Meat Balls – The Sublime…

Meatballs and Pasta LargeI'm pretty certain that meatballs will have been with us for as long as we have had meat, and certainly for as long as we have had butchers. My late Ma alerted me to a long established trick practised by unscrupulous members of that profession, sticking a half ounce of mince on the bottom of the scales to improve profit margins. (A butcher client of mine later confirmed this - it wasn't her paranoia.) My guess is that they started off as a means of using up scraps, before becoming a dish in their own right. Here are a couple of examples. The first is an Italian recipe, a slight variation on a theme. The second is a truly terrifying one from my good pal and gastronome, Janet Hood. Have fun experimenting with different types of meat, and whatever herbs and spices take your fancy.

Meatballs with Anchovies

400g minced beef; 2 rolls, crusts removed; 150ml milk; small handful of parsley, finely chopped; 1 clove of garlic, crushed; 2 anchovy fillets, finely sliced; 2 tbsp grated Parmesan; 50g  breadcrumbs; 1 egg, beaten; s & p.


Tear up the rolls and soak in the milk for about 10 minutes, then drain, remove and squeeze out the excess moisture. In a separate bowl mix together the mince, garlic, anchovy and parsley. Then add the Parmesan, egg and soaked bread and combine well. Season with s & p. Form into balls (this will make 8 - 10). Spread the breadcrumbs on a shallow plate and coat each of the meatballs. Refrigerate for half an hour. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over a high heat. Brown the meatballs on both sides, then either lower the heat and fry for about 10 minutes, turning once, or cook in a medium oven - 190˚C/Mark 5 - for 15 minutes until cooked through. Serve with pasta, or tomato sauce, or, as suggested by Il Cucchiaio d'Argento (The Silver Spoon) whence this recipe came, with spinach in butter.

Janet Hood

Janet Hood

Janet Hood's Pork Meatballs in Tomato Sauce


For the meatballs

500g minced pork; 50g fresh white breadcrumbs; 50g fresh grated Parmesan; slosh of Tabasco; chillies to taste (Janet uses 6 birdseye!!!) blitzed in a food processor; thumb of fresh ginger, washed but unpeeled, grated; ½ tsp fenugreek leaves (which failing a little curry powder); 1 tsp oregano; 1 tsp dried Italian herbs (which failing use a little thyme/rosemary/more oregano); 1 tsp salt.

For the sauce

10 cloves garlic, finely chopped; 4 cloves; 1 bottle passata; water; possibly a little sugar.


First make the meatballs. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix together well. (This is best done by hand.) Form meatballs of equal size and set to one side for an hour or so. (No harm will come to them if you refrigerate them.

Brown meatballs in a large wide frying pan, and set to one side. In the same pan, start the sauce. Add 10 finely chopped cloves of garlic, and cook gently in 1 tbsp of olive oil. When the garlic is soft, add 1 bottle passata, the meatballs, 4 cloves, and the same amount of water as tomatoes. (Janet points out that passata is often quite sweet. If you have no passata you could blitz a tin of tomatoes, in which case you might need to add a little sugar.)

Simmer for 20 minutes and pour onto buttered pasta.


  1. Michael Greenlaw on 4th April 2020 at 12:40 am

    Both recipes sound good – a great way to jazz up mince, both pork or beef. My partner isn’t mad keen on Lidl’s beef mince but this sounds like something that might win her over. Is two anchovies really enough to impart flavour?
    I’ll certainly be trying them.

    • Tom Johnston on 4th April 2020 at 10:45 am

      Anchovies are pretty powerful. Try it with just a couple. You can always ramp it up. At the risk of stating the obvious, if you’re using anchovies, be very careful with the salt.

  2. Robert Corrigan on 4th April 2020 at 9:39 am

    Another very enjoyable read. Easy recipe. What’s not to like?

    • Tom Johnston on 4th April 2020 at 10:38 am

      Thanks, Robert. As you know, I can only do simple recipes!

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