I am a firm believer in learning by doing.
Too often you may see a recipe and there is a single picture of the finished article, maybe a carefully selected photograph of the one time they made it look perfect. It is all too common for a recipe or recipe blog to be a long list of ingredients followed by a body of text that doesn’t help the individual who is following the recipe know if they are on the right track.
That’s what I try to change in #ParlezPantry, I try to take you through the recipe visually, so you can keep track of your progress all the way through; at least, that’s the aim.
Firstly I created 32 meatballs, not large but about golf ball sized. Half of them were pork with fennel and basil whilst the remaining half were beef with freshly diced chillies. Place them in a mixing bowl and cover with the contents of a good bottle of Chianti. Always remember the rules about wine in #ParlezPantry. Cover with cling film and place in the fridge overnight.
When you begin to prepare on the day of the meal remove the mixing bowl with meatballs and chianti at least 1 hour prior to cooking them.
Grab 3 red onions, 3 medium carrots and 3 sticks of celery this will form the sofrito. Coupled with the fresh tomatoes this will be the base of our meal.
Take the tomatoes and place them in a pan of water and bring to the boil, this will rupture the skins so that once cooled you can easily peel and discard the skin; do not be tempted to do this too quickly or you will burn your hands as the tomato flesh retains a ridiculous amount of heat for a very long time.
Now then, on to the sofrito. Recently I had a discussion with my brother who was a professional chef working out of many hotels and locations in London who insisted what follows is a mirepoix, it is not. It all depends where you learn your trade, my background in cooking began whilst living and working in Italy at the turn of the millennium and I harbour all the knowledge that many ladies imparted to me.
Take 4 anchovie fillets and finely chop them. Do not worry if you think they’ll be too salty or too fishy in taste, you won’t see them or taste them, they shall simply melt away as the minced garlic heats up.
In turn add the onions so that we build the sofrito in layers.
Followed by the carrot.
Finally add the celery.
Continue to stir the sofrito until the vegetables have taken on the garlic and softened, we’re not trying to brown them.
Next up take approximately 180g of spiced chorizo and roughly chop before adding to the pan.
I use a 15.5″ x 2″ paella pan for this so that means it sits above 2 burners.
Gently release the oils of the chorizo over each burner (continue to rotate the pan every few minutes to prevent hotspots being created).
Stir to bind the oils to the vegetables for a few minutes then separate the contents of the pan away from the burners in order to ready the pan for the 24hr Chianti soaked meatballs.
At this stage they have the most incredible colour due to the wine, a wine that is not as robust as a Chianti would not impart so much colour nor flavour.
Turn the heat to maximum in order to brown the meatballs, no flavour without colour.
Once the meatballs begin to take on some colour combine the contents of the pan, stirring occasionally.
Add the freshly skinned and chopped tomatoes and reduce the heat.
Combine the contents of the pan once again ensuring you get all the sofrito blended in.
Next up add 600ml of chicken stock and simmer to create the first reduction. We’re going for 3 reductions in all to create that extra depth of flavour.
Once reduced add the Chianti that is in the mixing bowl which will create the second reduction.
When you begin to see tracks in the sauce as you stir you can detect how thick it is becoming and how close you are to achieving the second reduction.
At this stage at 2kg of passata and stir really well until all the colours combine, ensuring you get passata on every bit of the pan, right up to the edges.
Ensure the heat is maximum to almost bring the passata to a boil then turn to minimum to simmer, remember to rotate the pan.
At first it will seem as nothing is happening but the passata is taking on all the previous flavours whilst protecting the integrity of the meatballs which will result in the best flavoured, most intense and juiciest meatballs you have ever tasted, and yes, they did win the unequivocal approval of my brother.
As time passes the sauce thickens so make sure you keep stirring.
The next part is completely optional but it was shown to me by the Italian ladies and who am I to disagree. Take some homemade (or shop bought) chilli oil and sprinkle over the top then stir it in.
As the oil begins to infiltrate the passata place some fresh basil leaves on the top, leaving them there for a few minutes before stirring them in.
Into the final straight now, prepare the pasta but just prior to straining add 2 or 3 ladles of the pasta water to the sauce and blend in. The starch in the water makes the sauce silkier and adds yet another depth to the flavour.
The sauce will soon thicken again to create what you see below, when you achieve tracks such as these whilst stirring you know it is time to eat.
Hey ho. Those tracks in the snow, where do they lead to? Where do they go?
The juiciest balls you will ever put in your mouth!