When I think of cooking chicken mince, I immediately lean towards Asian flavours with loads of green onions, ginger and chilli. I want hoisin sauce and fresh leaves on vermicelli noodles, but that recipe will have to happen another day. I was desperate to make Marcella Hazan’s legendary tomato sauce so I settled on Italian flavours here. Spaghetti was the only option pasta wise, because chciken meatballs and spaghetti go together like Mia and Sebastian from La La Land. Obviously ground beef will work perfectly with this sauce and these are may favourite meatballs in case you were wondering, but I’m desperately trying to clear out a full freezer and had a bee in my bonnet with this chicken mince.
I have been seeing this tomato sauce recipe pop up everywhere for years. It even appears in the Food52 Genius recipe cookbook, which I bought and fell in love with last year, so I just had to give it a try. I kept imagining how such a simple sauce could be that spectacular especially since tomato sauce can be pretty generic and I have nailed it over the years. The key is the simplicity and the butter. I mean there is a fair amount in this sauce and you all know what they say about butter. She has stripped this sauce down to its bare basics where the flavour of the tomato shines through and it really is quite phenomenal. The obvious downside is taking the normally low-fat pasta sauce and turning it into something decadent, but if calorie watching is not your concern, you should jump straight into your kitchen and make this. It is life changing. If calorie watching IS your concern, you should make it anyway and just notch it up as a cheat.
In Marcella’s recipe she uses 900gms (2 pounds) of fresh ripe tomatoes, which you need to peel first. This is obviously the first prize and definitely one I will try in the future, but it also works really well with canned tomatoes too. The equivalent measurement is 2 x 480gm tins (2 cups) of Italian tomatoes, cut up, with their juice. I had some fabulous Italian passata in my fridge that needed using so I did one tin tomatoes plus the equivalent measure of the passata sauce. Having it smoother was also fantastic in terms of coating the pasta.
The other strange aspect in this recipe is the half onion which you add to the sauce to subtly add flavour. There is no chopping here. Marcella recommends removing this before serving but it really is quite delicious to add the florets to the mix. That is if you are serving this sauce on its own, bare naked and without the meatballs which would be perfect too. I might quarter it next time so that they come apart more easily into florets in the sauce. I ate them on their own in a bowl covered with a little sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.
Speaking of Parmesan, don’t you just love my vintage Parm garter pictured above? I have been searching for it for so many years and eventually it popped up on a prop sourcing mission. I don’t understand why modern utensil manufacturers don’t make this design all the time because I have never encountered a more effective way to grate hard cheese before. I’m smitten.
Recipe – feeds 4
- 500gms (about a pound) chicken mince
- 2 x shallots or a 1/4 of an onion very finely chopped
- 2 thick rashers of streaky bacon, or 3 thinner ones, diced very finely diced
- 1 small garlic clove minced
- 3 Tbs chopped garlic
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 free-range egg
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- 2 Tbs tomato paste
- pinch of dried chili flakes (optional)
- 1 tsp miso paste (optional)
- 1/2 tsp salt and black pepper
- flour for dusting
- olive oil for frying
- 900gms fresh, ripe tomatoes skinned or 2 x 480gm tins imported Italian tomatoes, cut up, in their juice
- 70gms (5 tablespoons) butter
- 1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
- Sea salt flakes such as Maldon
- 1 500gm packet the best spaghetti
- Freshly grated Parmesan preferably Parmigiano Reggiano
To make the tomato sauce:
Put the tomatoes, butter, onion and salt in a medium heavy based pot and cook uncovered for 45 minutes on a gentle simmer. Stir every now and again breaking up any larger pieces of tomato with your spoon.
Taste and add more salt if its required (it needs a fair amount) and discard the onion.
To make the meatballs:
While your tomato sauce is simmering away making your home smell delicious, prep all your ingredients for the meatballs.
Fry the bacon over a low heat until the fat renders out and add the chopped onion and garlic. Allow this to soften for a couple of minutes (you do not want to brown this). *add a splash of olive oil to the pan if the bacon is quite dry.
Mix this with all the other meatball ingredients using your hands to make sure everything is thoroughly incorporated.
Dust a tray or a cooking surface with a small handful of flour and dust your hands before rolling small meatballs. Lightly dust the meatballs and sit them on the flour.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan with a few about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and fry the meatballs in two batches until golden on all sides. I found shaking the pan around a bit helps keep their round shape. Set aside.
Once the sauce is cooked and the onion removed, add the meatballs. Continue cooking for a further 5 – 8 minutes in the sauce until they are cooked through. Toss through the freshly cooked spaghetti and serve with lashings of grated Parmesan.
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