Now, you might think that I’m trying to reinvent the wheel, but you’re wrong. Meatballs are a wonderful invention, it’s true, but perhaps familiarity has bred contempt and we take them for granted. They’re one of those foods that we associate with particular people and places in our lives. In our house, for example, for 25 years, our meatballs were made by Mrs Grammatiki (more about her another time) and before that, we got the well-known Filothei meatballs from the neighbouring suburb to ours. Everyone’s hands make their own style of meatballs … just as everyone has their own taste and preference regarding size and firmness, depending on what they’ve been used to! So that we’re clear that I’m talking about meatballs here….if you need two mouthfuls to eat one – it’s a mini meatball…three or more -is a meatball, full stop. Yes, I suppose from childhood onwards, we associate the meatball with every other kind of ball; from ping-pong balls to juggling balls and…..(this is for you to continue…).
The concept here is small is beautiful. My meatballs are crispy on the outside, but moist on the inside and as small as a mozzarella ball or cherry tomato. Making them is like a free psychotherapy session; by the time you’ve finished mixing the ingredients, you’ve sorted out every childhood trauma, so can cancel your session and with the money you’ve saved, you can have a party with your super meatballs and some good wine…Now, this is where the only problem lies, and this is why I mention it now, at the beginning. Don’t be shy – introduce them, make them with friends…not to mention music and a glass of wine! You’ll have a great time….how many meatballs will get as far as being served is a whole other matter – so make a few extra to be on the safe side!
Preparation: The minced meat, either as mixture or even the made up meatballs, can be made a day in advance and refrigerated in a container, making sure that the meatballs don’t touch and covering it with cling film. The meatballs should be fried on the day, and can be reheated in a fan oven. The sauce can also be prepared in advance and reheated at the last minute on a very low heat.
Ingredients (serve 4 – about 45-50 meatballs, minus however many get eaten before reaching the plate!)
200 g minced beef
100g minced lamb
100 g minced pork
3 tbsp breadcrumbs (or 2 medium-sized slices of stale bread, soaked in water and squeezed out well.)
2 medium /small onions, finely – chopped (by hand or in the food processor, for only a few seconds, so they don’t get mushy).
½ bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped.
1 tsp thyme
4 sprigs of spearmint or mint – the leaves finely chopped.
For the breading and frying
2 beaten eggs
For the sauce
1 pkt mushrooms, washed and sliced
30 g dried porcini mushrooms
250 ml vegetable stock
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp oil
1 heaped tsp butter
1 bay leaf
For the garnish
Finely chopped parsley
1 tsp oil to drizzle (optional)
Preparing the minced meat and meatballs:Put all 3 kinds of meat into a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining ingredients plus salt and pepper, and mix together thoroughly. Now, shape the meatballs by taking one teaspoon of the mixture at a time and shaping it into a small ball. Put the flour into a small bowl, the breadcrumbs into another, and the beaten eggs into a third bowl. Take each meatball and roll it into the flour, ensuring that it is completely covered. Remove, and dip it into the egg, again making sure that it is evenly covered. Finally, roll it in the breadcrumbs until coated.
Note: This is a fun way of breading 15-20 meatballs in the least possible time and with the least possible mess! – Don’t put all the flour and breadcrumbs into their bowls at once – instead, put a layer of about 1-2 mms thick in each bowl at a time, so the meatballs can fit easily and be coated more quickly.
Frying the meatballs: Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan ( large enough to fit 15-20 meatballs at a time)on a high setting. Once hot, carefully place the meatballs in the pan and give the pan a shake every minute or so, to keep the meatballs turning and cooking evenly. In 5 minutes they are ready. Remove them from the pan with a draining spoon and place on kitchen paper to blot up the excess oil. Repeat in the same way until all the balls are cooked.
Note: After the first batch of meatballs has been cooked, you will need to add a little more oil. Remember to wait until it is hot before putting the second batch in, carefully, one by one. If you put them all in at once, firstly the oil can splash, burning the cook, and secondly, the oil temperature will drop suddenly, with the result that the meatballs will be soggy rather than crispy. If you are frying a third batch, wait for the oil to cool, and discard it (as burnt breadcrumbs from the previous batches will discolour the next one), before heating new oil for the final meatballs. Finally, I recommend wearing kitchen gloves for the preparation and frying of the meatballs – you’ll find it easier and safer, especially if your frying pan does not have a very long handle.
Making the sauce: Soak the porcini in 250 ml of hot water for 20 minutes. Drain and keep the water they were soaking in. Heat the oil in a deep pan at a high setting and add the garlic cloves and bay leaf. Leave for a minute before adding the sliced mushrooms. Sauté for 2 minutes on a high setting. Add the vegetable stock and 150 ml of the porcini water and cook on a high heat for 4-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the butter and remove from the heat.
Serving: Heat the plates. Pour some of the mushroom sauce onto each plate and put 9-10 meatballs on top of the sauce. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and drizzle with olive oil.
Translated by Sophie Athanasiadis