Unfussy comfort food: A big pot of meatballs to fuel the family

What’s for Dinner?: None of this lean mince nonsense, meatballs need the fat

Colm Keane is the chef/owner of Daddy’s Café in Rialto, Dublin 8.

I’m big into finding the right food for the right mood, and believe this is achieved through traditional, unfussy comfort food, eaten with friends. Memories tied to food are often the best memories. And I love meatballs. They’re the type of comfort food that comes to my mind when I think of a gang of pals or family around a table, talking loudly and drinking delicious wine – a big pot of meatballs in the middle fuelling it all.

This recipe mixes milk-soaked breadcrumbs through the mince to keep the meatballs tender and juicy. It is easily scalable and the sauce made on its own would keep for a few days in the fridge.

In terms of the fat for the meat, you need it – so none of this lean mince nonsense. Save the lean meatballs for another occasion. The fat ratios I give here are ballpark – just make sure the meat has some.

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What you’ll need

Serves 4-6
For the meatballs:
500g beef mince (10-15 per cent fat)
500g pork mince (10 per cent fat, free range if possible)
1 four-finger pinch of salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
100g breadcrumbs
100ml milk
2 eggs, beaten
4 cloves garlic, crushed
100g Parmesan/Grana Padano, blended into a lumpy powder (not grated,
basically)
100g parsley, finely chopped (you can usually find them in 50g bags – curly is my
favourite)

For the tomato sauce:
50ml olive oil (a good glug)
1 large onion (or 2 small), finely diced
1 four-finger pinch of salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 x 400g tins of good tomatoes
50ml red-wine vinegar, or just red wine if you have no vinegar
1 tsp sugar
1 bay leaf

How to cook it:

1 Firstly, soak the breadcrumbs in the milk. Just stir them a little with a fork to make sure they are all coated in milk.

2 The first four ingredients – meats, salt and pepper – give them a good mix around in a bowl. Crush the garlic into the beaten eggs and beat them with a fork to combine thoroughly. Add egg mixture and Parmesan to the meat and mix well.

3 Drain the breadcrumbs through a sieve, saving the milk in a bowl beneath (use this milk later on to wet your fingers for rolling the meatballs). Add breadcrumbs and parsley. Mix gently. We don't want to squeeze the breadcrumbs.

4 Leave the mixture to hang out in the fridge for a while – 30 minutes minimum but could be overnight (covered). While the meatball mix is in the fridge, make the tomato sauce.

5 Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a medium heat. Add the onions and cook for a few minutes with the pinch of salt until they start to go clear and soft – you don't want them browned. Add the garlic now and cook for a minute more. Add the tins of tomatoes and fill half a tin with water and add that also. Add all the other ingredients and cook, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, or until the sauce thickens.

6 Once your sauce is thick and you are happy with the flavour, roll your meatballs to your preferred size (I like around 50g) and add in a layer or two into the sauce.

7 Once the sauce comes back to bubbling, cover the pot and cook on low for 10 minutes. Remove lid, gently move the meatballs around in the sauce with a large spoon. Return the lid and cook for another 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your meatballs. Check one meatball to see it is cooked through.

8 Serve with gorgeous buttery mash, linguine pasta or with a salad. Have a wedge of Parmesan on standby to grate over each serving. In the summer, garnish with basil.