I’ll probably get in trouble for this, but here goes.
My husband’s diet for most of his childhood consisted of four things and four things only; rice, kofta, cucumbers and tomatoes. He even had a song about it. I kid you not. For my Arabic speaking readers, it went something like this: “rozz w kofta, khyaar w tamaaaaatem!” (Which – surprise surprise – translates to ‘rice, meatballs, cucumbers and tomatoes’, just said in a childish sing-song manner. Genius, I know). These were the only things he ate, and he blatantly refused to try anything that wasn’t in that song.
Thankfully, him being part of the handball team at our sporting club was what forced him to evolve his tastebuds; he couldn’t possibly appear to be a spoilt little food snob in front of all his big muscly shut-up-and-eat teammates now, could he? HELL no!
So, he started eating a more varied and human diet (praise the Lord), however, meatballs still occupy a special place in his heart. Understandably so. Needless to say, perfecting the meatball was on the top of my cooking priority list.
We Egyptians have a ton of ways we make meatballs…or should I say kofta. This one right here is not one of these ways, although I will inevitably share some of them in the future. Today’s recipe is an Italian-style meatball, and honestly it is the best I’ve tried yet. I have had several rubber-squash-ball results in the past while attempting to perfect basic meatballs, and after much experimentation, this one finally hit the spot. The meatballs are juicy and tasty while staying simple and versatile; pile them onto spaghetti, spoon them over rice, stuff them into a baguette or simply devour with some veggies as I’ve done here (tryin’ to keep down my carb intake mid-week, sadly).
The idea of adding green beans came from this post by Bon Apetit (best food website ever!), and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the addition worked with the meaty morsels and this perfect tomato sauce. Whether you choose to add them or not is entirely optional; you will find that I personally jump at any opportunity to eat more greens.
So, the process goes as follows:
You make the mix and form the meatballs, taking care not to pack them too densely or over-mix them.
Then you brown them all over in some oil. Some people skip this step, which to me is plain blasphemy! You would basically be throwing away at least half the flavour. Please don’t get lazy on me.
When they are beautifully browned all over, you take them out and make your sauce.
FYI, this sauce is a marvellous basic tomato sauce. I use it endlessly.
You then combine the two and let them hang out and get to know each other. The sauce cooks the meatballs and keeps them moist, while the meatballs release their meaty deliciousness into the sauce. What a perfect marriage. THIS is happily ever after if I’ve ever seen one. If you are adding the beans, you simply throw them in for the last 10 minutes of cooking.
All that is left to do is shower with plenty of trusty old parmesan and dive in. Or take a million pictures first while your husband growls in the corner, like me.
- FOR THE MEATBALLS
- • 500g minced beef
- • ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs (dried or fresh both work)
- • ¼ cup milk
- • ½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
- • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- • 1 egg, beaten
- • ½ bunch of fresh basil, finely chopped (reserve the stalks for the sauce)
- • 1 tsp. fine salt
- • olive oil (for browning)
- FOR THE SAUCE
- • 800g canned peeled tomatoes, chopped
- • 1 large onion, finely diced
- • 3 cloves garlic, minced
- • 1 tsp. sugar
- • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper flakes or chilli powder (optional)
- • olive oil
- • salt & pepper to taste
- • 200g green (string) beans, trimmed (optional)
- • extra parmesan cheese for serving
- Make the meatballs: In a large bowl, place the breadcrumbs and the milk, Let stand a couple of minutes until absorbed. Add all the rest of the meatball ingredients (except the olive oil) and mix gently with a fork or (better yet) your fingers until everything is incorporated, being careful not to over-work the mixture too much or else you will get tough meatballs.
- Start rolling the mixture into meatballs about 5cm wide. Do not compact the meatballs too much, just lightly apply pressure until the mixture comes together (packing the meatballs too tightly will also give you tough meatballs.) You should have around 18-20 meatballs in total.
- In a large pot, heat 2-3 tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add your meatballs, careful not to overcrowd them. If they won’t all fit at once, cook them in 2 batches. Cook, moving them around every minute or so, until nicely browned all over (about 7-10min). Remove them from the pot onto a plate and set aside.
- Make the sauce: In the same pot, turn down the heat to medium-low and add a couple more tablespoons of olive oil if needed (if there is still a decent amount of fat leftover from the meatballs, don’t add any more). Add your onions and cook for 3-4 minutes until translucent. Add the garlic and cook a further 1 minute until fragrant. Add the tomatoes with all their juices from the cans. Fill the cans to about a third with water, swish around to collect any leftover juice and add that to the pot. Add the sugar, chilli (if using), basil stalks and season with a bit of salt and pepper. Give it all a good stir, bring to a simmer and cook on low, partially covered for about 15 minutes. Remove the basil stalks and discard.
- Add the meatballs (with any juices accumulated in the plate), give them a stir and let simmer for a further 15-20 minutes. If you are adding the green beans, just plop them in for the last 10 minutes of simmering. Test a meatball to ensure it is cooked through, taste the sauce and adjust for seasoning. Remove from the heat, shower with grated parmesan and some basil leaves and serve as desired; over spaghetti, with bread, on rice or as-is in a bowl!