Taste Scene

Michael Devlin

Bolognese or meatballs?

There’s a vicious debate raging in our house at the minute and there’s even a risk of things turning violent. The big question is this: What’s best? Bolognese or meatballs?
The difficulty, I think, is that when you’re savouring a great bolognese and you’re loving every mouthful it’s impossible to have an unbiased opinion on the meatballs you had the previous week.
Similarly, when you’re hoovering up the pork and beef meatballs and the sauce is dripping off your chin and you’re wishing the meal won’t end, you can’t consider with any great clarity whether you’d rather have bolognese at that very moment instead.
And so the debate continues… Biff! Slap! Clang! Well, that’s how Harry Hill would sort things out anyway.
The only way to really come to any definitive conclusion would be to make bolognese and meatballs at the same time and then have smaller portions of each. I haven’t done that yet of course, ‘cause I’m not completely crazy (yet).
As part of the bolog-meatball debate, we’ve also been discussing what our favourite weekday dinners are during lockdown and again, opinions are varied. The little humans are still in love with buttered linguine, Herself can’t see past chicken fajitas and personally, I’m still hooked on pasta, pesto, peas and bacon (PPPAB).
The thing about lockdown for us at least, is because you’ve nowhere to be in a hurry, you tend to spend more time, effort and money on making the weekday suppers as best as they can be. Ergo, the PPPAB is now habitually made with fresh home-made pesto and topped with a ridiculous amount of parmesan and just a touch of lemon – just as nature intended.
This greater effort into food also means, of course, that the morning’s pre-lockdown cereal turned into a cooked breakfast and instead of a cold sandwich for lunch, we could be sitting down to anything from Cornish pasties to butterbean bake and hot rosemary flatbreads to cheese burgers and fries to… you name it.
Apart from the significant gastronomic impact on my jeans, all this fine dining is battering the bank balance (or the bank unbalanced, as I like to call it).
Still, so long as we’re all still at home we might as well pretend we’re living in a 25/8 restaurant. There’ll be plenty of time for dieting, increased exercise and a part-time job when lockdown lifts and we can all go outside and play together. For the time being, there’s always meatballs – the contender to spag bol’s title.
This is my version of meatballs in herby-garlicky tomato sauce and I use half and half, pork and beef. But conceivably, you could use either or.
Being individually rolled balls, this recipe is a little labour intensive but if you’ve any little humans in your life, pull them off chimney sweep duties and have them lend a hand. It’s about time they started earning their keep anyway.
Also, see if you can spot the off-the-wall ingredient.
2 tbsps of olive oil
3 tins of chopped tomatoes
6 cloves of garlic, three thinly sliced and three grated
1 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of honey
salt and pepper
1 onion, finely diced
500g of steak mince
500g of pork mince
2 eggs
7 rich tea biscuits, bashed into smithereens
1 tbsp of mixed Italian herbs
large handful of grated parmesan, about 70g
1 tbsp of tomato puree (or ketchup at a pinch)
more seasoning
First get the meatballs made. In a large mixing bowl dump in the beef and pork with the grated parmesan and the smithereened biscuits and the mixed herbs and the eggs and the tomato puree (or ketchup) and the chopped onion and the GRATED garlic. Get your hands in and mix this all up until it’s completely combined. Season generously and mix again.
This next bit is important! Take a tablespoon of the meat mix and fry in a drip of olive oil. Then taste. If it’s a little bland, add more salt and pepper to the meat mix and fry again to double check the seasoning is perfect.
When perfect… take handfuls of the meat mix and form into balls, about the size of a golf ball. Repeat until all of the mix has been used and you’ve a whole army of meatballs a la picture included. Stick these on to  a plate or a baking tray and retire to the fridge for at least an hour. This helps them firm up and they’ll subsequently keep their shape better when cooking.
As the ‘balls are maxing and relaxing in the chiller, get the tomato sauce on the go. Add the oil to saucepan and dump in the SLICED garlic. Add some heat to the equation and sizzle the slices for about a minute, making sure you don’t burn them.
Next add the oregano and the tins of tomatoes and the honey and some seasoning and bring it to a simmer. Take this off the heat until the meatballs are ready to go.
After the hour, add a few drips of oil to a large frying pan and turn the heat up high. Once hot, dump in the balls and stir fry until they take on a bit of colour. This’ll give them and the sauce a good depth of flavour.
Once they’re all browned after a few minutes, dump all of the tomato sauce into the frying pan and bring to a simmer. Stick a lid on (or in my case a large plate) and turn the heat down so that the sauce is barely simmering. This will cook out the sauce and also finish cooking through the meatballs. Depending on the size of the balls, this shouldn’t take any more than 15 or 20 minutes. After that time, check the seasoning on the sauce and that’s basically it.
Serve over pasta or slice the balls and make an epic (and better) version of Subway’s meatball marinara.
Who wishes they lived in my house during lockdown? Actually, who wants to live in my house after lockdown? To keep me in the gastronomic life to which I have become accustomed, I might have to take in a lodger. Keep an eye on the classified section anyway.
Wanted: Person required to share a house near Drumquin. Must be able to defend opinion in spag bol / meatball debate. Ability to wash dishes preferable but not essential. No time wasters, please. Or vegetarians.
I’m joking of course. I love vegetarians. And I’m pretty sure I could eat a whole one.

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