Last weekend by dad turned 60. To celebrate the occasion and his upcoming retirement, we gathered up his friends and family and threw a surprise party. In all, around 60-70 people.
The reason I mention it is that, due to some sort of jedi mind trick performed by my mother, I ended up doing the catering for the party. Food for 60-70 people and, oh yeah, it all had to be finger food.
Oh, and no, I don't have any cooking or catering experience. Oh, and I'll only have 3 hours of prep on the day and the assistance of one of my sisters. Piece of cake and all that.
Of the 20 things I put on the menu on the night, one of the more substantial dishes (in terms of size) was meatballs with pasta. Easily mass-produced, easy to warm up and serve on the day, good for kids and adults of all ages, not overly expensive, delicious.
Thankfully, they seemed to go down pretty well on the day and I wasn't disowned by the family for ruining the night.
I'm constantly tweaking my meatball recipe, but I'm pretty happy with where it's up to now.
- In a pan on a low-medium heat add some butter. Add 1 finely diced eschalot and half a finely diced carrot. Cook for around 5 minutes until the eschalot is translucent.
- Add 1 teaspoon of dried Greek oregano (rigani) and 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds and stir. Cook for 1 minute. Set mixture aside to cool completely.
- Combine 1 kilo of beef mince with half a kilo of veal mince. This will vary depending on how fatty the mince is. If you can get really fatty beef mince then use all beef. If the veal mince doesn't look fatty enough then use pork mince. Try not to use too much pork mince as you dilute the enjoyable beefy flavour of this dish. If you want supersoft meatballs then use a 50/50 blend of beef and pork.
- Add 1 tablespoon of salt, a good pinch of cracked pepper, a teaspoon of smoked paprika and the cooled eschalot and carrot mixture. You can add 1 cup of grated parmesan if you want cheesy, softer balls. Don't add breadcrumbs or eggs as they will toughen the balls. If you want supersoft meatballs then soak chunks of stale bread (crusts removed) in milk, squeeze dry and add to the mix.
- Mix the mixture only lightly. Overmixing will toughen the balls.
- Shape the meatballs into your desired size and put them on a tray in the fridge for an hour.
- Blend together 2 ecshalots, 2 celery stalks, 1.5 carrots and 1 head of garlic (roasted in the oven until soft).
- In a large pot on a medium heat, add a good splash of grapeseed oil. I use grapeseed because of the higher smoking point and neutral taste. If olive oil goes too high you lose a lot of the health benefits of it and it makes the dish taste like burnt olives.
- Add in the blended vegetables, a good amount of cracked black pepper, a pinch of salt, a teaspoon of fennel seeds and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Cook for around 10 minutes, stirring often so it doesn't catch on the bottom.
- At this point, take the balls out of the fridge to warm up a little.
- Add 1 cup of red wine and mix. Then add 2 cups of beef or veal stock and mix. Cook for 15 minutes then add 2 tins of tomatoes (san marzano are the best) and a teaspoon of tomato paste and cook for a further 15 minutes.
- Add the balls to the sauce. No need to prefry them as this can dry them out.
- Add enough weak vegetable stock to cover the balls well.
- Bring the mixture to the boil then immediately reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting. Cook uncovered for around 6 hours or until the sauce is rich, thick and the balls are soft.