Having gotten into cooking quite early in life I have faced quite a few challenging recipes (this Meatball Marinara recipe being one of them). Trying to achieve that perfect “grandma!” umami in food you have grown up eating can be quite the pursuit for newly interested chefs. However, my two decade long prep to run a restaurant of my own finally yielded Bong Appetit. My life at sea as a navigating officer, my foray into pro-photgraphy for a while was almost a design meant to fit into my dreams of becoming a chef. We shall leave more about that for our future chats.
First Things First
For today, I’d like to talk about a dish that was outside of my growing up. A dish I ate for the first time as a grown up but I was blown away by how much at home it made me feel. The fact that I was thousands of miles away from home on my first sea voyage as a cadet notwithstanding. It was a bowl of piping hot fettucini pasta with the most inviting, warm meatballs in tomato sauce with fresh basil. That taste has stuck in my head for good.
Over years I have cooked this dish hundreds of times each time trying to inch closer to that feeling of perfect umami which I had almost 20 years ago.
This is what I have come up with so far.
500 grams dry fettucini pasta
For the meatballs
500 grams lean pork (80% meat), ground
500 grams ground lean beef
200 grams drained canned tuna
2 handfuls breadcrumbs
1/2 cups parmesan cheese, ground
Small bunch fresh parsley, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon dry oregano
2 tablespoons smoked paprika powder
1 tablespoon olive oil
8 pieces cherry mozzarella or burrata cheese
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the sauce
2 large red peppers
1 large onion, chopped
5 or 6 cloves garlic, chopped
3 fresh red chillies, deseeded and chopped
150 grams bacon, chopped
8 ripe fresh tomatoes, chopped
1 tin canned peeled tomatoes
10 mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons sugar
20 fresh basil leaves
Fry the onions and garlic in a pan till translucent. Set aside to cool.
In a big mixing bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the meatball except the mozzarella cheese using your hands or a spatula.
Divide the mix into 8 equal portions. Stuff a cherry mozzarella ball or burrata bag in the centre and roll into big spheres. Chill. Take out and roll again, this time with wet clean hands to give the meatballs a smooth surface finish. Set aside.
Roast the red peppers with salt and a bit of oil in a skillet till the skin is charred. Blitz and set aside.
Fry the bacon lardons. Add the garlic and chopped onions and chillies and fry till softened. Add the chopped tomatoes and let it bubble away for a few minutes.
Add the salt, sugar and half of the basil and combine.
Add the canned tomatoes and the roasted pepper paste and let it cool till all the ingredients have pretty much disintegrated. Roughly about 1 hour.
While the sauce bubbles away, work on the meatballs.
In a frying pan add about 4 tablespoons olive oil and fry the meatballs for about 10 mins each, ensuring an even brown colour all over. You can do 2-3 at a time.
Once done, transfer the meatballs directly into the bubbling sauce for about the last 20 mins of its cooking.
Add salt to water when it is on a rolling boil and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Drop the dry pasta into the boiling water and cook on high heat as per the instructions on the pack or till they are done aldente. Before draining preserve half a cup of the pasta water to add to the sauce.
Add the pasta water to the sauce which is now bubbling with the meatballs in it and take off the heat when the sauce resembles a bright, vibrant, chunky ketchup.
Ladle a bit of the sauce into the pasta and get it nicely coated.
Plate the pasta in the centre of the dish.
Fish out a giant meatball and serve on the pasta. Ladle lots of sauce and pour over the meatballs.
Finish with freshly grated parmesan, fresh basil and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.