Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Nigella's meatballs


I’ve been humming that Supertramp song “It’s Raining Again” because, you guessed it, it’s raining again. Seems that summer 2008 will pass us by.

Action Man has plans to pick the grapes for our annual winemaking on Sunday or the week after. The grapes have been one of the few success stories in our garden this year. There are so many of them! However, if this rain keeps up, we fear they may split and it’s goodbye to this year’s vintage. What to do? Pick early to avoid grapes splitting, or leave it a little longer so the grapes can ripen properly, and risk losing the lot?

Such dilemmas!


For the umpteenth time, my version of Nigella Lawson’s Summer Meatballs from delicious. magazine’s February 2006 issue was on the menu at our house tonight.

Before we go any further, let’s talk about La Lawson for a moment. In the culinary world she’s kind of hard to ignore isn’t she? Whenever she’s on the telly, the whole family sits, mouths agape, mesmerised by her……overblown descriptions. Food isn’t just food to her, is it? She’s an artist, dammit, it just happens that food is her media.

I bought her book “How to Eat” when it came out, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading it over the years. Somehow, her hyperbole doesn’t seem so well, hyperbolic, on the page. And she does have an endearing turn of phrase that makes you warm to her. I still pick up “How to Eat” and read it as if it were a novel. Nearly every recipe is preceded by a long narrative, with a recipe being the ending. And what better ending could there be to any story?

Nonetheless, it’s one thing though to read a recipe, but what is it about any recipe that makes you get off the couch and into the kitchen? Despite all Nigella’s florid descriptions, I very rarely feel moved to try her recipes. Why is this? After some thought, I think it is because :

a) Her recipes are emphatically English, and I don’t think they translate particularly well, well not to my kitchen they don’t. So many of her recipes feature ingredients that are hard to get in Australia. Immediately these recipes go in the too hard basket.

b) When it comes to recipe methods, I need clear, to the point and slightly bossy - the sort of method writing Delia Smith does so well. I suspect Nigella is congenitally incapable of writing short, succinct methods. Rather, her methods are wordy, extravagant, full of little asides and therefore, slightly confusing - everything you don’t need when you are in the heat of battle.

So why did I decide to give Summer Meatballs a try? Well, mainly because it features ingredients that are readily available, and for once, her method was fairly straightforward. Also, mince and kids is a good match. But even this recipe is not without its idiosyncrasies. For one thing, I double the quantities (Except for the tomato passata. I still use one bottle) to feed my family of two adults and two children. 500g of mince for four people for dinner? Unfortunately, not on my planet. And, I use plain old beef mince instead of the chicken and pork she stipulates, but that’s because it is far easier to source beef mince than chicken and pork mince in the regional area where I live.

Other issues: One of the ingredients is fresh breadcrumbs. Nigella notes “I make mine from processed pita bread for ease”. Why is it any easier to make breadcrumbs from pita bread than from any other bread you may have on hand? I don’t have the foggiest about why this would be, and Nigella doesn’t elaborate.

Finally, the method directs you to take teaspoonfuls of meatball mixture to make about 50 meatballs. Aside from the tediousness of making fifty meatballs with a teaspoon, from a mathematical point of view, this just does not make sense. Nigella reckons on 50 meatballs from 500g of meat. That’s about 10 grams a meatball. Measure out 10g of meatball mixture. The quantity is so small, it is barely capable of making a ball shape. Rather, I scoop out the mixture with a 1/3 measuring cup, and get the job done in 1/10th of the time.

Despite all this, my version of All Year Meatballs, inspired by Nigella Lawson, are a big hit at our house. The meatballs are light and moreish. The recipe also makes a prodigious amount of sauce, which I heat up the next night as a sauce for pasta. Two meals from one dish? You have to love that.

All Year Meatballs


1kg low fat beef mince
2 chopped cloves garlic
3 slices day-old bread, whatever you have, made into breadcrumbs in the food processor
2 eggs
4 tablespoons parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Salt, pepper


2 onions
2 carrots
2 sticks celery
A few glugs of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 750g bottle tomato passata
1 cup milk (full fat is best)

Finely chop the onions, carrots and celery, or whiz them in a food processor. Place them in a large saucepan, with the olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and cook gently for 10 minutes or so. Add the garlic and cook for a minute. Put the passata and 500ml of water into the saucepan and bring to the boil, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the milk and simmer for another 15 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs by mixing all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Place the bowl in the fridge to firm while the sauce is simmering. When the sauce of ready, use a 1/3 measuring cup to scoop up the meatball mixture, roll into a ball and drop into the mixture. You should make about 15 meatballs. Bring to the boil again, and then simmer partially covered for about 30 minutes. Serve with whichever carb (pasta, rice, couscous, polenta or mash) that takes your fancy.


I’ve just looked up How to Eat and found Nigella gives a recipe for Meatballs in Tomato Sauce on page 482 which is slightly different from her recipe in delicious magazine, and more like the version above I’ve been making off my own bat, honest! In How to Eat she uses 1kg of beef mince. Why did she change it for the Summer Meatballs recipe? She also uses plain white bread and soaks it in milk which seems more fiddly to me than making crumbs from “pita bread for ease”. Still, though, she insists on making micro meatballs. Why? Why? Why? I think that will down as one of life’s little mysteries.

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