Meatballs should come in creamy sauce at Ikea. Failing that, they must appear atop spaghetti in tomato sauce. Or you can try something altogether different: my pork meatballs with bulgur wheat.
Sweden vs. Italy
This is a variation on the theme of two classics beloved by everyone: Swedish meatballs with cream sauce and Italian spaghetti and meatballs.
These are double-pork meatballs, made from good quality pork mince and finely chopped smoked back bacon. Sounds appetising already? Wait for this: the binding agent, apart from some white crumbed bread which is de rigeur in meatballs, is grated Parmesan providing bags of umami alongside the smoky bacon flavour.
A lot will criticise me for not including onions: wait, what? meatballs sans onions? not right! I agree in general that an oniony whiff should be there as you present a plateful of meatballs to the diners but I don’t like onion bits amongst the meat so I’m substituting onion salt instead of plain salt. Two birds at one salt pot.
If you’re of the orthodox onion orientation but nod at my bias, grate the onion or whiz it in a blender. I can’t be bothered.
Sauce or no sauce?
The other part of my dish is bulgur replacing pasta. I do love grains so maybe it’s just me but the tomato bulgur, or couscous if that’s what you have in your pantry, seems more interesting than pasta. And it can be gorgeously, deeply tomato flavoured without the need for a rich sauce.
Because thirdly, there is no sauce. I know – that’s not only not right, it’s a blasphemy to serve meatballs without sauce of some description.
But there are benefits to saucelessness: the overall calorie intake is lower, some of us prefer it dry, plus you can condiment the dish up according to your preference with mayo, ketchup, hot sauce or herby yoghurt.
How to make the best pork meatballs
Some people swear by a mix of pork and veal for the tenderest, loveliest meatballs, but who buys veal mince? Meatballs are usually an afterthought upon finding a pork mince packet in the freezer.
I swear by two things: Parmesan and breadcrumbs. Parmesan is the perfect glue, stopping the meatballs from cracking and crumbling, and bread, counterintuitively, lightens the texture.
I also like to add a spoonful of dairy, be it crème fraiche, sour cream or milk, which somehow improves the flavour. Plus some finely diced bacon, for a smoky whiff.
All the ingredients are absolutely best mixed, kneaded, massaged and ground by hand. Shape the balls with wet hands to help them stick to the desired shape instead of your hands, and chill before frying to help them keep their shape.
How to make tomato bulgur
The cooking method for bulgur is something between rice and couscous: it requires some cooking rather than just soaking like couscous, but it’s far more forgiving than rice.
The ratio of bulgur to water is roughly 1:1¾ and it’s beneficial to toast the grains lightly in olive oil before adding the liquid and cooking it at low simmer, covered with a lid, for ten minutes.
In this recipe the cooking liquid is gorgeously flavourful, with bags of umami from tomato and anchovy paste, and herbed up with oregano and basil.
Assembling the dish
The meatballs can be fried while the bulgur cooks, shallow in oil or without oil in air fryer.
When ready to go, arrange the meatballs on top of a pile of the bulgur and serve with condiments on the side and any green vegetables or salad that you fancy.
More meatball recipes
Korean barbecue-style beef meatballs with spring onions, ginger and garlic plus a secret old-school meatball ingredient: crushed Ritz crackers.
Can beef meatballs be tender, delicate and almost subtle in taste? Yes they can, made with ricotta and Parmesan and cooked in a divine sauce to an Ottolenghi recipe.
Meatball casserole with tomato sauce, Italian style. The recipe is easily scaled up to feed a crowd, the meatball casserole can be served over pasta or rice, or with crusty bread. Hearty meatball casserole with zucchini and peppers.
More bulgur wheat recipes
Bulgur wheat pilaf with red peppers and raisins: cooked like rice pilaf but refreshingly different; looks like couscous but it’s more nutritious; whole grain of cereal but not slimy like barley. That’s my perfect grain!
Bulgur wheat salad with spicy chorizo and vibrant green runner beans. Lunch or dinner, just add a dollop of yoghurt, fresh mint and dill for the perfect Middle Eastern – Spanish fusion.
Discover the rich history and versatility of kibbeh pie, a traditional Middle Eastern comfort food loved by many, and try out a tasty recipe for yourself!