When Don and I first started dating, his desire to cook was infectious, if not entirely appetizing. The first meal that he ever cooked for me consisted of green pea & mint soup, and Thai green curry- I’ll never forget it. He was obviously inspired by the colour green and it coated the kitchen splash back, floor and his right incisor as he worked his artistic kitchen magic. In the years to follow the amount of time Don has spent int the kitchen has decreased dramatically. These days it’s mostly for a bagel or to heat up leftover take-out, which he ordered because I was out the night before. I can’t really blame him, he has been spoiled rotten by my fit-for-a-King leftovers from work. In any case I can’t claim to have encouraged his kitchen exploits with much enthusiasm- my new kitchen is my baby, afterall and cooking with Don is similar to a Jackson Pollack painting.
It’s not that Don is a bad cook- in fact he has quite a few gooduns up his sleeve- when he so chooses to bring them out. One of these such gooduns are his tuna meatballs, which have become a Sunday night favourite after I’ve been at work all day and he’s left by himself to the kitchen. In our four and a half years of dating it did not take him long to realise that cleaning up before I got home would ultimately determine my mood and stress levels. He’s quite clever, really.
The meatballs started with a Jamie Oliver recipe in the Jamie’s Italy book. After managing to follow the recipe successfully several times he started to get imaginative with the ingredients. The first time he went a little overboard and couldn’t even remember what had gone in them but overtime they have developed into something truly wonderful. It’s not that Jamie’s weren’t good enough- we just found them a touch rich and so we lightened them up- made them a little more waistline-friendly without them losing any depth of flavour. I know it seems ridiculous to take an expensive piece of fish, like Tuna, hack it up and squeeze it into balls but trust me it’s worth it. I like to use up scraps of tuna, and because it’s cooked through, it doesn’t need to be sushi grade- what’s more you don’t have to worry so much about the overcooking part. You can easily buy your own tomato sauce (or make your own recipe) and feel free to omit the fennel, anchovies and capers- they’re just Don’s gourmet touch and they add a certain je ne sais quoi to what are otherwise just plain old tuna meatballs.
I wish there was a more appealing sounding name for these but I’m yet to come up with one- they are one of Don and I’s dinner favourites and we’ve spent a lot of time playing around with the ingredients to get the best flavours.
Diet Facts: Fish & tomatoes, sounds healthy to me.
For the sauce:
1/2 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 small zucchini, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
1/3 fennel bulb, outer layer removed and finely chopped (optional)
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 large cans whole plum tomatoes
Sprig of parsley
For the meatballs:
1/2 large onion, finely chopped
1/4 fennel bulb, outer layer removed and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
550g fresh Tuna
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
4 anchovies, chopped
1/3 cup chopped tarragon or parsley
1 heaped Tbsp capers, chopped
40g/ 1 1/2 oz grated parmesan
85g/3oz fresh breadcrumbs (whole grain are fine)
zest 1 lemon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/ Make the sauce by heating a couple of tablespoonfuls of good olive oil ina large heavy based pan over a medium-high heat. Add all of the vegetables, turn the heat down to medium and stir to coat in the oil. Cook, stirring often for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Add the tomatoes, squeezing each tomato between your hands to break up. Add the parsley sprig and allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes. To finish you can puree the sauce if you like it smooth or you can keep it as is. Season with salt and pepper.
2/ For the meatballs, heat 1 Tbsp olive in in a large heavy based frying pan. Add the onion and fennel over a medium-low heat and cook until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic for the last minute of cooking. Remove to a bowl and allow to cool.
3/Cut out any of the bloodline on the tuna and discard. Cut into roughly 2.5cm/1 inch cubes. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in the same frying pan. Season the tuna lightly with salt (the anchovies and parmesan are salty), pepper and the cinnamon. Toss into the pan with the anchovies shake the pan gently to turn the tuna around and sear on all sides. You do not need to cook it all the way through. Remove from the pan and allow to cool.
4/ Once cool mix together with the onion mixture and the remaining ingredients. Squeeze the mixture into balls using your hand. You really need to squeeze the mixture to get it to form into balls. You can make them any size you like but the mixture will make 12 the size of a small scoop of ice cream. Place onto a baking tray lined with bake-o-glide or parchment, cover lightly with cling film and chill for half an hour.
5/ Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Bake the meatballs in the oven for 20 minutes or until lightly golden. Alternatively, you can fry them on the stove in olive oil, but this is messier so I choose to bake them! Toss with the sauce and serve with extra shreds of parmesan and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.