D's Cookery Corner: Meatballs and Tagliatelle

There is nothing as comforting as meatballs and tagliatelle. This two pot dish is all done on the hob and no ovens are needed. This is a simple dish for kids and adults alike. Start with some rosemary. For those of you who do not know what rosemary is, it is the ultimate aromatic herb, great with all meat dishes but in the garden it is great to brush past and run your fingers through. Legend goes that the herb flowers blue because the Virgin Mary laid her blue shawl across it and certainly in times gone by it was a favourite bush to lie wet sheets and clothes across to dry in the sun as the oils of the rosemary lingered on the cloth for days afterwards. D takes time here after cutting up the rosemary to breath it in before adding a tablespoon of dried oregano. Some people say too much rosemary makes the meal taste 'soapy', as someone who once sat on a back doorstep with a bar of soap in their mouth after introducing their Mum to their first ever learnt swear word, I can safely say that I have never found this to be the case but common sense should prevail when adding herbs to meals, and it should always be for your taste. No recipe can catch your taste, it merely opens the door to you playing around with food. At this time of year our larder groans with dried herbs but we long for fresh herbs, this year we are upping our herb production and we hope you will join us in the garden. You can subscribe to our YouTube Channel or follow us on twitter and Facebook. All your support helps us continue what we do.

D learns the wonders of cooking meatballs and tagliatelle

We need pepper next and D has grown proficient in the use of a mortar and pestle, hammering the lovely corns into coarse pepper. This too is added to the rosemary and oregano. I cannot state how much a mortar and pestle is worth in the kitchen, we have had ours for years and normally just wipe it out to preserve all the aromatic oils that have soaked into it over the years. When all electrics are out you will never go far wrong with this simple piece of kit, no blades, no electrics, no little fingers or big ones in danger.

Why a mortar and pestle is the best piece of equipment in the kitche

However, D does use scissors to cut up dried herbs, and it is advisable for rosemary. It's also advisable to watch small fingers with scissors and give them a hand when needed. This rule also goes for knives too. Sometimes a little common sense in the kitchen goes a long way.

Learn how to cut up rosemary

We actually reuse old herb jars from supermarkets to store our own garden herbs. They're useful and go with a mix of jam jars and bags we have in the larder. We used to label all our jars but have grown use to just opening them and smelling what's inside now.

Adding herbs to sauces

Next we add 1lb of mince and two large pork sausages without the casings. We normally get a pound of sausage meat and use the rest to make sausage rolls and as I write this I can smell them cooking in the kitchen. This will give us a lunch tomorrow. But for sake of argument and advice, we normally use around two large sausages in this meal. The sausage meat adds a little fat but more importantly binds the meatballs without the need for eggs. All this lovely meatiness (look away vegetarians or use quorn) is mixed in with the herbs using your hands. If you're squeamish, look away now.

Learn how to make meatballs

The only way to do this is with your hands or in the case of D, your fingers, mushing the sausage meat and minced beef together.

Making a mix of meatballs for tomato sauces

Sometimes a little help is needed for little hands.

Cooking as a family encourages children to experiment with food

Then it is a case of rolling them into balls. Much hilarity here, D nearly fell off his stool laughing at the idea of balls. 

Make cooking fun, especially when balls are involved

They don't have to be massive balls -- see what we mean about laughing? Stop sniggering -- and place your balls -- stop it! -- on a cool baking tray. Your balls will be chilled -- I said, stop it! -- for around an hour in the fridge.

Balls on a tray

How to make meatballs

Whilst the meatballs are chilling, this helps them to keep their form and stops them from collapsing in the sauce. Chop up around eight mushrooms and one onion.

How to make a simple tomato sauce for pasta

After one hour, fry off your meatballs in a little oil. Don't think that's funny? Okay, fry your balls in a little oil -- see, you're laughing again, try this with a young boy who thinks the mere mention of balls is something to phone his Grandma about. He just wants to share the joy. Fry the meatballs until they have browned and place on a tray. Don't try to fry too many meatballs at a time, 4-5 will do and in the case of 1lb of mince you will get around 14 balls. Try to fry all your balls at once and they will steam rather than fry.

How to fry meatballs

The meatballs will give out a bit of oil and you will fry your onions and mushrooms in it. You will notice lots of brown goodness from the meat on the bottom of the pan so you need to deglaze with a glass or red wine. Deglaze is a cheffy word for getting all that meat burnt on stuff off, it's great because it does work and it saves you from having to scrub it off in the sink later on. The alcohol will cook off from the wine and the pan sides will soon be clean if you scrape your wooden spoon around knocking off all that burnt on meat from the balls. Stop it! The fruity taste of the wine lingers in the sauce too.

How to deglaze pans when cooking

Add some tomato puree after the wine smell has cooked off. The onions and mushrooms should be cooked through by this point and adding the puree will thicken it all up. Quickly add a tin of chopped tomatoes and then refill the tin with water. Add this to the pan and keep stirring. Turn down to simmer. In your mortar and pestle, chop up some rosemary, oregano and grind in some pepper and fennel seed. We saved ours from our herb garden. Add a pinch of salt. Add this herb mix to your sauce and stir in. Quantities are down to your taste buds, but we recommend around a teaspoon of each.

How to cook meatballs in a tomato sauce

Next, take your browned off meatballs and gently plop them into the sauce.

The art of plopping in cookery

Cover with a lid and cook on a gentle heat for 30-40 mins and uncover for the last 20-30 minutes to thicken up the sauce.

How to thicken tomato sauces

Whilst that is cooking knock some pudding up. Carol cooked a pineapple upside down cake which we had with yoghurt. No, we're not sharing that recipe, some family secrets we keep and this one has been passed down to us.

Some family recipes stay secret

In a separate pan add a little cold water and place on the heat. Fill up your kettle and bring to the boil, add this to the now simmering water in the pan. This is a much quicker way to get a pan boiling. Add your tagliatelle as soon as the pan boils, add a little salt too, just a pinch. As the tagliatelle cooks, add a little of the water from the pasta to the sauce, this helps the sauce to thicken up more and we swear it helps coat the pasta. When the pasta is cooked, drain. Turn off the heat on your meatballs, add the tagliatelle, toss until the pasta is coated and serve immediately. Take the whole pan to the table if you wish, place on a heat proof mat, and allow everyone to dive in.

Meatballs and tagliatelle ready for the tabe

The great thing about getting D to cook is that he is asking how mushrooms are grown, where beef comes from, how sausages are made, where pasta is made and more importantly it is giving him confidence to decide what he would like to try and cook next. He may be a few months off cooking on his own but at least we know that he can make his own sandwich without us wincing when he picks up a butter knife.

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