Life in the new flat is not all wine and roses. Since my move in early October, I’ve been contending with the Never-Ending Kitchen Remodel. You know, that delightful pastiche featuring those charming rascals, the Slapdash Contractors, with supporting roles played by the Goddamn Shitty Appliances. The first time I attempted to use the oven I turned on the timer rather than the heat, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. It ticked loudly tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick until I worked out how to get the heat on and blew all the fuses in the kitchen. Sarf-East cockney contractor Del-boy came round an hour or two later and put the oven on its own fuse. Once the oven was reconnected the timer started ticking again tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Del-boy scratched his head, muttered something about not being boffered, and skulked off. Saturday I brought home beef bones to roast for stock, at which point I learned the oven doesn’t actually work, as in doesn’t get hot. I stomped around crankily and may have whined a bit about wanting to roast things. Lovely Flatmate called the truculent nameless Polish contractor, who looked in the oven and said, “I can’t fix. You need specialist.”
So, still no oven. The timer works though. There it is now, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick.
In the scheme of things, this is not a grand calamity, even though it means NO EXPAT THANKSGIVING (*sob*). I can cook lots of perfectly nice things without an oven. These meatballs, for example. They’re sort of a riff on albondigas – the saffron almond sauce is pretty classic, although I’ve adapted it to give it more of a North African twist, which suits the lamb. There’s a little bit of honey sweetening the sauce, setting off the warm smoky spices in the meat. I added some chopped sultanas (golden raisins, my American friends) to the meatballs, which I quite like, but this is entirely optional. Although I envisioned these as tapas, I ended up eating them for dinner with rice, so they work either as a starter (serve with flatbreads) or as a main dish. Also (and I realize this is not exactly news to some of you), meatballs freeze well. After you’ve shaped them, arrange them on a tray lined with waxed or parchment paper and put them directly in your freezer. Once they’ve frozen you can scoop them into a plastic bag to be cooked in the future with, er, romesco sauce. That post is coming up soon. Ingredients:
For the meatballs
600 g (about a pound and a half) ground lamb (lamb mince)
1 large egg
35 g (about an ounce and a half) ground almonds
A piece of white or wheat bread, crusts removed
1/2 large or one small sweet white onion
A handful of mint leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
½ teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
25 g (about an ounce) sultanas (golden raisins), chopped (optional)
For the sauce
½ large or one small sweet white onion, grated to a fine pulp with a box grater
50 g (about 2 ounces) ground almonds
250-300 ml white chicken stock
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 teaspoons honey
A generous pinch of saffron
Salt and pepper
For the garnish
1-2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
Toasted slivered almonds (optional)
If you have a food processor, whiz together the onion, mint, ground almonds, and bread until blended. Add the egg, meat, seasonings, and sultanas (if using) and pulse a few times until combined, but not so much that your meat becomes paste. Perhaps, however, you’ve misplaced the blade attachment to your food processor in a recent move. In that case, prep by grating the onion against a box grater and finely mincing the mint and the bread on a board. Combine these with the remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix together well with your hands.
Form into firm balls about two inches in diameter by rolling between your palms. You can freeze whatever you’re not using right away. (Remember, when you want to cook them, don’t defrost, but rather brown directly in the pan before heating them through or you will wind up with soggy formless mush.)
To cook, glug some olive oil into a pan and arrange the meatballs in a single layer. Gently brown them by shaking the pan occasionally, about 7-10 minutes. Transfer the meatballs to a paper towel-lined plate.
To make the sauce, pour off most of the fat from the pan, and sauté the grated onions over medium heat until they become transparent. Stir in the ground almonds and cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until they become pale golden. Stir in the cumin and paprika and sauté for a few moments more, and then add the stock. Crumble in the saffron with your fingers and reduce heat to a simmer. Use a wooden spoon to break up any lumps and simmer for about 10 minutes more, to allow the saffron to bloom and the mixture to reduce slightly. Stir in the honey, and add salt and pepper to taste.
Return the meatballs to the pan and toss gently, so they’re coated with sauce. Simmer uncovered for another 10-15 minutes, until the meatballs are cooked through, adding more liquid to the sauce if necessary. Serve hot, garnished with fresh mint and toasted slivered almonds (optional).
This recipe makes about six dozen two-inch meatballs, enough for 6-8 main dish servings, or quite a lot of tapas.