So, I’ve been on a Jamie Oliver kick lately, and with meatballs being my second favorite food ever (second to lasagna), I had to give Jamie Oliver’s Meatballs and Pasta a try. I had heard of Jamie Oliver only through the school lunch program he was trying to improve in Huntington WV, I believe. I had no idea he had a cooking show, I think because our cable has limited access to British programs. “He’s like a British Rachel Ray,” I said in a way that meant I was probing my wife for her thoughts on the matter. What I liked about him most though is his more earthy, rustic dishes rather than comfort foods. I also really enjoyed his sort of slapdash cooking and plating style. That’s totally me, and so I had to pursue some of his recipes.
So, last night was play with meatballs night. These had some new methods for me, such as using a mix of ground pork and beef. I usually only use beef, but the pork mix was great. I also have never used crackers for bread crumbs, only the bread crumbs that come out of a cardboard can. It’s difficult to distinguish the breadcrumbs from the can, so never again with those. Also, if you read the ingredients they’re actually more like sawdust with additives. I’m not convinced they’re actually food.
The meatballs are 1/2 lb beef, 1/2 lb pork, 1 egg, rosemary, oregano, Dijon mustard, the crackers, and a little S&P.
I also learned a new, common sense method for making meatballs. Divide your large lump of meat into four smaller lumps of meat and then just keep dividing those smaller lumps down into 6 meatballs apiece to make 2 dozen more or less equal sized meatballs. By the way, that is my designated raw meat cutting board.
Usually I just grab an estimated 2 T sized hunk of meat roll it up and chuck it in the pan. My results were awkward sized and shaped meatballs that weren’t all cooked uniformly. You don’t need to hurry this way either.
A little more prep with garlic and onions diced up, and it’s always nice to see fresh basil. Jamie’s recipe calls for a dried red chile, like 99% of his recipes seem to do, but I’m omitting tonight because my daughter will be eating this. I’m sure the little spice would be excellent though.
Onion on medium heat with some olive oil. By now your pasta water should be on the burner and your meatball pan be preheating as well; med-high should suffice so they actually cook but not blacken the second they hit the pan.
Meatballs – in the pan. These are going to need about 8-10 minutes to be cooked through. We’re looking for a nice medium-well for a tender meatball with a crust.
When the onions are soft and lightly golden, add your garlic and basil leaves. I can’t say I’ve ever used basil this way before. I believe the fragrance of the basil and garlic released here is the key to this dish. The red chile too if you’re using it.
3 things working on the stove – prime time! Add your tomatoes to your onion mix and a little balsamic vinegar. Bring the sauce to an easy boil. When the meatballs are ready add them to the sauce and let them simmer. My meatballs released a lot of grease because of the chuck and pork mix. I used a slotted spoon to transfer the meatballs so all that grease didn’t end up in my sauce. That would be Heartburn city.
Your pasta water should be good to go – add a little salt and a pound of pasta. A trick Jamie uses is to save a mug-full of the pasta water just before you’re about to drain and use it to loosen the pasta after it has drained. I find this also helps the pasta from absorbing so much any sauce you add to it making the pasta less pasty and dishes less dry. Kinda like if you wet your hair before getting into the pool your hair will be saturated already and won’t absorb all of the chlorine water that turns your hair green (for us blondies).
And here we are.
The flavor of this was excellent. I found the only thing flawed was the pasta to sauce ratio. It almost seemed like there could have been twice as much sauce. The sauce seemed to just disappear, and it required a good amount of Parmesan and basil leaf garnish to dress those noodles with some flavor.
That could be by design though. We typically view pasta as just a soft, chewy vehicle in which to carry sauce and meat into our mouths, whereas this approach brings more life and meaning to the pasta. I could see how this would be especially true if the pasta was homemade. The co-star of the dish rather than the afterthought.
I had to force myself to eat slowly.
Jamie Oliver’s Meatballs and Pasta
- 4 sprigs fresh Rosemary finely chopped
- 12 Soda Crackers or Saltines smashed into crumbs
- 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 1/2 lbs Ground Beef
- 1/2 lbs Ground Pork
- 1 tsp dried Oregano
- 1 Egg cracked
- 1 bunch fresh Basil
- 1 medium Onion finely chopped
- 2 cloves Garlic finely chopped
- 1/2 fresh red Chile finely sliced
- 2 14 oz. diced Tomatoes
- 2 tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
- 1 lb Pasta / Spaghetti
- Parmesan Cheese
- Olive Oil
- Ingredient Prep:Remove rosemary leaves from woody stalks and finely chop.Wrap crackers in kitchen towel or in zip baggy and smash until fine crumbs.Pick basil leaves, keep smaller ones for garnish later.Peel and finely chop onion and garlic. Finely slice chile.Put large pot of salted water on to boil for pasta and add pasta when ready following the pasta package cooking instructions.
- In mixing bowel combine Dijon, ground beef and pork, chopped rosemary and oregano, egg (cracked) and salt and pepper. Mix well with hands adding cracker crumbs as you mix. Divide meat mix into 4 large balls, dividing each ball by 6 and rolling into meatball shape. Drizzle with a little olive oil.
- Place large frying pan on medium heat and add about 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add onion to pan stirring occasionally for 7 minutes or until softened and lightly golden. Add garlic and chile, and add large basil leaves as soon as garlic and chile start to get some color. Add tomatoes and balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and the lower heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Meanwhile, preheat another large frying pan on medium-high and about 1 Tbsp olive oil adding your meatballs when the pan is ready. Brown the meatballs, rotating every few minutes for a total of 8-10 minutes.
- Add cooked meatballs to the sauce and simmer until the pasta is ready.Drain pasta in a colander and empty into large bowl. Add half the sauce into the pasta and some of the reserved pasta water if needed to help mix the pasta and sauce. Serve in individual bowels or large platter adding the rest of the meatballs and sauce to the top. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and small basil leaves for garnish.