In search for perfect meatballs, I actually returned to my native country. To be exact to the city I was born – Sarajevo. This quest had nothing to do with sentiments, although nothing’s wrong with that, but solely based on taste. Wish I could say that my mom made the best meatballs in the world, but that wouldn’t be true. Although she was an excellent cook, when it comes to meatballs – the credit goes to my brothers parents in law. They had the recipe for decades, since their family used to have ‘ascinica’ -‘ a sort of diner in the old part of town and they served this traditional dish which in the local language is called cufte. They have perfect texture, subtle flavor and the meat just melts in your mouth. Traditionally, meat is baked, cooked or braised in sauce, but in this version it is fried in only one tbsp of vegetable oil in the wok and than added to the sauce, which is made separately from fresh tomatoes. This comes particularly handy, if you have vegetarian at the table.
It is really easy to prepare it and the dish extremely versatile — you can serve it with some spinach, mashed potatoes or my personal twist — boiled pasta, drained and quickly tossed on the fire for two minutes with the knob of butter and baby spinach. This portion serves 6 people, or you can freeze leftovers for up to one month.
400g lean minced meat • 1 bigger shallot – minced • 1,5 tbsp typical spice mix Vegeta (in the absence, dilute one organic chicken cube with 2 tbsp of warm water) • 2 generous pinch of freshly ground pepper • 50g bread crumbs • 3 tbsp vegetable oil + 1 tbsp extra for frying • 1 whole egg •Flour for dusting
1kg ripe tomatoes (skin peeled) • 0,5kg cherry tomatoes with skin (I use yellow) • 2 big shallots • 2 star anise • 10 springs of fresh thyme • 1 glock of maple syrup • 5 drops Worcestershire • 2 generous pinches of fleur de sel • freshly ground pepper • 50ml of double cream • Handful of fresh basil leaves with stalks • 2 tbsp EVOO for frying
Stir well to combine all meatball ingredients in a bowl.
Use flour to dust a serving or baking tray.
Roll meatballs to 2 cm in diameter between the palms of your hands.
Place them on the floured tray while leaving some space between them.
Gently shake the tray to coat the meatballs with flour.
Roll them again shortly between the palms in order to smooth the surface and coat them evenly.
Place them back on the tray.
Heat the oil for frying in wok until scotching hot.
Throw the meatballs in and toss them every 20-30 seconds for 5-7 minutes or until nicely golden and crisp from all sides.
Place them on the paper towel until you finish with the sauce.
Heat the vegetable oil on medium in a pot.
Cut the shallots and add them to the oil together with the star anise.
Fry for 5 minutes and than add thyme and the big tomatoes and cherry tomatoes.
Add maple syrup and Worcestershire sauce and simmer until the big tomatoes are completely dissolved and the small tomatoes begin to burst open (about 20 min), that way you have two different textures of tomatoes in the sauce. Season and stir in the cream and basil leaves with stalks. Cover with a lid and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes.
Remove the basil eaves from the sauce and stir in the meatballs.
To serve, boil some freshly made noodles. Put a layer of ricotta in the bowl, add the noodles on the ricotta and top it off with a delicious layer of meatballs and sauce.