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Meatballs With Basil, Lemon & Pine Nuts

This recipe is a modern take on “spaghetti and meatballs”, which is not an authentic Italian dish but an American invention.  The meatballs are given Italian flavors and is served with a marinara sauce.  Marinara sauce originates from Naples, Italy and comes from the Italian word, marinaro, meaning sailor.  In his book How Italian Food Conquered the World  John Mariani explains how the sauce was named: “There was a simple one of garlic, oil, and tomatoes called marinara, supposedly because it was made quickly, as soon as the mariners’ wives spotted their husbands returning fishing boats in the distance.”

50 g pine nuts, toasted
500 g beef mince
10 ml crushed garlic
125 ml onion, finely chopped
125 g Ricotta cheese, crumbled
1 lemon, zest only
50 g tomato paste
15 g fresh basil, finely chopped
1 large egg
2.5 ml salt
± 200 ml breadcrumbs or almond flour to make it banting friendly

Marinara Sauce
125 ml olive oil
½ large onion, finely chopped
10 ml crushed garlic
6 x 10 cm stalks of celery, finely chopped
2 x 400 g tin whole, peeled tomatoes, chopped
125 ml dry red wine
2,5 ml salt
Pinch chilli flakes or freshly ground black pepper

15 ml fresh Italian parsley, chopped

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180 °C and line a roasting pan with a Wizbake baking sheet.
  2. Dry-fry the nuts in a saucepan until it has a golden colour.  Transfer the nuts to a chopping board and set it aside to cool down.
  3. Combine the rest of the ingredients, except the bread crumbs or almond flour, in a large mixing bowl and mix well.
  4. Add sufficient bread crumbs or almond flour to the mincemeat until the mixture is stiff enough to form into balls.
  5. Take a heaped tablespoon of the mixture at a time and roll into a ball the size of a golf ball.  If you decided to make the smaller or bigger than a golf ball, you have to adjust the cooking time. Pack the balls slightly apart on the roasting pan.
  6. Roast for about 10 minutes until well-browned.  Turn the meatballs and roast for another 10 minutes.
  7. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and cook the onion until translucent.
  8. Add the celery, salt and chill flakes or pepper and sauté until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
  9. Add the tomatoes and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens, about 1 hour.
  10. Season the sauce with more salt and pepper, to taste.
  11. Keep the sauce hot while the meatballs are baking.
  12. Transfer the meat balls to a serving dish and pour the sauce on top.
  13. Garnish with the parsley and serve piping hot with cooked pasta.

italian-meatballs-with marinara sauce