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.
To carry on with the Summer Wine Brewery theme, Diablo (6%) takes some beating in the taste stakes. Diablo is aptly named; it’s a real devil in a glass – one of those beers that – despite its relative aggressiveness -remains easy to drink. Hazy orange in colour, it starts with a grapefruit-led hop profile, with some sweet, honeyed notes underneath. The body is surprisingly light, with some grainy, biscuity malt popping in before the main attraction arrives; a massive, drying hop finish of bitter lemon and orange pith. As I said, this is an unapologetically bold IPA, but remains wonderfully balanced. In a bottle you can take your time over it; on Cask there’s more fruitiness coming through – and it’s slightly less dry. It’s also just been released on Keg, too, so keep an eye out.
If you’ve never had Baked Feta before, then do try it. It’s a wonderful match for beers such as fruity IPA’s because Feta itself is intrinsically a little bland – baking it with herbs just softens it up, makes it creamier – a dish more about texture than flavour. The saltiness of the cheese balances out the beer and vice versa. Simply make a little tin-foil basket for your feta to sit in, drizzle with Olive Oil and Mint (you can put any herb you like on it really – Mint is just traditionally Greek and I love it. Chilli is good, too) and bake in the oven on a high heat until the top browns slightly. Share with crusty bread to smear the warm cheese onto, and a simple Greek salad of Tomatoes and Cucumber. A wonderful little starter or sharing dish.
>I’m not going on holiday this year. This saddens me deeply – but the urge to move house means that all the usual holiday funds are being ploughed into that. Whichever way you look at it, stumping up for Solicitor’s fees and endless tins of paint is simply not fun.