Back in the 1970s, my food experiences as a young lad were pretty enviable. Boil in the bag fish fillets with parsley sauce, Angel's Delight (butterscotch please!), fried bread and minute steaks. Yes, we had it good in our house. So good that just thinking nostalgically on these foodstuffs is making me want to vomit. One 'treat' that went down a storm with me and my brothers was that tinned marvel that still haunts our supermarket shelves, Campbell's Meatballs. I can honestly say that even then, I didn't take to them. It was like biting on a sheep's eyeball, or at least what I could imagine it was like biting on a sheep's eyeball. Soaked in the poorest of tasteless tomato sauces, I still to this day cannot fathom why they were, and still are, so popular with children.
Now over in Italy, I somehow can't imagine a young Luigi racing home from his Perugian school in order to get back in time for a hot steaming bowl of Campbell's meatballs freshly poured from the can by his mama. In Italy, they eat the proper stuff. Minced pork or beef or sometimes combined, with subtle additional tastes that no doubt vary from village to village. Cooked to perfection in olive oil with a crisp crust, served on spaghetti with a tingling fresh tomato sauce. Fresh basil and grated Parmesan, this has to be one of the finest Italian inventions that can be enjoyed by the whole family. And guess what Campbell's fans? Like most Italian food, it is simple to make and approximately one thousand million and seven times better in looks, texture and flavour than the grey suffocated balls that plop from your can.
As a parent, I will repeat, it is important to keep your food varied and full of flavour. It is the only way you are going to keep that little attention span at bay. I can guarantee that this recipe will have your child licking their lips and shouting for more. My daughter's favourite thing in the whole world, I have to resist making these every week as she could eat them every day, and so could I. Try to get your head around the fact that making food like this is not difficult. You can make it in advance or make extra batches and freeze it. The same goes with the tomato sauce. Make big batches and you have the most delicious preservative free pasta sauce at will. IT IS NOT DIFFICULT! And your child will love you more for it and they will be eating healthy, nutritious and vibrant food. Surely that is worth spending 30 minutes creating this wonderful dish. Just don't mention the C word......
Italian Meatballs and Fresh Tomato Sauce
To serve 2 adults and 1 child with plenty left over
For the meatballs
250g minced pork
250g minced beef
4 cloves garlic
100g pine nuts
1 tsp Fennel seeds
50g breadcrumbs (whizz some stale bread in the food processor and freeze it)
50g Parmesan cheese
For the Tomato Sauce
2x tins Chopped tomatoes (or if in season, 800g fresh tomatoes chopped)
1x Tbs red wine vinegar
1 - To make the tomato sauce, finely chop the onion and often in Olive oil.
2 - Add the tomatoes, red wine vinegar and bring to the boil. Simmer for 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning.
3 - For the meatballs, finely chop the onion and garlic and soften in olive oil along with the fennel seeds. Cool and tip into a large mixing bowl.
4 - Roughly chop the pine nuts and add to the onion. Finely chop the parsley and add to the mix along with the zest and juice of the lemon, grated Parmesan, breadcrumbs, egg, minced meats and a little black pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
5 - At this stage you can leave it for the day and it will improve in flavour.
6 - Form small balls in the palm of your hands. Flatten slightly and pan fry in olive oil in batches until crisp and cooked through, approximately 5 minutes each side.
7 - Serve with spaghetti, tomato sauce, some roughly torn basil leaves and more Parmesan. Beautiful.