I don’t feel I have ever given Italian food a real go. I like pizza and tiramisu as much as the next person but I have never been to Italy, nor a frequent eater at Italian restaurants and our cookbook collection is dominated by french cuisine. In spite of this I believe Italian food to be so much more than pizza and pasta, much like french food is so much more than baguette, snails and frogs legs. Maybe I am waiting for a life-changing trip to Italy where I can sample beautiful olive oils, baked aubergines with capers and tomatoes, or a fennel salad with Parmesan, or barbequed rabbit, and lemon and almond cake for dessert, or ricotta almond tart.

The meatballs I made this week prompted this new found appreciation for Italian cuisine. They were light, perfectly moist and simply seasoned so what really came through was the almost creamy flavour of the mince rather than any garlic or herbs in the sauce.

During one of my numerous perusals of food blogs and food articles online, I discovered the meatball is the subject of much discussion. The search for the perfect meatball seems quite intensive. In the linked article, Molly Wizenburg, author of the blog Orangette, writes:

“I’ve long felt that if I could make a great meatball, I would be set for life. There’s nothing fancy about it, but that’s the point. A meatball is about as unassuming as food can get, but when done well, it packs more flavor and more soul per square inch than anything that humble has a right to. People love meatballs. It’s a fact of life. If you’ve got a great meatball in your repertoire, you have the means to make most of the world happy.”

I almost feel like I’ve cheated… It has not taken the better part of 5 years of making and tasting every meatball I came across to achieve, what I consider, a pretty darn fine meatball.

These meatballs I served with a tomato sauce and spaghetti but they would also be great atop mashed potatoes. Or make some of the mix into patties for a sandwich with tomato chutney and lettuce.

The humble meatball really has given me a renewed enthusiasm for all things Italian.

Meatballs and Tomato Sauce

600-800grams beef mince
half a red onion, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
2-3 pieces of bread
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
a pinch of ground cumin and ground coriander

Place the bread in a small bowl and pour over enough milk to almost cover the bread. In a larger bowl place the beef mince, grated red onion, salt, pepper and egg – mix lightly.

Squeeze the excess milk out of the bread. Discard the milk and stir the bread through the mince mixture incorporating all ingredients together. (I found the back of the spoon worked well for smearing the sodden bread through the meatball mixture.)

Refrigerate for several hours to allow the flavours to develop together.

Use your hands to roll meatballs into bite sized balls. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frypan and cook the meatballs in batches, stirring frequently, until cooked through. Keep cooked meatballs in a warm oven until ready to serve.

Tomato Sauce:

2 cans of crushed or whole tomatoes (I used one of each)
3 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon powdered beef stock
salt and pepper

Mix ingredients together in a saucepan, simmer to reduce.