The recipe for meatballs, polpette, as they are called in Italy, is a stand alone dish. It is so good just served in a bowl, drenched in the sweet tomato sauce, with some Italian bread on the side and a green leaf salad, dressed with balsamic and EVOO. These meatballs are seasoned well, full of flavour, tender and juicy and definitely worth making in double batches so you have leftovers.
When serving with spaghetti, I find that a whole 500g pack of pasta is just slightly too much for the sauce, so I’ve suggested using about 400g which will served 4 very hungry appetites.
I was taught to make this sweet tomato sauce recipe in Italy many years ago. Frying onions in olive oil and butter and draining off the oil to use in the sauce adds a naturally sweet depth of flavour. Don’t rush it though, they need to fry gently and for a long time until golden. If they cook too quickly, they can end up tasting burnt and bitter.
TIPS – The key to tender meatballs is the fresh white bread, blitzed and soaked in milk and olive oil, which is then mixed through the mince. I also generally buy a regular mince, rather than a lean mince as the fat content keeps them from being too dry and grainy in texture. When cooking the meatballs, I like to arrange them spaced out onto a tray and cook at 200-220 degrees Celsius in the oven just so that they become golden on the outside. It is far less time consuming, easier and less mess than frying in oil. Besides, the oil content in the mix works to fry them while they roast in the oven. All you have to do is drain off most of the oil from the tray before tipping the contents, meatballs and all the delicious caramelised bits into your tomato sauce, before simmering for a minute or so and serving.
WINE MATCH – Serve this with a red wine that is forward in fruit and acidity such as a Malbec, Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, or a fruity Merlot even.
Sweet Tomato Sauce
1 large onion
3 tablespoons EVOO
2 cans tomatoes (800g total)
1 punnet cherry or grape tomatoes
3 whole cloves garlic
1 tsp dried basil or 12 basil leaves
cracked black pepper
2 slices white bread
1 cloves garlic
1.5 tsp dried parsley
1.5 tsp dried basil
pinch fennel seeds
1/2 tsp salt
cracked black pepper
60g Romano, chopped roughly
2 tablespoons EVOO
100 ml whole milk
500g regular mince
400g dried spaghetti, cooked
freshly grated Parmesan and cracked black pepper
Sweet Tomato Sauce
- Put the oil and butter into a saucepan and place over medium heat.
- Chop the onion into large wedges and place into the saucepan once the butter has melted.
- Allow the onion to cook on medium until well golden and caramelised.
- Strain the oil trough a fine sieve, collecting it in a bowl and pressing down on the onion to extract as much oil as possible. The onions can be reserved for use in other dishes such as a bruschetta topping or in braises for extra flavour.
- Pour the oil back into the saucepan and place back over high heat.
- Tip in the canned tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, garlic, basil and pepper.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and continue to reduce the sauce, with the lid off until it is thick and richly flavoured. It can take up to an hour or so. At the end of cooking, be sure to stir every so often to ensure it is not catching at the base and burning. (Make and cook the meatballs while the sauce is simmering)
- Place the bread, garlic, basil, parsley, fennel, Romano, salt and pepper into a food processor. Blitz until very fine, then pour into a large bowl.
- Pour in the EVOO and milk and allow it to soak in for a minute.
- Tip in the mince and using your hands mix together all the ingredients until uniform.
- Form the mix into bite-sized meatballs and arrange them onto a roasting tray, spaced out.
- Cook in a 200-220 degree Celsius oven until golden.
- Remove from the oven and carefully place into the simmering sweet tomato sauce.
- Take the tray and tip our the majority of the oil that has formed, then scrape the browned bits of cheese and meat juices into the tomato sauce as well.
- Cook gently just to heat through, then serve.
- Cook the spaghetti using packet instructions. Once al dente, drain and stir through the sweet tomato sauce and meatballs,
- Serve with a generous sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan and cracked pepper. If you like, you can also add in some finely chopped fresh red chilli.