Food & wine

Pork meatballs with whipped ricotta and roasted datterini tomatoes

If you’ve ever tried Tuscan fennel and chilli sausages, you’ll know that they are superior to just about any other sausage out there. Unsurprisingly, fresh Tuscan sausages are very hard to come by in the UK, which is why I’ve come up with these meatballs which are just as good, if not better. I use a Calabrian chilli paste in the roasted tomatoes that you can find in many Italian delis or speciality shops and online – it’s well worth seeking out and not just for this recipe; a small spoonful in your sauces, soups and stews will really enhance them.

Meatballs

Ingredients (serves 4)

Meatballs

  • ½ tbsp fennel seeds
  • 400g pork mince
  • 2 eggs
  • 80g pancetta cubes or lardons, very finely chopped
  • 40g parmesan or pecorino, finely grated
  • ½ onion, peeled and finely grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/crushed
  • 10g fresh parsley, very finely chopped
  • 1½ tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp lemon zest
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp chilli flakes
  • ¾ tsp fine salt
  • Plenty of black pepper

Roasted tomatoes

  • 350g sweet, ripe datterini or cherry tomatoes
  • 10g basil, stalks and leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with the side of a knife
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp maple syrup or honey 
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • ½ tsp fine salt
  • ½ tbsp water
  • 2 tsp Calabrian chilli paste aka Crema di peperoncino (I use Seggiano’s)

Whipped ricotta

  • 250g full fat ricotta
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely grated/crushed
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • ¼ tsp fine salt
  • Plenty of pepper (about 10 twists)

To serve 

  • 10g fresh parsley
  • 10g fresh basil leaves
  • ½ small onion, very thinly sliced
  • 1 lemon, halved

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 230°C/210°C fan.
  2. First make the meatballs. Add the fennel seeds to a large frying pan on a medium-high heat. Toast for 2 minutes, tossing the seeds every now and then until fragrant. Tip into a mortar and crush to a coarse powder. 
  3. Tip the crushed seeds into a large mixing bowl along with all the remaining ingredients for the meatballs. Mix very well, then with oiled hands, form into 12 compact meatballs. 
  4. Place the cherry tomatoes into a 20cm round baking dish (or similar) - the dish should be just big enough to fit them snugly in a single layer (if it's any bigger, the liquid produced whilst roasting will catch and burn). Add the basil, garlic, oil, maple syrup, fennel seeds and fine salt and mix well. Roast for 25 mins, or until the tomatoes are beginning to char. Remove from the oven and stir in the water and up to 2 tsp Calabrian chilli paste, to taste. 
  5. While the tomatoes are roasting, fry the meatballs. Heat a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add 1½ tbsp oil and, once hot, spread the meatballs out in the pan and fry for 10 minutes, turning three times throughout, until you get a good golden-brown crust all over. Transfer the meatballs to a baking tray, then transfer to the oven for 5 mins, until cooked through. 
  6. Add all the ingredients for the ricotta to a mixing bowl and whisk until completely smooth. Spoon the ricotta onto a large platter and top with the meatballs, followed by the roasted tomatoes and their juices. For the salad topping, toss the herbs together with a bit of oil, salt and lemon juice. Arrange over the meatballs and serve with lemon wedges alongside.

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Ixta Belfrage

Guest writer

Ixta Belfrage

Members may recognise Ixta as a contributor to The Guardian, and co-writer of Yotam Ottolenghi's Flavour and as daughter of the late Italian specialist, Nicolas Belfrage MW. Her recently published first book MEZCLA: Recipes to excite, draws inspiration from countries visited and lived in as a child: Brazil, Italy and Mexico.

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