Stuffed Meatballs with Red Pepper Sauce

This is a gooey, luxurious pasta dish, perfect for those chilly evenings when you need a little pampering. The meatballs are stuffed with mozzarella which melts as they cook, making them fabulously rich. The sauce, which is packed with tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, is sweet and smokey, and counteracts the gooey meatballs perfectly.

I recently won a Twitter competition run by Bristol-based company Flavrbox – I know! I was really excited too! – and the prize was a 12 month subscription to their fabulous food delivery service. Each month, you get a little box of fabulous artisan foodie products – it’s sort of like a farmers’ market in a box, but with farmers from all over the place. This month, my first box arrived and one of the delicious things inside was a jar of aviar from The Pelagonia Range – a sweet, smokey blend of roasted red peppers and aubergines. Apparently, aviar is an ancient regional recipe from Macedonia – so old it was served at the banquets of Alexander the Great!  I used about half of the jar to make my pasta sauce. It’s available to buy in Waitrose, and I’d really recommend getting some, but if you can’t, just buy something similar with roasted peppers (which are available in all the supermarkets) or even consider making your own.

My Flavrbox, full of exciting goodies!

To roast your own peppers, simply pop them under the grill on a high heat and keep an eye on them, turning as necessary, until the skin is blackened and papery. They will spit and sizzle a bit, but don’t worry. It’s important to keep going until the skin is well blackened, as it will then peel off easily. If you’re using aubergine as well, you can simply pop it in the microwave to get it going, as you’ll be cooking it within the sauce as well – pierce the skin first, then blast it for 8 minutes. Slice the skin off with a knife, leaving only the softened centre, then mix with the peppers. Use in the sauce as instructed below.

For the meatballs:
About 200g beef mince
A handful of cream crackers – about 5 or 6
Dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 egg
Half a ball of mozzarella
Olive oil
For the sauce:
200g smoked bacon lardons
1 onion
A couple of cloves of garlic
3 or 4 large tomatoes
Half a jar or aviar or similar, or 1 pepper and 1 aubergine, to make your own as above
Salt and pepper
Dried spaghetti, fresh basil and grated cheddar, to serve

Serves 2, with some left over for lunch the next day.

First of all, get your sauce started. Dice the onion finely and chop the garlic, and get it sizzling in a splash of olive oil, on a medium heat. Once the onion has started to soften, add the bacon lardons. Keeping an eye on that pan, move on to your meatballs. First of all, you need to crush the crackers – I would do this in my little mini-processor (check out the Kitchen Bits & Bobs page for more info), but you could also wrap the crackers in a plastic bag and bash with a rolling pin. In a large bowl, mix the mince with the cracker crumbs and add a generous sprinkle of dried oregano, salt and pepper. Finally, break the egg and carefully add just the white. Mix well, and if it all looks too sloppy, add a few more crackers’ worth of crumbs. It needs to be sticky, but solid enough to clump together. Put the mixture to one side for a moment.

Go back to your sauce now – slice up the tomatoes and add to the pan, along with a couple of big spoonfuls of aviar or your aubergine & pepper mixture. Season and add a splash of water, then turn the heat down and put the lid on the pan.

Next, you need to form your meatballs. First, chop up the mozzarella into small pieces, about the size of a penny. Next, scrub your hands and then start scooping out pieces of the mince mixture – roll between your palms to form a ball, then flatten the ball and reshape with a piece of mozzarella in the middle. Once all the mixture is used, put a frying pan on a medium-high heat with a splash of olive oil and tip all the meatballs in. Give the pan a bit of a shake to make sure the meatballs are coated in the oil and then keep them moving as they cook. After about five minutes they should be browned all over with no pink areas showing – at this point, add them to the pan of sauce and put the lid back on.

Finally, cook your pasta according to the instructions and then mix in with the sauce. Grate over a bit of cheddar cheese and then serve up a couple of gooey spoonfuls and top with some fresh basil. To really add a spectacular touch, try making your own fresh pasta - see my How To page for instructions.