My Spaghetti Puttanesca.

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It’s been a while, I know.  What better way to return than with a fool-proof, hearty pasta dish?  This recipe is for a sauce that I simply cannot stop making right now.  It’s so tasty, that I keep looking for excuses to eat it at all times of day.

The danger with posting recipes for well-known dishes, is that somebody somewhere will grumble about what is included and what is not.  Puttanesca is a tomato-based sauce that generally contains anchovies, capers, onions and garlic.  I say generally, because like all recipes as old as this, variations are abundant.

I love the origins of this sauce (google it) and I love how easy it is to adapt to what ingredients you have at any time.  At the moment, I use lots of garlic, lots of olive oil, good French olives and anchovies in olive oil.  It would be easy to include fresh herbs and other vegetables too.

My one tip for this sauce is: The longer you take, the better it tastes.  This sauce benefits from long, slow cooking to achieve a rich, punchy flavour.  No need for red wine, stock or anything else…just time.  I usually leave it to bubble away gently for an hour and then toss some spaghetti in it.  Sublime.

 

My Spaghetti Puttanesca sauce.

3x 400g tins chopped Italian tomatoes

1 large red onion (sliced)

2 handfuls of good quality black olives (pitted)

5 cloves garlic (peeled and halved)

1x 200g tin anchovies in olive oil

Extra virgin olive oil

sea salt

black pepper

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I love how easy this is!  I use a 20cm cast iron casserole, but any deep pan will do.  Put the pan on a low heat on the hob and add the chopped tomatoes, garlic, anchovies (and the oil they were stored with), onion and a good few glugs of your best olive oil.  How much is a glug?  Well, put it this way, I love olive oil, so I put a lot in.  You’ll need at least 5 tablespoons.

Once in, give the ingredients a good stir and then leave them to become friends for the next forty minutes to an hour.  Remember, don’t rush it!  Simply return to give everything a good stir every now and again.  You’ll see the sauce turn into a deep, hearty, bubbly, lava lake of loveliness.

If you want to add capers or use brown onions instead of red, you can.  If you don’t like olives, don’t add them.  If you prefer less garlic, tone it down.  This is a versatile sauce that you can make for YOU.  Please yourself and your family by tailoring it to your tastes.

When you’re happy with the thickness of the sauce, taste it and add sea salt and pepper if it needs it.  Be careful with the seasoning; anchovies disintegrate during cooking and will season the dish for you, so any extra salt should be added with care.

Toss your favourite spaghetti in and serve with crusty bread and a smile!  Once the spare sauce has cooled, I keep it in the fridge for the coming week and use it whenever I am peckish.  Yum!

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Soutzoukakia.

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As Europeans begin to ask more questions about where their meat comes from and sales of supermarket beef drop, I think it’s a good time to share a recipe that champions good quality beef in a very comforting way.

I love meatballs and there are some great recipes out there.  Already, I’ve shared my recipe for Keftedes (Greek meatballs), but today I want to share one for soutzoukakia (soo-zoo-ka-ki-yah). These are usually little sausage-shaped meatballs which are more like kofta and are served in a tomato sauce.  They’re gorgeous and a little spicier than ordinary meatballs.

My mum makes killer meatballs, maybe the best, but my recipe comes close; certainly close enough that I feel no shame in sharing it with you.  These beauties melt in the mouth and will permanently stain whatever clothing they touch, so cover up when you tuck in.  They’re great with all kinds of food, but I love them with a fresh cabbage salad and chunky chips.  They freeze well too, so make a big batch and then tub it up for a rainy day.  We had some on pasta recently and it was a real treat!

Soutzoukakia

For the meatballs

750g minced beef

2 large onions (quartered)

1 slice of white bread

handful of fresh coriander/dill (chopped)

12 fresh mint leaves (finely chopped)

3 tblspoons dried oregano

1 tblspoon ground cumin

3 tspoons cayenne pepper

2 tspoons ground cinnamon

half tspoon ground nutmeg

salt

pepper

For the sauce

3 tins chopped tomatoes (about 400g each)

10 garlic cloves

1 glass red wine

1 cup beef stock

1 tblspoon tomato puree

2 tspoons cinnamon

1 bay leaf

1 tspoon dried oregano

salt

pepper

Make breadcrumbs with the white bread and pour into a large mixing bowl with the beef.  Puree the onions and garlic in a food mixer and add to the beef.  Next, add all of the meatball ingredients to the bowl and use your hands to squeeze everything together until fully combined.  This takes some time and is best done when the minced beef is at room temperature.

You can leave the mixture overnight to let the flavours develop, or you can get on with making the meatballs.  Wash your hands well and leave them wet if you are going to make the meatballs immediately.  This prevents the mixture from sticking to your fingers.  Break off small chunks (or whatever amount you would like) and roll into a little ball.  Set to one side ready for frying.

In a large casserole, gently heat enough olive oil to cover the base.  Add the meatballs in batches and get some nice colour on them before removing them.  Let them drain on kitchen paper in a bowl.

When all of the meatballs have been cooked, keep the heat low and add the red wine to deglaze the casserole, stirring all the time with a wooden spatula or spoon.  Get all of the bits of meatball off the base and add the tomatoes and the beef stock.  Bring to a rolling boil and stir gently for around two minutes; just enough time to burn off the alcohol in the red wine.

Lower the heat and stir in the puree.  Bruise each garlic clove before throwing into the sauce.  Finally, add the dry ingredients and stir.  Once the sauce is simmering, gently add the meatballs and add enough stock to cover them.  Keep the sauce simmering for at least an hour with the lid off to reduce the liquid.  Stir from time to time and stop cooking when the sauce is nice and thick (or to your liking).  Taste the sauce and season it if necessary.  Remove the bay leaf before serving.

The good news is that soutzoukakia can be served with all kinds of things.  As I said earlier, I love them with chips and a crunchy cabbage salad, but they’re just as good with mash, roasted potatoes or in a hot baguette with some grated cheese on top!  You gotta love meatballs!

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Things got meze- part 2. My kingdom for a Greek meatball!

I’ll bet ten drachma that every self-respecting wife and mother in Greece has her own meatball recipe.  In Greece, you’ll find keftedes on the islands and the mainland in all shapes and sizes.  My mum has her way of making them adapted from my yiayia (grandmother).  My mum likes to brown the meatballs and then cook them slowly in a very rich tomato and red wine sauce.  We love her for it and I make a point of wearing something dark if I go round for some- the sauce is the reddest I’ve come across and permanently stains anything that it comes into contact with.

 My meatball recipe is very simple and that’s why I like it.  For the meze, I chose to make lots of small meatballs rather than the large ones that my mum would normally make for a main meal.  In a nod towards my Greek and English heritage, my perfect platter is a combination of the meatballs in that gorgeously rich lava of a sauce and a huge dollop of buttery mashed potato (with carrots in it).  A big bowl of crunchy cabbage salad helps to cleanse the palate if the sauce gets too much.  Here though, is my basic recipe for meatballs.  Perhaps mum will share the sauce recipe with me one day.  Here’s hoping!

Keftedes (Greek meatballs)

500g minced beef

2 eggs

2 slices white bread

1 onion (finely chopped)

150ml water

1 handful fresh parsley (finely chopped)

1 handful fresh mint (finely chopped)

1 tblspoon dried oregano

salt

black pepper

The keftedes begin to cook.

Soak the bread in the water for a little while and when it’s soggy, break it up into small mushy bits.  Combine the bread and all of the other ingredients in a bowl by rolling your sleeves up and going to work on it with your hands.  Season the meatball mixture well and heat plenty of oil in a large frying pan ready to fry the meatballs in batches.You’ll need at least enough oil to completely cover the base of the pan, but ideally, the oil would come half way up the meatballs.  Not a recipe you’ll find in weight loss handbooks, but great as an occassional treat.

It's easy to see which batch needs turning next.

Roll the meat into little balls and place gently into the hot oil.  The trick here is to leave the meatballs alone.  Poke and prod them at your peril.  They will crumble and break if you mess with them.  A couple of minutes should be enough to brown them and allow you to turn them over without destroying them.  At this point, it is worth mentioning that if you haven’t chopped the onion very finely, you’ll have a harder time keeping the meatballs together. If you’re going to cook the meatballs in a sauce, you need only brown them.  Since I was serving the meatballs with a little lemon juice and tzatziki, I had to make sure they were cooked all the way through.  You don’t wanna mess with mince.  Meatballs that are pink in the middle?  Not a chance.

The kitchen paper soaks up excess oil.

Place the cooked meatballs on a plate with some kitchen paper and finish cooking all of the mixture.  You can serve these hot or cold and once they’re cool, they can be refrigerated for a day or two.  Just make sure to reheat them fully if you want them hot.  As a child, I used to love raiding the fridge the day after we’d had meatballs.  I would sneak into the kitchen, grab a plate and squirt tomato ketchup onto it so that I could dip the cold meatballs in it before dinner.  For the meze, I assumed that my guests would be expecting something a little more authentic.  Maybe next time…

Keftedes and tzatziki are a good match.