Traveling is about experiencing new things. Hidden sights, great architecture, history and, of course, discovering great food. When I lived in Italy back in the late 1990’s I experienced some of the best food in the world. I still standby my opinion that Italian food is the best in the world.
When I was there, one of many recipes I learned was Italian meatballs in a tomato sauce, best served with spaghetti. I’ve tweaked this recipe over the last couple of decades and it remains a family favourite. It’s ideal for kids, adults, everyone and is really easy to make and is amazingly delicious and homely.
In the following recipe, I make a double quantity as it’s an ideal meal to freeze for later, so why not get two or more meals out of the way in one cooking session. If you just want to try it, reduce the ingredients accordingly. In the pictures, you’ll see a lot of ingredients therefore, but in the narrative, I’ll give you the quantities make the dish to serve four people.
- 1lb Quality Minced Beef
- Breadcrumbs (the equivalent of 2 slices of stale bread)
- 2 garlic cloves (crushed or finely chopped)
- 4 tsps of dried parsley
- Handful of breadcrumbs
- 1 free range egg
- Generous splash of Henderson’s Relish, Worcestershire Sauce or 1/2 Beef Oxo Cube
- Handful of grated Parmesan
- Salt & Pepper to season
The Tomato Sauce
- 1 can of chopped tomatoes (good quality) or passata if you prefer a smoother sauce
- 1 small onion finely chopped
- Splash of olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
- Handful roughly chopped/torn fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons of dried basil)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 glass red wine
- Big splash of Henderson’s Relish, Worcestershire sauce or 1/2 of an oxo cube)
- 1 chopped fresh or dried red chilli with seeds removed (more if you prefer it hotter)
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp of sugar
Making the Meatballs
In southern Italy, it would be traditional to mix different meats into the mince, such as lamb and pork, so feel free to mix it up if you wish. You can even replace with vegetables such as peppers and courgettes or even tofu or other meat substitute if you don’t eat meat.
If you’re stuck for time there is an alternative to making the beef meatballs which is just as tasty but quicker and easier to prepare. For four people, skin 4 quality pork sausages cut the meat of each in half and form into balls.
Let your mince get to room temperature to make it easier to work with. Then put all the ingredients into a large mixing bowl.
Mix it all together with a fork. The longer you work the mix the easier it will be to make the meatballs. You want a mixture that sticks together but isn’t too runny. The egg is essential here as it will provide the adhesion. If you’re Be prepared to get your hands dirty now (a bit of flour on them first may help) and scoop out a portion of the meat mixture and roll into a ball between your palms. You want meatballs that are somewhere between this size of a plum and a golf ball. Roll the meatball in flour and put to onto a baking tray.
If you have too many for today’s dinner, place the spare meatballs on a tray or Tupperware lid and freeze them. Once frozen, you can put them into a single container of freezer bag, but freezing them separately like this will stop them sticking to each other during freezing.
To cook, put the meatballs in the oven on around 200′ centigrade for 10 minutes, then turn the oven down to about 180′ and cook for a further 30 minutes. Keep an eye on the meatballs and if they seem to be burning, turn the heat down a little. When they’re done, allow them to rest for 5 minutes.
In the meantime, make a start on the sauce.
Preparing the Arabiata Sauce
In Italian cuisine “Arabiata” generally means spicy or hot. Literally it translates as “angry mouth”. You can make this sauce as spicy as you prefer, or leave out the chillies altogether if you just want a mild tomato sauce.
Make the sauce on the hob in a large frying pan or, as I do, a large iron wok, something deep.
Heat the olive oil in the pan, then gently fry the onion for about 5 minutes until it is soft and lightly browned.
Turn down the heat (to avoid splashing) then add the tomatoes. Fill the empty can with warm water for use later if the sauce is too thick.
Add the salt & pepper, the garlic halves, the bay leaf, the Henderson’s relish, the basil and the oregano and bring back to the simmer. Add the wine and allow the sauce to simmer again. Add the chilli.
Allow the sauce to simmer gently for about 10 minutes so it reduces a little (i.e. thickens), stirring every so often. If it starts to get too stodgy, add a little of the water from the tomato can, but not too much that it becomes really runny.
Once the texture is about right, put a lid on the pan to prevent further moisture loss and reduction and gently simmer for a further 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Towards the end of the cooking time, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the sugar which will take away any acidic taste from the cooked tomatoes. You can also taste and season or adjust the heat by adding more chilli if you wish.
Before you serve, remove the four halves of garlic and the bay leaf.
This sauce and the meatballs go well with spaghetti. If you’re opting for the sausage meat alternatives to the beef meatballs, then I think that goes better with penne pasta.
Place the pasta in warmed bowls or on plates, then place meatballs on top. Spoon over the sauce, grate some fresh parmesan cheese on top and garnish with fresh basil leaves. A baked ciabatta loaf and some green leaf salad coated with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar is a great accompaniment. Serve with a wonderful Italian red (the Sangiovese or Barolo varieties go really well with this dish).
I hope you enjoy this recipe, it’s one of my favourites and so easy to make.
Italian Meatballs with Arabiata Sauce and Spaghetti