‘Le Sirenuse’ Meatballs with Pine Kernels and Raisins in Fresh Tomato Sauce

My friend Franco still lives in his family house overlooking the sea at Positano in Southern Italy-though it is now a luxurious hotel, Le Sirenuse. It was on a visit to see Franco that I had these Neapolitan meatballs. The addition of soaked bread gives them a lovely soft consistency and the pine kernels and raisins are included in many local dishes.

Unfortunately, the tomatoes available in Britain are unlikely ever to rival the wondrously intense flavour of the small plum tomatoes I had on the Amalfi Coast, so a little tomato purée is needed to add strength to the sauce.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium-thick slices white bread
  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 50 g/2 oz pine kernels
  • handful fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 500 g/1 lb 2 oz lean minced beef
  • 150 g/5 oz Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 50 g/2 oz small seedless raisins
  • plain flour for sprinkling
  • sunflower oil for frying
  • salt
  • black pepper

For the sauce

  • 500 g/1 lb 2 oz ripe tomatoes, the plum variety if available
  • 1 medium onion
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 level tablespoons Italian tomato purée
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar

Method

Cut the crusts off the bread, put the slices in a dish, cover with water and leave to soak for 3-5 minutes. Then squeeze the bread in your hands to drain it. Peel the garlic and chop finely.

Heat a dry frying pan, add the pine kernels and toss about briskly over a high heat until slightly browned. Turn out on to a work surface to cool. Chop the parsley finely.

Put the minced beef into a large bowl and add the squeezed-out bread, garlic, parsley and Parmesan cheese. Whisk the eggs and add to the mixture with some salt and black pepper. Using your hands, blend the mixture thoroughly for several minutes, adding the pine kernels and raisins halfway through. Form the mixture into balls a little smaller than pingpong size and sprinkle lightly all over with flour. Pour a generous amount of sunflower oil into a large frying pan and put over a medium heat. Add the meatballs and fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove from the heat while you make the sauce.

Put the tomatoes into a bowl, pour boiling water over them and leave for about 2 minutes, then drain, peel and chop up fairly small. Peel the onion and chop finely. Put the olive oil into a deep-sided frying pan over a medium heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring often, until fairly soft and golden. Then add the chopped tomatoes and any juice and stir in the tomato purée and caster sugar. Cook gently for 15-20 minutes, stirring until mushy, then add the meatballs and cook them in the sauce without stirring for another 10 minutes. Turn into a heated serving dish and serve.

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