Braised Meatballs and Bellerose Blonde
Years ago – when my wife and I were ‘just seeing each other’ and acting all cool about it – we took one of our regular holidays to Greece. Halkidiki, to be exact. It was great, as most of our Greek trips are. One afternoon we took a walk up to a beach other than ‘ours’ , and whilst taking a lunch break we spotted a beachside Taverna. Beach-distressed, peeling Blue and White Paint, grandmother in the kitchen, mother out front and sons and daughters waiting tables. You know the kind.
We spotted a dish called Granny’s Meatballs, spelled in pidgin English on the menu. Much hilarity ensued and we both ordered it – purely for shits and giggles. The joke was firmly on us, as the meatballs in question were something that we still talk about to this day, getting on for ten years later. What made them, was that they were braised, rather than grilled, fried or baked. Once you’ve tried this, you won’t go back – and it’s genuinely one of the tastiest things I can make.
Firstly, make your meatballs. Mix minced Turkey (trust me) with chopped, good quality smoked streaky bacon (no horse!) and season with white pepper, Salt, freshly-blitzed breadcrumbs, an onion (chopped finely), Oregano, Thyme and two minced Garlic cloves. Cover with cling film and leave to one side whilst you make your braising broth.
The broth itself should look weak. It’s a broth, not a sauce – bear that in mind. In a pan, add one pint of chicken stock to a small carton of tomato passata, or three large grated tomatoes. It’s a messy job, grating tomatoes, but I’ve seen numerous chefs and cooks in Greece doing it. To that, stir in a little black pepper, a little more Thyme, another minced clove of Garlic and a drop of l. Olive Oil. Bring to the boil, then leave to simmer gently.
Time to assemble the dish. Slice one whole lemon and lay on the bottom of your baking dish. This addition of Lemon is the key to this recipe; I’d go as far as to say that if you don’t have lemon, don’t make it. Arrange the meatballs on top, then fill halfway up the meatballs with the stock.
Cover with tinfoil, and carefully place in a pre-heated oven. Cook at 160c for about 40 minutes, checking halfway that you’ve not run out of stock, and adding more if needed. The stock should always be halfway up the side of the meatballs. Cooking them this way gives them a lovely soft texture, and retains all the flavour in the meat; which will taste mild and smoky all at once. The lemon and herbs are the kicker though; adding an aromatic, zesty streak throughout the dish.
Serve with crusty bread (or Chips, perhaps!) and, of course, a beer. Given the lightness of the flavours involved – which is a surprise, as you’re expecting something much heavier – I would recommend Brasserie Des Sources’ Bellerose Biere Blonde Extra (6.5%abv). It’s fairly widely available now and has some interesting flavours going on; familiar Belgian influences in the nose of spice and citrus rind – wich picks up in the broth nicely – and a bitter, somewhat clean finish after a sweet start. Get a couple of these poured and enjoy some summery flavours as those blue skies just start making an appearance.
If you can’t get your hands on this, I would also recommend trying not-too-hoppy Pale Ales, and one of the raft of UK lagers that are out there at the moment, such as Hawkshead’s Lager, West’s St Mungo or Saisons and Biere De Gardes.