Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Tomato and Basil Meatballs

Food has an amazing way of causing reminiscences.  Just the smell can send you to a particular time or place.  The taste brings back a flood of memories.  I have so many of these, but one of the funniest is meatballs.  You see I can't even hear the word meatball without my brain kicking into singing the meatball song.  Do you remember the meatball song?  If not, check out this excellent version on YouTube.

Anyway, I must have sung the meatball song about a hundred times as I cooked up my version of spaghetti and meatballs.  It is a time consuming dish to make, but so worth it and give that it freezes really well you can easily double the portions.  Do take the time to refrigerate your meatballs after you have made them, they set much better and do brown them well, it adds a lovely depth of flavour to the final dish.

Do you have any special food/memory connections?

Tomato and Basil Meatballs
Makes 6ish serves

500g beef mince
4 tablespoons basil, finely sliced
1 onion, finely diced
1 egg

olive oil
1 onion diced
2 sticks of celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine 
2 cans diced tomatoes
splash red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons basil sliced
pepper to taste

To make the meatballs: mix together the mince, basil, onion, egg and enough breadcrumbs that the mix isn't sticky but holds together nicely.  Roll roughly two tablespoonfulls of the mixture into meatballs.  Put on a large plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.

To make the sauce: Heat a heavy saucepan till medium/hot (I like to use my Chasseur cast iron casserole).  Heat some olive oil and brown the meatballs in batches.  I find it works best by not putting too many meatballs in at once and then just shaking the pot periodically, once they are browned enough on a side they will roll around easily.  If you try to move them with tongs etc they tend to break.  Between batches make sure you remove any little bits of onion, meat etc that have fallen off the meatballs and you will probably have to add some more olive oil.

Once they are all browned, set them aside.  Add some more olive oil to the pan along with the onion, celery and carrots and cook till all are softened and lightly coloured.  Add the garlic and cook till fragrant.

Add the tomato paste and stir to coat all the vegies, then add the wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to make sure all stuck bits are lifted.  Add the canned tomatoes, red wine vinegar, basil and pepper, stir to combine, then add in the meatballs and turn the heat down to a low simmer.  If the mix is looking too dry you can add some more red wine.

Simmer for at least 30 minutes (an hour is better) and serve on top of spaghetti, all covered with (parmesan) cheese.

This dish also freezes really well.


  1. I can't access YouTube at work, but if it's the same meatball song I'm thinking of from my childhood, then I know it very well! I'm exactly the same haha

    Those meatballs look delish.

    Your timing is impeccable too. I just ate a guilty tin of canned spaghetti on rye toast, and was just thinking how unhealthy that was and really I should make a batch of sauce to keep for emergencies!

    1. I'm going to make a wild assumption that there aren't THAT many songs about meatballs, so we are singing from the same primary school song book!
      I always keep a stock of pasta sauce in the freezer. There are days when S and I are just way too busy to cook at the end of it and I feel so much better when I know we can still eat a homemade meal.

  2. Thank you for the recipe, Lisa!

    I love meatballs and the weather is about perfect for making them right now.

    SSG xxx

    1. You are most welcome SSG. I definitely recommend making a double portion and freezing some, I'm kicking myself that I didn't do that on the weekend.

  3. The power of food memories always amazes me. Some of my strongest childhood memories are around food - both the day-to-day (cinnamon toast after school for instance) and the special (chocolate cake at a restaurant). I think it manages to creep into all of the sense and so few experiences manage that.

    I'd love to make a vegetarian version of these meatballs, the flavours look wonderful.

    1. I sometimes make half meat half zucchini meatballs (with the zucchini grated) which works really well. I imagine you could substitute in tofu for a pretty accurate reflection of the flavours.

  4. Oh yes, food and aroma bring back so many memories! Buttered toast makes me think of holidays at my grandparents' place, baked apples means my dad, lamb and prune casserole makes my heart shudder... :P I don't think I've ever made meatballs, to be honest! I'm sure these are lovely though :D

    1. Mmmm buttered toast! That for me is having a cold and Mum making toast - she always butters right to the edge. Love it.

    2. If my year at the cafe taught me anything, it's that you must ALWAYS BUTTER RIGHT TO THE EDGE.

  5. ahhh meatballs :) Love that song hehe. I have too many food memories to count! One pasta one though is spaghetti alle vongole, eaten in Vernazza on the Cinque Terre. Whenever I have seafood pasta, I'm back heaven. Meatballs are so special, so comforting. I might make some thins weekend...
    Heidi xo

    1. What a fantastic memory to have Heidi! It certainly is comfort food weather already, I'm glad I have another serve of these in the freezer.