October 24, 2011


For October’s Random Recipe Challenge, I was paired with Alex of Dear Love Blog who chose a cookbook from my collection and then the page to cook from.

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I was pleased when this book from the Hairy Bikers was chosen and after a quick flip through the pages I was hoping for page 208 (jam roly poly pudding) or page 111 (coffee and walnut cake).

But Alex gave me page 203, “Gerarda Minichiello’s meatballs”.  Which is fine because I have never cooked meatballs before.  A good look at the recipe told me that I also needed to cook what was on page 202 – a tomato sauce that the meatballs should be cooked in for the last 35 minutes.  Oh heck.

Another look also told me that Mrs Minichiello was obviously used to cooking for quite a crowd.  The quantities of ingredients would make an enormous amount of meatballs and sauce.  Also the sauce is said to take between two and five hours to cook !!  I thought about halving the recipe, or maybe cheating and cooking the meatballs in a jar of bought sauce.

I even thought about chickening out altogether but the idea of the Random Recipe Challenge from Bellau Kitchen is after all to try recipes that we might not normally do and learn new techniques along the way, if we’re lucky.

So I decided not to be a party pooper, to make the full quantity, freeze half the meatballs for future enjoyment and bottle half the sauce to keep in the fridge.

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The ingredients for the pasta sauce.

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The recipe was a bit vague in places.  For example, it just said to put four tins of plum tomatoes in the pan and one hour later they were still whole, floating on top of the pan.  So I decided to mash them up a bit, which meant I also mashed the vegetables which were meant to be removed before adding the meatballs – although I did carefully avoid mashing the bouquet garni teabag.  But that was fine, as I’m not fond of removing and discarding perfectly good and tasty vegetables from anything.

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Having never made meatballs before, I was surprised at some of the ingredients, such as pine nuts, raisins, mint and grated Pecorino cheese.  I always thought a meatball was probably just minced beef, herbs, onions and breadcrumbs.

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I had to wrestle my humungous mixing bowl out of the cupboard, the one that usually gets used once a year for the Christmas cake, to mix the ingredients together and form the balls.  The recipe said it made 30 but I got 52 out of it.

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Sunday was the only day I would have the time to do the sauce.  This is when my dad comes round for his dinner in the evening.  He enjoys watching us cook and is pretty keen to try something new.

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I was a bit alarmed when some of the meatballs started to fall apart when frying them.  If I make them again I will use less oil in the frying pan than stated in the recipe.

In the end the meatballs were yummy, the sauce was rich and satisfying and the complete dish looked exactly like the picture in the book, which is on page 205.  I confess we served them with vegetables as my dad is not much of a pasta person and in any case I am keen to give him veg on a Sunday as I have a sneaky feeling they’re the only ones he gets all week. 

There are leftovers for us to enjoy with pasta as intended in the recipe and of course, a freezer full of meatballs for if we decide to invite a few folk round one evening – I reckon the quantity made would serve between 8 and 12 people !!


For the sauce

5 tblsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled

1 celery stick

1 carrot, peeled

1 clove of garlic, peeled

3 dessertspoons tomato purée

4 400g tins plum tomatoes

1 680g jar passata

2tsp salt

1 bouquet garni

2 bay leaves

50ml Marsala wine

splash of balsamic vinegar

15-20 basil leaves, washed and torn


In a very large pan, brown the vegetables, left whole, in the oil.  Add all the other ingredients except the last three on the list, plus water measured by filling the four empty tomato tins.

Bring to the boil and simmer for at least two hours.  (The recipe says ideally 4-6 hours!!)

If it reduces too much, add boiling water from a kettle.

Remove the vegetables, bouquet garni and bay leaves.  Add the Marsala, balsamic and basil leaves.  Check seasoning.

For the meatballs

100g white bread (the recipe suggests sourdough bread but I didn’t have any)

6 sprigs thyme

12 sage leaves

24 mint leaves

24 flat leaf parsley leaves

5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

100g pine nuts

150g raisins

3 large eggs

Worcestershire sauce – splash of

100g pecorino cheese, grated

500g minced lamb

500g minced beef

vegetable oil for frying


Put the raisins in a bowl and cover with warm water.  Leave to soak for 5-10 minutes then drain.

Soak the bread in water for 2-3 minutes.  Squeeze out the water and put on one side.

Toast the pine nuts by heating them gently in a frying pan.  Watch carefully as they go from just toasted to burnt in no time at all.

Chop the herbs and mix with the garlic and pine nuts. 

Beat the eggs in a large bowl and add the W. sauce, herb mix and grated cheese.  Break the bread into small pieces and add with the raisins and the meats.  With very clean hands, bring it all together until evenly combined and smooth.

Take pieces of the mixture about a tablespoon in size and form into balls.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan and brown the meatballs a few at a time.  Add to the tomato sauce and cook for another 35 minutes.  Serve by removing the meatballs to a large serving dish and pour the sauce over.

Invite all your friends and family round and enjoy !!


  1. wow what a marathon meal!!!!!!... but well worth it in the end... I am both humbled and in awe of your dedication to Random Recipes... you go straight to the top of the class!... thanks for taking part x

  2. That is impressive dedication to the challenge! They look lovely - you won't go hungry for a while!

  3. Wow! What a great sounding dish, but what a huge amount of work. I'm so pleased to hear it was a huge success!

  4. Well done - looks delicious, and worth all that work!