What am I doing, writing this on one of the hottest days of the year? But English weather is so variable that you may need this in a couple of days. You can, of course, eat this when it’s hot, and we do. But it is particularly comforting on a day when you need succour – be it due to weather or weariness. I can’t over play how delicious this is, and how easy if you make it in stages – which I do.
I have also been meaning to write this up for some years, ever since I saw the Chiappa sisters make this on TV. (I have since adapted it slightly.)
After reading about a brilliant piece about the nitrates in our meat, written by the excellent Bee Wilson I realised that I had become really lazy about making meatballs and burgers. Which is shocking given my heritage.
My mother has never ever bought shop bought burgers or meatballs. And although she now allows herself the luxury of buying ready-minced meat, she also – until fairly recently – used to mince all the meat herself. It was the only way she could be absolutely sure of the cut of the meat used for mince.
My mother is a goat farmer’s daughter and when I was growing up and went shopping with her, she would tell the butcher not only exactly how she liked her meat cut, but where off the animal she wanted it cut and he utterly bowed to her expertise – she not only did this in butcher shops but she also used to do it in Sainsbury’s. Sainsbury’s – back then – used to have a phone over the chilled meat counter and you could ring up and speak to the butcher in the back (oh for those days!). She would pick up the receiver and he would recognise her voice and he would say “coming out Mrs Barbieri” and he would come out and meet her where the back of the shop met the shop floor, where the big plastic curtains were – and she would say, in her heavily accented voice, exactly how he was to cut the meat for our dinner. I used to baulk slightly at the time it all took, but even then, I would be awed at her expertise and the way he listened to her. And this was a time when not everyone did listen, because speaking in accented English – some thought – marked you out as stupid.
You see how far I’ve come, blithely slinging ready made meatballs and burgers into my trolley. All be them from Waitrose and free range and organic etc.
So now I make my own, thanks in no small part to Bee’s piece, in bulk. And I freeze them in vacuum packs. And of a morning when no-one can decide what to eat that night, or be bothered to shop, it is with high levels of smugness that I can then pull them out of the freezer to defrost.
Shall we get on with the recipe?
You can make much of this in advance and bring it all together at time of eating. This is what I do. Note I make double of the sauce and meatballs and freeze for another time. As the recipe stands it makes enough for four modest eaters. You have to make the polenta at the time of eating.
2 red peppers, de-seeded, chopped
4 ish tomatoes, of medium size, quartered
3-4 cloves of garlic, peeled (less or more if you hate/love it) – leave whole.
A few sprigs of thyme
Salt, pepper, olive oil
Heat oven to 180C. Put the two chopped peppers, the four quartered tomatoes and the 3-4 whole cloves of garlic in a bowl. Sprinkle some salt and pepper over the top and about two tablespoons of olive oil and mix all together, then put on a baking tray and cook for about 20 minutes. I find this is massively variable as sometimes the veg puts out a lot of water, but you’re looking for the veg to be soft and a bit golden in parts.
When done, let cool slightly and then blend to a thick sauce in a blender. Don’t worry about the skin of the peppers, you don’t need to take it off. You can use immediately or keep it in the fridge for a couple of days (or freeze the whole lot). Heat up before using.
The meatballs (or, for another time, burgers)
This is a fantastic recipe, generally, for meatballs (polpette) or burgers and it’s the only one I now use. It makes a very well flavoured meatball/burger, but I do sometimes leave out the parmesan (or put less in) and the fennel seeds if I want something just really simple and plain. I would, however, urge you to make the proper version for this dish however as the polenta doesn’t have as much parmesan in it as some recipes.
I do have a bit of an important note which is – put all the ingredients in a food mixer and pulse together until smooth. Sharp eyed readers will know I do this with my meatloaf, because – if I know what’s in it – I do really prefer a very smooth ground burger/sausage/etc.
250g of really good pork mince (organic, free range, farm assured)
250g of same quality beef
100g of grated parmesan (I buy mine in bulk, grate it and freeze it grated)
1 clove of garlic if you like it
100g of breadcrumbs
2 eggs, medium sized
a handful of chopped parsley
1 teaspoon of ground up fennel seeds
half a teaspoon of salt
a good grinding of black pepper
Oil to fry.
So I basically bung all the ingredients, bar the oil, into my Magimix and pulse away until it’s all smooth. But if you want, just mix in a bowl with a wooden spoon.
You then shape into meatballs/burgers and either cook immediately or freeze/fridge until needed. They keep in the fridge for as long as the sell-by date is on the meat. I make the meatballs into walnut size and the burgers I have a burger press for and they are, I guess, quarter pounder size.
What I do with the meatballs is fry them gently, but then finish them off in the sauce when I’m reheating it. This stops them having a super hard crust which I don’t like. But if you fry them super gently they should be okay. About ten minutes frying should do it for the meatballs. 12 minutes for burgers.
For the polenta
200g of fast cook polenta – for the love of God don’t use any other kind.
A knob of butter
800ml of cold water
2 handfuls of grated parmesan
a pinch of salt if you really want (but I find the parmesan salty enough)
Put the 800ml of cold water, the 200g of polenta and the butter into a large pan and bring to the boil. When it comes to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for another minute. You do need to be present and whisking, but don’t be intimidated as the whole process takes minutes. As it simmers for that last minute and finishes its thickening, stir in the parmesan and salt if you want. Then it’s ready!
To serve, dollop spoonfuls of the polenta onto a plate, top with the hot sauce and the cooked meatballs. I serve with broccoli.
If you have any polenta left over, and no chickens to serve it to, then you can persuade it into a flat tin (it will get harder to handle as it cools), put in the fridge, then cut into finger shapes and shallow fry to make polenta chips.
But I have never done this.
I made burgers from this and served it in brioche buns made from this recipe (obvs leae out the chocolate chips) and they were, hands down, the best burgers I have ever eaten.