The route to happiness via some tasty Italian food

 

These meatballs are really tasty thanks to a lemon and wine sauce – and even more delicious served with an aubergine accompaniment that is part salad, part condiment, writes DOMINI KEMP

BOCCA DI LUPO in London is one of those restaurants that chefs, professional foodies and critics rave about. It is casual, glamorous and specialises in regional Italian cookery. Have I eaten there? No. But I’m dying to.

In the interim, I’ll just have to make do with chef-patron Jacob Kenedy’s stunningly photographed Bocca: Cookbook. As it says on the dust jacket, recipes are “gritty, glamorous, seedy and mysterious”. And how right they are. Flicking through the book, you’ll find a bunch of simple and short recipes, but every now and then you’ll come across an offal fest, such as focaccia with spleen, lungs and ricotta or tripe with tomato, mint and pecorino. I’m not a fan of such culinary delights as tripe, spleen or lung and his dish of tripe with potatoes and cloves will never convert me. For this, I feel a bit of a fake – real chefs are supposed to really dig all that offal, but I can’t bear it.

But this feeling of inadequacy is shortlived as I cheerlead my way through the other recipes and his lovely way with words. Who couldn’t champion a chef who says: “If something can be removed from a recipe and not make the dish worse, I believe doing so will make it more delicious . . . I always try to find the simplest way of doing things, so the making and the eating can be as direct and pleasurable as possible. This is the route to happiness.”

I couldn’t agree more, and his gentle words seem to encompass so much more than the best way to cook. He seems to be referring to a way of life: simple pleasures, and for this I am very much in agreement, even if we are not on the same tripe bandwagon.

Several stars shone for me in the book: the meatballs are not dissimilar to that tasty meatloaf recipe from Skye Gyngell I tried out, but these ones are cooked in a delicious liquid that is created by half a bottle of wine, some lemon juice – that trickles down from the pinwheel slices of lemon that sit like hats on top of the meatballs while the meat is cooking – and the fat that comes from the splash of cream, grated Parmesan and minced pork. I loved the fact that they needed no browning and had a very sophisticated flavour.

The aubergines (another Bocca interpretation) went really well with the meatballs, multitasking their way on to the plate by being both a lightly pickled salad as well as a sharp, savoury condiment. These would also be lovely served on a big platter for a casual barbecue accompaniment, as they are best served at room temperature.

Meatballs with lemon and wine

Based on the recipe in the Bocca cookbook. The recipe calls for minced veal, which I couldn’t get, so used beef instead. But if you can get veal, use it.

Serves six as a main course

Meatballs

500g minced veal or beef

500g minced pork

100g breadcrumbs

1 egg

100g Parmesan, grated

Salt and lots of black pepper

Few splashes of Worcestershire sauce

Big bunch parsley, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

50ml cream

Grated nutmeg (optional)

To finish

2 tbsp olive oil, in a bowl

12 thin slices of lemon

4-6 bay leaves

½ bottle white wine

Preheat the oven to 220 or even 250 degrees (gas mark six to nine) if you can. Mix all of the ingredients for the meatballs together in a large bowl using a spatula. Don’t be afraid to season well.

Mentally divide the meat into 12, so you know how big to make the balls. Have a shallow baking tray ready. Press the meatballs between your hands and then dip your fingers into the oil so that your hands become well oiled for the final shaping of the meatballs, before placing each one on to the baking tray. Continue doing this, using the oil to help stop the meat from sticking to your hands. When you’re done, wash your hands well and then bake the meatballs in your really hot oven for about 15 minutes.

Get a smaller gratin dish out. When the meatballs are starting to colour, take them out of the oven and turn the oven down to 150 degrees (gas mark two). Very carefully, transfer the meatballs, turning the underneath side over to face on top. You want the meatballs to fit in nice and snug in the gratin dish. Pour any juices from the shallow baking tray on top and then carefully pour in the white wine. Nestle in the bay leaves and top the meatballs with a slice of lemon. Bake uncovered for about an hour and a half, basting with the juices whenever you can.

Serve once they have cooled down a little – they need about five minutes to “rest”. They also reheat really well: about 20 minutes at 160 degrees (gas mark three), once they’ve been brought to room temperature.

Fried aubergines with mint and vinegar

Serves four as a side dish

4 tbsp breadcrumbs

100ml olive oil

2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed

Salt and black pepper

2 aubergines, sliced 2cm thick

Pinch chilli flakes

3 tbsp red wine vinegar

1 tsp caster sugar

Small bunch mint

Preheat oven to 160 degrees (gas mark three). Mix the breadcrumbs with about 40ml of the olive oil, the garlic, some salt and pepper. You can always add some dried herbs to this, such as oregano, or chopped fresh herbs, such as thyme and rosemary. Spread the breadcrumbs on a shallow dish and bake until golden brown. You may need to scatter and shake them occasionally as they cook from the outside in. When they feel golden and crunchy, set aside to cool. They are fine to sit out for a few hours. Using another 40ml of olive oil, heat a large non-stick frying pan with a little oil and fry the aubergine slices in batches, until golden brown and tanned on both sides. You really need to season the heck out of them. They will just absorb salt and oil. But they will taste fabulous.

Lay them out on a platter. Mix the last 20ml of olive oil with the red-wine vinegar, the sugar, and chilli flakes. Finely chop the mint and add it to the dressing, which you can spoon over the aubergines up to an hour before serving. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs and serve.

Domini recommends:

St Tola goats’ cheese has repackaged its soft, fresh organic goats’ cheese in handy tubs, as well as packaging a 120g
slice of the original mature log in the same kind of tub, which works really well. Sometimes the old-style packaged slices of the goats’ cheese log were packed so tightly in plastic, they were hard to access. These new tubs make a nice departure and for those who like really ripe cheese, feel free to leave the slice of goats’ cheese log in your fridge for an extra week or two. Eat at room temperature though, to get the full whack of flavour. See st-tola.ie