalists but this is how I like them and it works to produce a moist meatball. One of the most important parts in to have a very rich tomato based sauce that has slowly cooked to develop its flavour.

fettucine with meatballs

Fettucine con Polpette/Fettucine with Meatballs

For the meatballs:
lean beef, diced and minced
finely grated Pastorello (you can use Parmigiano-Reggiano, Grana or Pecorino)
fresh rosemary, finely chopped
freshly ground salt and white pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten

For the sauce:
2 red onions, finely sliced
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 stick celery, finely chopped
fresh rosemary, finely chopped
tomato paste
Italian canned diced tomatoes (use fresh only if in reason and ripe)

Make the meatballs:

I tend to mince my own rather than buy it minced. I use one of my favourite cuts of beef called Girello (or silverside). It's a very lean meat so it can dry out when cooked.

To my minced girello I add some finely grated Pastorello and a little finely chopped fresh rosemary - rosemary is quite a pungent herb so a little does go a long way. Next is a good grinding of salt and pepper followed by the lightly beaten egg.

Now you mix this all together and nothing does this better than your hands. It's the only way I've found that really allows you to work the proteins of the meat and allows you to feel them transition. It's going to be a bit sloppy at this stage so add a little breadcrumbs and continue mixing until it forms sticky but homogeneous mass.

It's not just a matter of pinch walnut sized pieces of the mixture and rolling them into balls. I prefer the meatballs to be a touch on the smaller size.

This next step is probably where the eyebrows will raise. Once I've formed all the meatballs I them dust them in the really fine coating of breadcrumbs. Perhaps it is because I am using a very lean meat but I find that this coating protects the meat from drying out and becoming just hard lumps.


The best way I've found to dust the meatballs is to place a little breadcrumbs into a spherical pan, add some of the meatballs and then jiggle the pan, the meatballs will follow the curve, picking up just the finest coating of crumbs. Best of all you don't need to over-handle them.

Set them aside while you make the sauce.

Make the tomato sauce:

Heat olive oil and a small knob of butter in a large pan and when the butter has melted and the mix is sizzling add the vegetables and rosemary. Sauté this until golden over a medium-low heat, stirring often to prevent the mixture from burning. This will take a good 15-20 minutes.

Add a spoonful of tomato paste and stir this through - cook it out for a couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes. Keep the pan on a simmer and allow this to cook for 30 minutes. During this time you want the mixture to lose some of its liquid and the sauce to begin to darken and reduce.

Cook the meatballs:

Pour a little oil in a frypan and place over a medium heat. When the mixture is hot add the meatballs, a few at a time, being careful not to overfill the pan. At this stage, I am looking to just colour the meatballs - they will finish cooking in the sauce. Once the meatballs have coloured, remove them to a plate and finish cooking the remainders.

When all the meatballs have cooked add these to the sauce - stir them through well ensuring that they are well coated with the sauce. If it seems a little dry you can add a touch of water.

Let this simmer away for another 20 minutes - this will allow the meatballs to absorb all those lovely juices and flavours of the sauce and will produce a moist and tender meatball.

fettucine with meatballs

I've served these with fettucine and rather than using Parmigiano I've kept the flavours consistent and used the Pastorello.

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  1. We love those tins of Italian diced tomatoes, they are so versatile and it pains me to say this, but they seem to have a better flavour than their Australian counterparts. How much tomato did you use?

  2. Thanks Kevin!

    Hi Neil - canned tomatoes are one product in which I will only buy Italian, no-one does them better. Australian canned tomatoes taste like unripened tomatoes. For this recipe I just used one normal sized can and when I add water, I first add water to the can to catch any leftovers.

  3. Wow, you just give me an idea what to cook for tomorrow's dinner. =) My bf gonna love this!

  4. What a clever way to coat the meatballs. Thanks for sharing it.

  5. This looks like the perfect bowl of pasta and meatballs!!

  6. - Hi Haalo, by now you must have noticed that when I see one of your gorgeous recipes, I tend to make them right away, and meatballs and pasta are no exception. Unfortenutly I don't have beef but will try it on the weekend. Love all the tips your gave about the sauce and you're right about the meatballs. There's nothing like getting dirty to mix the meat. Gorgeous dish and perfectly shaped meatballs.
    Have a wonderful weekend my friend.

  7. Thanks Jacelyn - I hope you both enjoy it!

    Thanks Casey.

    Thanks Deborah!

    Thank you Rose, you always say the loveliest things!

    Thanks Pat, it's pure comfort food.

  8. Don't you just love pasta! It is one of my favourites. Do you ever make your own pasta? Recently I made some eggless semolina pasta. Not only do I love the discipline of making pasta, but love the taste as well. Fabulous. Enjoy.

  9. Oops make that:

    Semolina Pasta

    Eat well. Stay healthy. Enjoy.

  10. Hi FM - indeed I do love pasta it's in my genes. I do make pasta with my mother, it's quite the tradition. You should try making orecchiette with your pasta, since they are also made with an eggless semolina based pasta.

  11. Excellent looking dish and I love the tip about coating the meatballs in breadcrumbs. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  12. You made me hungry...
    Super hungry..

  13. Those look fantastic. I love that the flavouring is so simple! What a wonderful dish, I will certainly try it.

    I keep my meatballs moist by grating an apple into the mixture! The kids love it too! ;-)

  14. yummy! I normally put the breadcrumbs in the meatballs in the more traditional manner, but that's also because I frequently use a mixture of pork and beef - so I don't worry about dry meat. This is a much leaner option! Will have to give it a shot!

  15. Thanks Ruth!

    That's a good thing Cindy!

    Thanks Deborah - I've not heard of using apple before but that's an excellent idea.

    Thanks Christianne - I hope you enjoy it.

  16. Your meatballs were perfect looking. And the pasta, too.


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