The only thing with this kind of weather (and the darkness that settles in much earlier with the season changes) is that it is easy to turn oneself to comfort food. And let me tell you it can happen very fast with all the choice you get nowadays (something I discovered upon my return from Australia, so many new cafes and restaurants, and products!).
But I never make it so easy for myself. Take yesterday for example. A cold Sunday afternoon when all you want to do is to curl up on the couch and read or watch some DVDs (I have been watching episode after episode of 'Arrested Development', so funny I could not stop). The only thing is I wanted some cake and there wasn't any around, not even a biscuit! So I baked mini cakes.
And then, it goes the same way for dinners. And the thing I prefer for comfort food is a lovely pasta dish. After French food, Italian is my favourite. I make a risotto once a week and I always look for the best Italian restaurant around. I did find an excellent place for pasta while in Melbourne (Australia). It is called 'Pellegrini's Espresso Bar' and it is an institution over there. And let me tell you that the pasta dishes are incredible.
And here in Dublin, there is quite a lovely place too on Bachelors Walk in the city centre. Once that we were out with a small group of friends, our friend A. had booked a table for us there. It is very small so you really want to book. The name of this place is Terra Madre. They serve very authentic food, the dishes are absolutely delicious. I highly recommend it.
So now, here is my take on Italian food for a lovely dinner and warm up a bit after a trip outside.
I added some tomato chutney to the meatballs as I like the sweet tangy taste it gives them.
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Ingredients (serves 4 large portions or 6 smaller ones)
300g dried spaghetti
For the meatballs (makes approximately 30 meatballs)
250g minced beef
250g minced pork
1 large egg
1 tbsp tomato chutney
1 tsp dried oregano
10 crumbed water crackers (I crumb mine with a pestle and mortar)
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
For the sauce
800g tomato puree (passata, which is pure tomatoes blended with water but nothing else)
1 large onion (finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 tsp chilli flakes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp dried oregano
freshly ground pepper
100g freshly grated parmesan cheese (for serving)
Please note that if you want to make this recipe gluten free, replace the crackers and spaghetti with their gluten free equivalent.
Put all of the meatballs ingredients (except for the olive oil that is kept for the end) in a large bowl. Mix very well with your hands until it all blends together.
Scoop the meat with a teaspoon and roll between your hands to make the meatballs. Display them on a large plate. Drizzle the olive oil over the meat and roll the balls around a bit so they are evenly coated. Cover with some clingfilm and leave in the fridge for at least half an hour before cooking.
When half an hour has passed, you can get started.
Grab a large and deep frying pan and put on medium heat. Add the olive oil (I usually put a bit of the chopped onion in the oil as a guide: when it starts sizzling, the pan is hot enough). Then, add the finely chopped onion and stir for about 8 minutes or until the onion has softened and is taking a golden colour. At this stage, add the garlic and chilli flakes and stir gently for 2 minutes.
Pour in the tomato puree, the balsamic vinegar and sprinkle over the dried oregano. Stir well together and turn the heat on low so the sauce is only simmering.
In the meantime, start boiling the water to cook your pasta (follow the instructions on the packet; if you are using fresh pasta, wait a bit longer as the pasta will cook faster).
Put a frying pan on medium heat. When the pan is hot, start frying your meatballs. I do not add any fat or oil at this stage as the meat is already covered in olive oil. When the meatballs are evenly browned (on all sides), put them one by one in the sauce. Cover and let it all simmer on low heat (I use a spatter guard to cover my frying pan; the last time I forgot, I was quickly reminded to put it on as I discovered the walls of the kitchen had been redesigned with 'lovely' red spots...).
Now, you can start cooking your dried pasta. When cooked, drain well (if you like your sauce a bit more liquid, you can reserve some of the pasta water and add it to the sauce, 4 tablespoons should be enough).
Serve in large bowls or deep dinner plates. Divide the spaghetti between the bowls, then add the sauce and the meatballs. Sprinkle over the grated parmesan cheese.
Since there are only two of us at home, and we do not always want to wait to have guests to eat this dish, I sometimes make it with just enough pasta for two. This way, we can eat the meatballs the next day in a sandwich (preferably with baguette) with some shaved parmesan cheese.