The easiest meatballs you’ll ever make

Lilly Higgins: Key to this incredibly easy dinner is finding good-quality sausages with a high-meat content full of herbs, garlic and seasoning

Winter is well and truly under way and we now have a slight lull before the excesses of the festive season begins. We can take a breather and make simple pasta dishes midweek, as it’s not quite time to garnish everything with edible gold dust. Darker evenings encourage hibernation mode so all I want to do is fill the fridge, light the fire and cook some serious comfort food.

My pantry is always stocked with tinned tomatoes. I buy chopped organic tomatoes in cartons from a major retailer, along with their passata. I am by no means an organised person but when my pantry is well stocked with these essentials I sleep better at night.

These meatballs are the easiest you'll ever make. I started off by adding sautéed onions, breadcrumbs and egg but over the years have pared it back to the essentials. The key to this incredibly easy dinner is in finding good-quality sausages with a high meat content that are packed full of herbs, garlic and seasoning. This is a direct shortcut to full-on flavour. Some good butchers make their own sausages and will be able to tell you exactly what has gone into them. Here in Cork I use O'Flynn's or Gubbeen, especially the Mediterranean style sausages with sundried tomatoes and herbs. If you can't get flavoured sausages just choose quality with a high meat content and add your own herbs. Adding a generous pinch of dried chilli flakes or a handful of olives makes this sauce even nicer.

To enrich this comforting supper even more, stir a generous tablespoon of sour cream through the pasta just before serving. This makes a gorgeous midweek meal with a green salad or some crusty garlic butter soaked bread.

Fuss-free meatballs with fresh tagliatelle

Serves six

  • 1 red onion, finely diced
  • 150g button mushrooms, halved
  • 800g, 2 x tins chopped tomatoes
  • 80ml red wine
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • 200ml water
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 20g fresh basil leaves
  • 600g sausages, ideally herb and garlic, fennel etc, flavoured
  • 250g fresh egg tagliatelle
  • salt & pepper
  • olive oil

Method: Remove the sausages from their casings and place in a bowl. Finely chop half of the basil leaves and add to the bowl along with a generous amount of black pepper. You could add some finely grated Parmesan now too or any other flavours you want. Wet your hands then roll teaspoons full of the mixture into small balls. Set aside. Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a wide frying pan. Add the meatballs and cook on a medium heat, turning regularly until cooked in the centre and nicely browned on the outside. You may have to cook these in batches.

Place 1 tbsp olive oil a large saucepan. Sauté the chopped onion. After five minutes add the mushrooms. Cook for another five minutes and pour over the wine. Increase the heat and stir gently, leave the alcohol evaporate. You only want the flavour to remain. After a few minutes add the tinned tomatoes, Dijon mustard and water. Crush the fennel seeds roughly and add to the sauce along with a sprig of basil. Leave the sauce to simmer and reduce slightly.

Taste for seasoning and add a little sugar if the tomatoes are too bitter. Stir through the tagliatelle and place the lid on. Arrange the meatballs on top of the bubbling sauce or keep them warm in the oven. Leave to cook for three minutes until the pasta is al dente. Divide the pasta and meatballs between six bowls. Garnish with the remaining torn basil leaves and a generous drizzle of olive oil.