A heap of hot, herby meatballs in a tangle of tomatoey spaghetti is my idea of heaven on a grey winter day. This nourishing and comforting family classic has 'Mom' written all over it. The problem, though, is that this particular Mom doesn't have the patience to stand over a hot stove frying things, and nor do I fancy having to make a tomato sauce from scratch - so I came up with this method of oven-baking them dry, then smothering them with a garlicky tin-derived tomato sauce, then baking them again. Don't be put off by the long list of ingredients: like a curry, this dish has lots of things in it but - provided you have a food processor - is really quick to make.
This is a low-fat version of the classic (there is no added fat) but even so it has a lovely unctuous texture. A garnish of rocket leaves or torn basil leaves adds a lovely final bite. My instructions assume you have a food processor; if not, you’ll have to chop the ingredients by hand. You can soften the minced onion in a little olive oil before you add it to the meatballs, but I never bother - the onion adds a gentle crunch to the meatballs. Don't omit the yoghurt - it keeps the meatballs soft and juicy.
Quick Oven-Baked Meatballs with Tomato and Spag
For the meatballs:
4 slices brown bread
Small bunch each of parsley and (optional) fresh coriander
1 large onion, cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 kg lean minced beef
2 teaspoons (10 ml) powdered cumin
2 teaspoons (10 ml) powdered coriander
2 tablespoons (30 ml) dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon (5 ml) Tabasco sauce (optional)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) tomato sauce (ketchup)
3 tablespoons (45 ml) plain white yoghurt
1 large egg, lightly whisked
Salt and milled black pepper, to taste
For the sauce:
3 fat cloves of garlic, crushed
2 tsp good dried oreganum (or fresh herbs of your choice)
2 tins plum tomatoes (or tomato-and-onion mix)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) sugar
500 ml white wine (or chicken stock, or water)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) soy sauce
1 teaspoon (5 ml) flour
Salt and milled black pepper to taste
grated Parmesan or Pecorino
Fresh rocket or basil
Pre-heat the oven to 220 C. Place the bread in the bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade, and blitz until you have fine breadcrumbs. Now add the fresh herbs and pulse a few times so that they are finely chopped. Tip into a big mixing bowl. Place the onion and garlic in the bowl of the food processor and pulse until finely minced (scrape down the sides with a spatula if necessary). Add the onion and garlic to the the breadcrumb mixture. Now put all the remaining meatball ingredients into the mixing bowl and, using your hands, squish and squeeze until the mixture is well combined.
Roll into golf-ball-sized balls. Rub a thin film of olive or sunflower oil over the base of a large, flat, ovenproof dish and place the meatballs in the dish, about 10 mm apart. Brush with a little olive oil, place in the hot oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until sizzling and browned on top.
Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: put all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse once or twice to combine (the sauce should be slightly chunky).
Remove the meatballs from the oven and drain off any fat by tilting the dish over the sink. Pour the tomato sauce over the meatballs, and give the dish a good shake to coat the meatballs evenly. Replace the dish in the oven and reduce the heat to 180 C. Cook for 30-35 minutes, or until the sauce has reduced to a lovely rich goo. Serve on a pile of spaghetti, covered with torn rocket or basil leaves and a shower of grated Parmesan.
My rating: 7/10
Teenagers' rating: 8/10
Small-daughter rating: 5/10 ('Something tastes funny in the meatballs')