Ingredients for meatballs:
400g quality mince meat
4 slices of wholemeal bread
1 whole sprig of rosemary
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp dijon mustard
3-4 fresh basil leaves
1 medium onion (I prefer red but white work well)
Ingredients for sauce:
7-8 fresh basil leaves
2 cloves of garlic
3-4 fresh basil leaves
2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1tbsp quality balsamic vinegar
water (if needed)
Chop up your onion so that your pieces are neat and roughly all the same size, set these aside, as you get out your frying pan. Turn up the heat to medium, once you can see heat vapours coming from the pan, pop in all the lardons. Let them sizzle for about a minute but keep an eye on them, as you don't want them to burn and you may want to cut off some of the larger bits of fat as they are rendering and discard. Once they have changed colour, turn down the heat and pop in the onions so that they cook in the natural fats of the lardons. Leave simmering gently until the onions are soft and you have some lovely caramalisation on the bottom of the pan. Take off the heat and leave to cool.
Now get your blender plugged in. Put into this your bread, herbs (remember that you only want the green of the rosemary, not the actual twig/sprig), and blend to breadcrumbs. Now drop in your basil leaves and give a quick blitz. Finally drop in the minced meat and dijon mustard and the cooled onions and lardons (do not wash the frying pan, set aside for use later). One last blitz until all the ingredients are completely combined. The colour will look much paler and it will become a large ball - when you take the lid off the blender, the fresh smell of herbs is sensational. Pull out the ball of seasoned meat and divide into two even balls, then cut each of those balls into four - then cut each of the balls into six. This should give you 24 chunks of meat that you can roll into equal sized balls. Set aside under some cling film.
Turn your attention to the sauce by picking up the frying pan you used to cook the onions and lardons. Put this on the stove - don't turn on yet - but chop your garlic. Then roll up your basil and slice (the outcome is neat slithers of basil), now put the frying pan back on the heat, wait until you can hear the residual fat start to sizzle and pop in the garlic. Cook for only a minute and add the basil, now stir, mixing the basil and garlic and all the lovely caramelised flavours on the bottom of the pan but make sure that nothing is burning. Pour in the chopped (canned) tomatoes, balsamic vinegar and tomato puree, continue stirring until all combined. Once you can see the sauce is bubbling add in all of the mascarpone cheese and continue stirring until it has melted and fully combined into a sauce. Now turn down the heat and let it simmer, reducing the liquid until it becomes thick - if you over reduce, not to worry, just add about half a tin (use the tomato tin as your measure) of water and start the process again. Taste ... massively important, as this is where you need to either add a little more tomato puree or balsamic or pepper to your taste.
Whilst your sauce is simmering, get another frying pan out and a pan of water for your spaghetti. I like to use fresh spaghetti as it only takes a few minutes to cook.
Back to the meatballs, put your clean frying pan onto the heat, add a few glugs of olive oil and let this get hot but not spitting. Pop your meatballs in but don't crowd your pan, make sure there is space between each meatball. Cook for about 3-4 minutes on 'each side' or until the meat has browned and turned from pink to cooked mince colour. Once the meatballs are cooked, take them out and let them rest in a warm oven or on top of the aga. You will need to cook in batches, so make sure that you're not burning them. If you find the pan and the meat juices have burned, deglaze by pouring water into the hot pan (without any meatballs), using a wooden spoon scrap all the burnt meat/juices from the pan and pour the water away. Use kitchen towel to dry the pan and then start again with a few glugs of oil and cook off the remaining meatballs.
For your spaghetti, always bring your water to a boil, add salt (no oil) and then the spaghetti - cook to the instructions, drain and then add a few glugs of olive oil to the cooked pasta, stirring so that all of it is coated.
Now it comes to serving, pour some of the sauce (about a third) into a jug, then add the remaining sauce to the cooked spaghetti, use a fork and make sure the pasta is covered in this amazingly rich sauce. Make a lovely tall pile of spaghetti in each bowl, make a little well in the top and add your meatballs (depending on how many each person wants) and then pour a little of extra sauce over each of the meatballs.
And now serve. At this point it is up to you about grating cheese, I personally don't grate Parmigiano-Reggiano over this dish but that's only because there is mascarpone in the sauce but if you love lashings of grated cheese, then do so!
** if you are pressed for time, you can use a Lloyd Grossman Tomato and Basil sauce but I'd always add the fresh garlic, basil, tomato puree and balsamic as per the recipe above.
All in all, the whole preparation and cooking process takes about 40mins from start to finish. Enjoy and if you have any comments, then please post along with any photos at https://www.facebook.com/beespantryuk or @beespantry