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It’s the same story with parmigiana, it is with lasagne and other pasta, Italian rice casserole, arancini balls and rissoles. You cook a dish and it comes out perfectly delicious. But that’s not where it stops – you then take that dish further, smash it up, smother it in a sauce, throw a lot of cheese at it or deep fry it - and the outcome is deliciousness squared, cubed, quarted or even quinted (how clever am I? of COURSE I had to look it up).
What is happening there? A casual observer might say it’s food being highly processed; salt added, then more salt added to the tomato sauce in the parmigiana; cooking risotto then deep frying (horror of horrors) the risotto; cooking Bolognese sauce then baking it between the sheets of pasta and béchamel. And we don’t like processed foods at all, clean eaters or averagely messy eaters.
What can I say? Maybe that a/ home cooked food is not commercial, factory processed food with zillions of additives and more salt and sugar than in the Dead Sea and a caramel Frappuccino, respectively, and b/ it’s added taste value. It’s not that arancini are BETTER than risotto in any way – they are just an example of a new dish very often created out of leftovers.
So okay, wait until you’ve made so many meatballs for one dinner you’ll have a pile left over for a casserole for another. Or just roll up your sleeves and make it from scratch!
- For the tomato sauce:
- 2 tbsp. olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- ½ tsp chilli paste or a pinch of chilli flakes
- 1 tin chopped tomatoes
- salt and pepper
- 3 sprigs basil
- For the meatballs:
- 360g (12oz.) best minced pork
- 240g (8oz.) minced beef
- 2 eggs
- 2 cloves of garlic, pressed
- 5 heaped tsp grated Parmesan
- 2 tbsp. crème fraiche
- 2 slices white bread
- 1 small bunch parsley, finely chopped
- salt and pepper
- red pepper flakes
- 1 tsp dry mustard
- a little oil to brush the casserole dish
- For the casserole:
- 1 red pepper, cored and diced
- 1 courgette, diced
- chilli flakes
- 150g (5oz.) cooking mozzarella, diced
- 2 tbsp. pecorino or parmesan
1. First prepare the tomato sauce: peel and finely chop the garlic clove and sweat it in the olive oil in a saucepan; don’t let it colour too much. Stir in the chili. Add the tomatoes with the juices, season generously with salt and pepper and add the whole basil sprigs. Cook covered, on medium heat, for 30-40 minutes. Halfway through the cooking time mash the tomato pieces gently with a potato ricer.
2. To make the meatballs, trim the crust off the bread and whizz it to coarse breadcrumbs in a blender or food processor. Mix it with all the other ingredients in a large bowl, best using your hands. Form golf ball-sized meatballs with wet hands.
3. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/gas 7. Lightly oil the dish your casserole dish and place the meatballs in it. Bake them for 20-25 minutes until browned, turning them over once.
4. Remove the meatballs to a plate and add the diced vegetables to the fat in the dish. Season them with salt and chili flakes and stir well. Bake for 15-20 minutes until cooked through and all the liquid is almost gone, toss them in the dish once or twice whilst baking. Turn the oven down to 190C/375F/gas 5.
5. Return the meatballs to the dish on top of the vegetables, add the diced mozzarella and spoon the tomato sauce over it all. Sprinkle with half the pecorino or parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes until bubbling, adding the rest of the parmesan by the end. Let it stand for a few minutes before serving.
6. You can serve the casserole with plain rice or spoon it over freshly boiled spaghetti. Best of all, lightly toast a large thick slice of sourdough or half a ciabatta and pile the meatballs and sauce on top.