This is one of my favourite meals, ever. This is real comfort food, rainy weekend afternoon in the kitchen type stuff, although I just as often make this on weekday evenings, or in the middle of summer. In fact, I should probably be embarrassed at the frequency with which I present this, as though for the first time, to friends and family visiting for dinner, but everyone loves it, and it’s easy, although takes a little time, to put together. I’ve tried various different recipes for meatballs, but always revert back to this, based on those from Nigella Lawson’s Nigella Bites. I make meatballs small enough to be cooked right in the bubbling tomato sauce, rather than larger ones which might need extra cooking first, so these are soft and tender, no crunchy outside, and the cheese, garlic and oregano mean these little nuggets of deliciousness are full of flavour.

Most often, I like to serve these with tagliatelle, sometimes pappardelle, those wider flat ribbons, but any long pasta would be good. The amount of meatballs here will easily feed four, with pasta, and would likely do for six. For six, fearing under-catering more than over-carbing, I would add bread for mopping up the sauce. For four, I would probably still add it anyway, and to that end would go with 75g pasta per person, cooked in well salted boiling water for the time directed on the packet, but checking for doneness a minute or two before that. And, whilst on the topics of bread and portion sizing, the last time I cooked this there were only three of us eating, but I made the same amount anyway, reheating the rest the following day and serving, sauce and all, in bread rolls. A triumph – now, I would cook these and keep them in the fridge just to make meatball sandwiches.

Adapted from Nigella Bites by Nigella Lawson

For the meatballs

500g organic minced beef

1 egg

50g cheddar cheese, grated

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon dried oregano

3 tablespoons semolina (or, if you don’t have semolina, the same amount of breadcrumbs made from slightly stale bread)

For the tomato sauce

2 onions

2 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 tablespoon olive oil

680g bottle tomato passata 

pinch sugar

Put all of the meatball ingredients into a big bowl, seasoning with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, and smoosh them all together with your hands until well mixed. I like to really squeeze everything together, until you can see that the flecks of cheese are fairly evenly distributed, and the mixture doesn’t feel too wet. The end result is something like sausage meat.

Break off small pieces of the meat and roll them into little balls, about, if you were to measure, 2 cm across. As you finish each meatball, place it onto a cling film lined plate or tray, and once you have filled a plate pop it into the fridge. Letting them rest in the fridge for the twenty minutes or so it will take you to make the sauce will help keep them firm and avoid them breaking up when cooking. The last time I counted, I got about 40 meatballs out of this mixture.

To make the sauce, first blitz the onion, garlic and oregano to a green speckled mush in the processor, or chop as finely as possible by hand. Heat the oil in a big pan, and dump in the processed onion mush, cooking over a lowish heat and stirring often, not letting it catch, for 10 minutes or until soft. Add the passata, then half-fill the bottle with water, swill it out and add this to the pan too. Add the pinch of sugar, season with a little salt and freshly ground black pepper, bring to the boil, and then turn down the heat and gently simmer for 10 minutes.

Drop the meatballs, one by one, into the sauce, and let everything simmer gently for twenty minutes, or until the meatballs have cooked. Resist the temptation to stir until the meatballs have turned from pink to brown, otherwise they may break up in the pan. Once the meatballs are cooked, if you aren’t quite ready with the pasta, it won’t hurt to stick a lid on and turn the heat down, letting them cook for a little while longer.

Serve with pasta, bread or both (and see intro).



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