Meatballs and orzo (#57)

I’d had my eyeballs focused on these meatballs for months. Nigella’s At My Table really is a wonderful book that I love exploring. The picture in the book just grabbed me. To some extent, it’s a classic tomato, pasta and mince dish which is why it feels so incredibly familiar. The colour is so inviting. But it’s also different. I’d argue meatballs are more commonly found on the continent, or the States, than in the UK.

I delayed doing this because I worried that I’d be a failure at making meatballs. Essentially it is just meat for the substance, herbs and spices for flavour, and egg and breadcrumbs to hold it together. But for some reason I had fear. But I can confirm you need not. It was pretty easy, with an undeniably superb outcome.

Good things: An incredibly inviting and warming dish,

Bad things: You might be surprised just how large a pan you need…

Ingredients & requirements: For 4-6 meals

  • 500g minced beef
  • 1 egg
  • flat leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
  • 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan
  • 3 teaspoons of sea salt flakes
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 litre of cold water
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 onion
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 3 tablespoons of red vermouth (although I used port)
  • 2 tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 275g orzo pasta

Preparation & cooking

  1. Preparation for the meatballs:
    1. Line a large baking sheet with clingfilm, upon which you’ll set aside the meatballs later before adding them to the sauce.
    2. Flighty beat 1 egg in a small bowl and set aside
    3. Finely chop 85ml of flat leaf parsley, and set aside in a small bowl.
    4. Grate 60ml of parmesan (plus a bit more) and set aside in a small bowl.
  2. Preparation of the sauce:
    1. Set aside 1 litre of water, in jug or whatever you fancy storing it in.
    2. Peel and finely chop 1 onion. Set aside.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine these ingredients and gently mix together with your hands:
    1. 500g minced beef
    2. the lightly beaten egg
    3. 3 tablespoons of the chopped parsley
    4. 2 tablespoons of dried breadcrumbs
    5. 4 tablespoons of the grated Parmesan
    6. 1.5 teaspoons of sea salt flakes
    7. peal and grate in 2 garlic cloves
  4. With your fingers, pinch out bits of the meat mixture and roll it into a ball (Nigella says they should be between the size of cherry tomato and a walnut) and place them on the clingfilm-lined baking sheet ready for later. You should get 30 or so.
  5. If, like me, you don’t have a large heavy-based heatproof casserole dish, get out a very large saucepan (with a lid).
  6. Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat. Cook and stir the chopped onion for 5 mins or so, or until completely softened.
  7. Stir in the following for a further 1 minute:
    1. 2 tablespoons of flat-leaf parsley
    2. 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  8. Then we have a little bit more activity as we get the sauce going…
    1. Add 4 tablespoons of red vermouth (although I used port), let it bubble for 1 minute.
    2. Then tip in 2 tins of chopped tomatoes.
    3. Then half-fill the two tins with tap water, swill it around, and then add this to the pan, along with the 1 litre of water you set aside and 1.5 teaspoons of sea salt flakes.
    4. Bring to the boil, then turn down to a simmer with the lid on for 10 minutes. It’ll look unpromising and watery, but it needs to be like this for the orzo later.
  9. Uncover. Carefully add the meatballs. Bring back to the boil before turning down with the lid on for for 20 minutes.
  10. Then add the 275g of orzo, stir it in, and then bring the heat up to a “robust simmer” for 10-15 minutes. Don’t totally abandon it, you’ll need to stir every few mins.
  11. Done. Serve with a sprinkle of more parsley and Parmesan.


This is such a must do. Really, really is. I made this for a whole batch of work lunches and it really was superb. But before stowing away in Tupperware, I’d had a decent portion for myself, and my gosh just look at the picture below.

The sheer amount of text in the recipe might put you off but don’t let it. It’s really just squish together the ingredients and shape the balls. Then make the sauce, before adding the meatballs and eventually the orzo. It’s actually pretty easy.

I need to invest in red vermouth. However, when I went to M&S I couldn’t get any martini rosso, but port was readily available and is a pretty good substitute for sweet vermouth. So feel free to buy that instead and then enjoy a few post-dinner drinks with the stuff.

Something new I’ve started doing, and will try and include in main meals, is a spend estimation but it’s hard to calculate. Mainly because lots of recipes will use up things you have in the store cupboard (do I include the 1p I’ve taken from the flour, although I have undoubtedly at some point needed to spend 92p on flour?). So I’ll only give rough estimates. This meal should cost between £9-£10 to make.


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