Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How to Make Easy Meatballs à la Jamie Oliver

Got sausage? Make meatballs easily!
I love meatballs in sauce but who has time to mix and roll the meat? I learned this method of how to make easy meatballs on an old Jamie Oliver show that I can't seem to find a clip of for you, so this is my quick take, with an updated video. If you've been reading along here, you know I'm in Dubai now, but I didn't have the heart to delete my old introduction. It's part of my journey.


Last summer when I was in Houston and feeling pretty smug about farmers’ markets and pastured meat and eggs, I made meatballs and spaghetti for my aged grandmother. Because she loves it. Here I am in Cairo and I have been the worst of the worst type of modern shopper. I came back from a visit to the States, to Providence, with almost 42 pounds of pork in my suitcases. Not only were they not sourced locally, clearly, I am also pretty sure that they were not from pastured pigs, seeing as how I bought them at a Super Walmart.

Philosophically speaking, there is no justifying such excess. Emotionally speaking, I am feeling deprived in Cairo. Of close friends, a school connection, normal day-to-day activities, driving my own car, imported (read: good) wine at the grocery store and pork. Among other things. Self pity: It’s how I justify hauling pork products across international borders.

And cooking them is how I make myself feel better when I am headed towards down. There is nothing quite like a bowl of pasta and meatballs in a rich tomato sauce to cheer a person up. Don’t you agree? Unless it is a simmering pot of rich tomato sauce bubbling on the stove and filling the whole house with spicy Italian aromas. This recipe fills the need on both counts.

(On the other hand, all of my vegetables, beef and chicken are locally sourced. And I do believe most of the fish is too. My Carrefour doesn’t really sell many imported things in the fresh departments so choices and prices are seasonal. Just two examples: I haven’t seen a single non-frozen corn on the cob since I moved here. And I am sorely missing rhubarb, which must not be grown here, even in the spring. I am guessing because we never have a freeze in winter. )

This method of meatballing (though not the sauce) comes straight from Jamie Oliver and, if you have access to fresh sausage in casing, is the fastest, easiest method of making meatballs that I have ever witnessed. You know how you see something on TV or in a magazine (or Pinterest!) and you say, “Now, why didn’t I think of that?!!” Exactly my reaction when I watched Jamie make these meatballs for the first time, back in 2008.

1 1/4 lbs or about 565g fresh sausage – I like spicy Italian sausage.
Olive oil
1 small onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 can (14 oz or 400g) finely chopped or crushed tomatoes
1 small can (6 oz or 165g) tomato paste – the really thick stuff, not sauce
1 heaped tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon sugar
1 bay leaf
12 oz or 340g pasta of your choice
Parmesan for serving (optional)

Pinch off little pieces of sausage from the casing and pop them in a non-stick skillet. (I tried to find a clip from the Jamie show with him doing it but to no avail. So you are stuck with me.) I pinched off small pieces and finished with 42 bite-sized meatballs. Yes. I counted them before they went in the sauce. (Forty in the pan plus the two I had already eaten.)

Fry them until browned nicely on all sides, shaking the pan occasionally to turn them.

Wasn't that quick? Meatballs in minutes. When your meatballs are cooked, you can drain them on some paper towels or do it my way: Tilt the skillet and push the meatballs up the slope so the grease can collect in one side of the skillet. This saves paper towels, possible clean up of one more dish and one step in the sauce process.

(At this point, your meatballs are finished and would be great as appetizers with a toothpick and dipping sauce. Or made into Swedish meatballs or added to an Italian Wedding Soup or whatever your heart desires. Or you carry on and make the tomato sauce I love.)

Still with me? Okay! Chop your onions and garlic. Sauté them in a drizzle of olive oil, until they are soft and translucent.


Add in the can of crushed tomatoes and one can of water.

Add in the can of tomato paste and one can of water. Stir really well until the tomato paste is completely dissolved into the sauce.

Now, add the sugar, oregano and bay leaf. Bring to the boil and then turn down to a simmer.

Add in the cooked meatballs and then simmer the sauce with a lid on, for at least 30 minutes but for as long as an hour or two, if you have the time. My motto for tomato sauce is the longer the better. Give it a stir and check the level periodically, adding some water, if necessary, to keep it at a thickness and consistency you like.

Be careful here so your meatballs don't end up back in the grease.

When you are ready to serve, cook your pasta according to package instructions. With a side vegetable, this should serve four people. Just don’t let your sauce cook down too much or the pasta could be dry.

Top the pasta with sauce and count your meatballs out fairly among the plates. We also add a generous fresh grating of Parmesan. (Not pictured.)

With whole wheat penne! Enjoy!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Spicy Chorizo with Chickpeas on Toast

Spicy chorizo with chickpeas on toast makes a fabulous breakfast or even a weekday dinner, served with a side salad, in which case, serve with a glass of white or red wine.

If you are an expat in any location, there are always things you 1. Bring from home or 2. Stockpile when the stores do have them.  When the item is medication, you take it when you need to.  When the item is food, that decision is more difficult.  Do you save it as a treat or for a special occasion or do you use it whenever, until it’s gone?  I tend to err on the side of hoarding.

But as we moved from KL to Cairo a few months back, I realized that I had a lot of stuff in my freezer (just staying fresh) that had been there way too long and was well past its expiration date.  By hoarding, I deprived us of special treats (what was I saving it for?!) and I ended up having to waste food that would not be kept refrigerated in a shipment or give it away.  I vowed that I would be better about using up my stockpiles and try not to hoard. 
To that end, here is a great recipe using the spicy chorizo my sweetie brought me from Italy recently.  We enjoyed it for breakfast yesterday morning. 
1 link of chorizo, about 350g or 12 oz
2 medium onions
4 cloves garlic
2 red chili peppers
1 14 oz or 396g can chickpeas
1 14 oz or 396g can whole peeled tomatoes
Part of loaf of lovely crusty bread
Butter to spread 

If your chorizo has an inedible casing, remove it completely. (Some do, some don't)

Slice the chorizo and put it in a pot with a lid.  Turn the heat down low and let the fat render out.

Meanwhile, chop your garlic, onions and chili peppers. 

Once the chorizo pot has some rendered oil on the bottom, pour in the garlic, onions and chilis, and, still on a low fire, sauté for about 10 minutes or until they are softened.

Rinse the chickpeas. 


Using a sharp knife (or kitchen scissors) cut the tomatoes into small pieces, inside the can.

Add the chickpeas and the tomatoes to the pot.  Add another half a tomato can of water to the pot as well.  Give it all a good stir and put the lid back on.  

Cook for 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld, stirring occasionally.
When the mixture is almost ready, cut nice slices out of your crusty bread and toast them.  Spread generously with butter.  

Heap the chickpea/chorizo mixture on the buttered toast.   Can’t tell you how awesome this was! 

Enjoy! By the way, what do you stockpile?  Tell me I'm not the only one.

Update: And here’s what I made with the leftovers this morning.  I warmed the chickpea mixture and nestled in the eggs as I did in this recipe.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Sambusaks or Cheese-filled Buttery Pastries

Sambusaks are a traditional cheese-filled buttery pastry popular in Egypt. Filled with crumbly feta cheese, the tender pastry melts in your mouth. Serve them with hot sweet cardamom tea or a completely untraditional glass of wine.

Everybody has a story to tell.  Some tell it with words and some tell it with illustrations.  (And some keep it to themselves, but they still have a story.  I’m sure of it.)  Right after cookbooks, my favorite kind of book is an autobiography.  (And my favorite cookbooks are never straight recipes.  They need some personal stuff too.)  I will read anyone’s autobiography, from Winston Churchill to Tina Fey and Corrie Ten Boom to David Sedaris.  The little old lady down the street?  If she can write well, I will read hers too.  You never know what interesting thing is going on behind closed doors.

An autobiography and its often more colloquial twin sister, the memoir, reach deep into the heart of what makes the author tick.  How we were raised, where we lived, what we were exposed to in childhood:  These are the circumstances that make us who we are.  Without debating the nature vs. nurture argument, even while leaning heavily to one side, a reasonable person would have to admit that neither nature nor nurture can be completely discounted in the formation of young minds.  And we have all heard the saying, “You are what you eat.” 

So, along with my love of cookbooks and autobiographies, I have recently developed an appetite for memoirs that share recipes.  The perfect marriage of both my loves.   

And you know what’s dangerous?  Buy now with 1-Click:  Kindle books on my iPad.

But yesterday’s purchase was money well spent! (Aren’t they all?)  After all, I am trying to get to know my new home city, right?  It is called Apricots on the Nile, a lovely book by an articulate author, Colette Rossant, and it's all about her childhood centered around the consolation of cooking and food in her grandparents’ home in Cairo’s Garden City, way back in the 1930s and ‘40s.  What a delight it was to read about Cairo in a different age but with traditional recipes I am still seeing today.  I highlighted just about every recipe and can’t wait to try them all.

Sambusaks or Cheese-filled Buttery Pastries

This is an easy recipe that I would have highlighted twice, if Kindle for iPad permitted such a thing.

For the pastry:
1/4 cup or 55g melted butter
1/4 cup or 60ml canola oil
1/4 cup or 60ml hot water
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups or 355g flour plus extra for rolling out dough

For the filling:
5 1/2 oz 156g feta cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 teaspoons baking powder
Black pepper

Put the melted butter, oil and hot water in a bowl with the pinch of salt. 

Add in the flour and mix well.  Knead for a few minutes then wrap in cling film and pop the dough in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, crumble your feta cheese with a fork or your fingers.  

Add in the Parmesan, freshly ground black pepper, egg and the baking powder.  Mix well.   

The original recipe said to whip it all up in a food processor so that’s what I did with my first batch of filling.  And then I started over.

Runny filling going down the drain!
Just mix it by hand. 

When the 30 minutes waiting time is almost up for the dough, preheat your oven to 375°F or 190°C.   Grease your baking tray or line it with parchment paper.

Get the flour ready, because this dough is pretty soft and sticky.  Cut the dough in half and then cut each half into five equal pieces.

Flour your rolling pin and the counter top.  Shape the piece of dough into a ball and then gentle roll it out into a circle of about 4 inches or 10cm. 

Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling on the circle.  

Fold over and squeeze the air out.  Then press the sides together. 

If you have enough room, roll the edges up slightly and then press with a fork to decorate.  I followed the original instructions and just used the fork to close the joint.  (Check out the update at the end for pictures of this.) Some of my cheese filling melted out so folding the edges over might help prevent that.

Continue until all 10 sambusaks are assembled. 

Bake in your preheated oven about 25 minutes or until they are golden brown.  I was amazed by how light and flakey these were. 


The salty cheese filling goes great with a glass of red. 
Update and confession:  I really only made four of the 10 sambusaks that day.  Yesterday, I used the remaining dough and filling - and added some thinly sliced ham - and they were just as delicious, if not more so.  I also followed my own suggestion of folding the edges over before crimping with the fork and it worked!