Although this may already be somewhat outdated as the ‘Street Food’ episode of the Apprentice was broadcast last Wednesday and it is now Monday, you must forgive me as when you lack a telly, the realisation of having to watch something on iPlayer makes it less and less of a burning priority. However, having finally caught up with Sir Alan (or Lord Sugar; whichever title he is feeling best suits him that week), I felt there were a few things that came out of the episode which ought to be pointed out, and put right! The task was to create a dish that was both gourmet and suitable to be street-vended; the results were an Aberdeen Angus Beef Scot Pot casserole, and Utterly Delicious meatballs and pasta. Obviously, the meatballs coming in with a costing of around £90, opposed to the Scottish casserole’s £200 alone on beef, cannot be described as gourmet dining, and thus they deserved their loss simply on the principle of failing to adhere to the brief and specification.
However, in losing the task for using ‘Basics’ ingredients, I felt the meatballs were rubbished simply because they weren’t costly. Ingredients may not be gourmet in price – but in taste, when used properly, they are more than a match. Admittedly, the meatballs featuring in the cardboard boxes on the Apprentice left a lot of be desired presentation-wise: the dish may have been of quality taste, but it didn’t look as if this was the case! The presentation of the Apprentice’s meatballs made frugality appear to be synonymous with low quality – and this isn’t true. Frugality can produce high quality, high tasting and highly attractive dishes!
So, I set out to prove that good quality tasting food can be both cheap, and well presented. The ingredients I am using for these meatballs are inspired by the research carried out on the Apprentice, and the method is one of my own (similar to the Moroccan meatballs from January). As in the Apprentice, the meatballs in this recipe are homemade; pre-rolled beef meatballs can be purchased from most supermarkets, which save immensely on time. Rolling 250g of lean beef mince in a bowl, together with an egg yolk, a drizzle of oil and a sprinkling of dried rosemary, I was able to create meatballs which carried their own flavour; this flavour could be improved by using fresh rosemary, as the taste of the herb would be intensified.
Other than the meatballs, the important component of flavour in this dish is the tomato sauce. It is important to simmer it for a good hour before adding the meatballs, to allow the flavours of the tomatoes, thyme and balsamic vinegar to infuse. Adding the meatballs to the sauce late in the cooking process allows the sauce to lend moisture to the meatballs, without overpowering their individual rosemary taste. In my tomato sauce, I have included carrots and mushrooms to increase the nutritional value of the dish (and I like vegetables), but this isn’t by any means a requirement!
Moreover, merely on a point of presentation, I felt that the short pasta used in the Apprentice did not lend itself to ‘gourmet’ cuisine. Instead, using spaghetti, linguine, or another long Italian pasta would give the air of sophistication that Sir Alan was after. Presentation isn’t everything, but in some cases it can be important; an inexpensive meal clearly doesn’t correlate to poor taste – and appetising presentation is a good convincer!
- 250g lean beef mince
- 1 egg yolk
- A sprinkling of dried, or fresh, rosemary
- 400g tin of plum tomatoes
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
- Red onion, finely diced
- Balsamic vinegar
- Dried thyme
- Olive oil
- Handful of button mushrooms, halved
- 1 small carrot, finely sliced
- Salt and pepper, to season
- Beginning with the sauce, fry the onions, mushrooms and carrots over a low heat in olive oil until softened. Add the garlic, and fry for a further 5 minutes.
- When the ingredients in the pan are soft and are just about to brown, add the tinned tomatoes. Add a lid to the pan, and allow to simmer for half an hour until it has reduced and thickened.
- Using a wooden spoon, gently break the plum tomatoes against the side of the pan. Introduce the balsamic vinegar, a sprinkling of dried thyme and season. Replace the lid, and simmer for a further half an hour.
- Whilst the sauce is simmering the second time, prepare the meatballs. In a bowl, place the beef mince, egg yolk and the rosemary. Using your hands, massage the ingredients together in the bowl and add the oil to soften the consistency, giving moisture to the meatballs.
- Divide into small balls, and place on a plate.
- In a frying pan, fry the meatballs until cooked through. It is important here to ensure that the meatballs retain their shape – do this by cooking fully on one side, thus cementing the circular shape before attempting to turn. Turning prematurely may cause the meatballs to break up!
- When the meatballs are cooked, remove them from the frying pan and add to the tomato sauce. Stir to combine, coating the meatballs in the sauce.
- In a small saucepan, boil the pasta in salted water for 20 minutes, or until al dente. Season, and sprinkle with a little olive oil. Serve the meatballs on the bed of pasta, taking care in presentation to give it that true gourmet touch!