Italian Meatballs with Red Wine Soffritto and Pappardelle.
This is by far my favourite recipe for spaghetti and meatballs. The recipe is adapted from one I found many years ago that originates from the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The sauce is robust and rich and complex. Despite its richness, the flavours are perfectly balanced and never overpowering. It makes an impressive Sunday lunch or tea. The preparation will take a while, but is well worth the effort – also, as the smells begin to wander around the house, it comes with a guarantee of appreciative bum-pinching and neck kissing* from your significant other.
Set aside a leisurely hour and a half in total to prepare and cook this dish. Pour a glass of red and enjoy the process!
Serves 4-6, depending on portions, with enough meatball mix to test for seasoning
· 400g Pork mince.
· 400 g Beef mince, lean.
· 1/2 cup full cream milk.
· 1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs**
· 1 ½ teaspoons of finely grated fresh garlic (use a micro plane)
· 1 tablespoon finely grated brown onion (again, use a micro plane or the finest side of your grater).
· 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat leaf parsley.
· Half a teaspoon of dried oregano.
· 1/2 cup parmesan reggiano finely grated.
· 1 egg
· Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Red Wine Soffritto:
· extra virgin olive oil
· 1 and ½ cups brown onion, finely diced
· 3/4 cups carrots, diced (roughly 1cm x 1cm cubes)
· 3/4 cups celery, diced (roughly 1cm x 1cm cubes)
· 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, minced
· 2-3 bay leaves
· 1 cup dry red wine***
· 2 cups beef stock or chicken stock
· ½ to 2/3 of a cup of chopped tinned Italian tomatoes.
· 1 teaspoon of tomato paste.
· 1/2 cup full cream milk
· 2 tablespoons thickened cream
· Fresh pappardelle. If you don’t have this at your local supermarket, you can use fresh lasagne sheets cut lengthways into 3.5cm strips
· Olive oil
- Combine the bread crumbs, milk, grated garlic and grated onions in a bowl and mix to combine. Let mixture sit for 5 minutes.
- Combine the beef, pork, egg, oregano, parmesan and parsley with the bread crumb mixture and season with a half a teaspoon of salt and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Mix well. Make a walnut sized meatball. Place a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add some oil and sauté the meatball until it is done. Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary. Keep in mind the garlic and onion will grow stronger as the mix sets so you are really only tasting for salt.
- Roll remaining mixture into golf ball sized meatballs. Place them in the fridge while you prepare the veggies.
- Heat the oven to about 150 degrees Celsius. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Heat a large non stick frying pan over medium high heat. Add a couple of glugs of olive oil and gently add the meatballs****. Brown on all sides. During this process, the fat is rendered, giving the meatballs a firmer texture. Remove them meatballs from the frying pan and place on an oven tray.
- Pop the meatballs into the oven to keep warm.
- Empty out the excess oil from the frying pan***** and put back on the heat. Add a glug or two of olive oil and add the chopped onions, carrots, and celery. Sauté until they begin to soften but don't brown. Add the garlic.
- Once the garlic becomes fragrant, add the wine and the bay leaves. Reduce the wine to a glaze and then add the stock. Reduce the liquid by half. Add the milk and cream. Use your judgement here, you may not need all of the milk and cream – adjust it to your taste. The amount specified here gives quite a rich sauce. Heat gently: do not let the sauce boil or you will be left with a curdled mess.
- Add the pasta to your pot of salted boiling water, along with a little glug of olive oil.
- Check the pasta after 4 minutes. By this time you can also take the sauce off the heat. Pull out a strand of pasta and bite into it. Once the pasta is cooked al dente, drain most of the water out (leave about 2-3 tablespoons in the bottom), then return to the pot and cover.
- Remove the meatballs from the oven. Remove the bay leaves from the sauce. The sauce should not be thick but should be reduced.
- Place pappardelle onto a large plate; carefully spoon some of the sauce over the top. Place 3 meatballs (or more!) on each plate and top with a little more sauce, and grated parmesan if desired.
- This dish is surprisingly rich. I like to serve with a green salad of mixed lettuce, grated carrot, diced tomato, capsicum, and cucumber, very lightly dressed with balsamic vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Another nice accompaniment is fresh crusty bread (I like sourdough). It’s great for mopping up the lovely sauce.
* Awwww yeauhhh!
**For the breadcrumbs, take day old bread (rolls are the best!) break into small pieces and toast under a grill. Remove and allow to cool. Bread should be quite hard and crumbly. Use hands or a knife to crumble/chop finely until even texture is achieved. These don’t have to be perfectly uniform as they will soften and break up further in the meatball mix. You could also do this in food processor - I just hate cleaning the damn things!
***Never cook with wine you wouldn’t drink. Or, if you are a cask wine lover like me, a better rule of thumb is to never cook with wine you would be embarrassed to display on your dinner table.
****These meatballs start out very tender, so it’s important not to overcrowd the pan. If there are too many in the pan you will find it difficult to turn the meatballs without breaking them. If need be, cook in two or three batches.
*****There will be some little bits of meatball that have cooked on to the pan, don’t worry about scraping these out unless they are very burned, because they will add extra flavour to the sauce.