There’s a scene in Walt Disney’s Lady and the tramp where the two newly acquainted hounds share a steaming plate of spaghetti and meatballs. They suck on the same piece of pasta and end up lip to lip, or snout to snout, in a romantic bind. Though I didn’t know at the time, it was my first image of Italian food and has had a strong impact ever since. Even subsequent brushes with grown men wearing bibs spraying a mist of meatball sauce haven’t sullied this vision of the ultimate romantic dish. So in tribute to those courting canines, here’s a recipe from our friend Stefania for the perfect romantic dinner for two, best enjoyed some time in mid February.
Ingredients for 4 or 5
Slice of bread – 1 whole wheat
Milk – 60ml/2 fl oz
Garlic – 1 clove
Parsley – the leaves from 5g/0.2oz.
Egg – 1 free range
Parmesan cheese – 20g/0.7oz
Mince lamb – 250g/8.8oz
Mince pork – 250g/8.8oz (or use an extra 250g/8.8oz of minced lamb)
Fine breadcrumbs – 20g/0.7g
Sunflower oil – depending on size of pan
Extra virgin olive oil – several glugs
Onion – half
Passata – 200g/7oz
Tinned chopped tomatoes – 250g/8.8oz
Dried oregano – 2 pinches
Spaghetti – 320g/11oz
Salt and pepper
Cut the crust off your slice of bread and tear the rest of it up into a small bowl. Cover the bread with your milk and mix it together with your hands.
Next, if you have a blender, add the roughly chopped garlic, parsley, raw egg and the milk/bread mix. Grate in the parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Give the ingredients several good pulses unto nicely blended.
If you don’t have a blender finely chop the garlic and parsley and mix together the ingredients by hand.
Put the minced meat in a mixing bowl, add the prepared mix and the dry breadcrumbs (the quality of these really does make a difference). Mix it all together really well with your hands. Cover and pop in the fridge for 15 minutes (the bowl, not you).
Now time to get you hands dirty for the third or maybe forth time – take the mixture out of the fridge and mould the meat into ping-pong ball-sized polpette. They should be about 25g each and you really need to press them firmly into a ball so that they won’t break up later.
When you have your 20-odd pieces on a plate you can then prepare a small frying pan with half a centimetre (1/8th inch) of sunflower oil on a medium/high heat. Also prepare a thick bottomed saucepan, with a few glugs of olive oil on a medium heat. Add the roughly chopped onion to this saucepan.
Once the sunflower oil is sizzling hot add 4 polpette at a time, and using a couple of forks, brown evenly. Then transfer the meatballs to the saucepan with the onions and add more raw ones to the frying pan. When all the polpette are in the saucepan add the passata and chopped tomatoes along with half a cup of water (so the polpette are more or less covered). Turn the heat down to low and season it with salt a pepper and the dried oregano. Then cover and let it cook away for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring gently with a wooden spoon every now and then. This give you time to tidy up and set the table.
As the sauce starts to thicken cook the spaghetti according to the instructions on the package. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and, in the saucepan that you just cooked it in, add most of the sauce from the meatballs. Mix the sauce and the pasta together well and then scoop a portion onto a plate. Add 4 meatballs and a spoonful of the remaining sauce on top. Serve straightaway