Do you need another midweek comfort food staple? Do you also hanker for a sly way of getting some extra greens in your diet? Do you sometimes have a craving for baked meatballs that is so profound that it has to be catered to immediately? If so, I think I can help. What follows is a new addition to the favourite-food-roster in this house. It also contains my ratio for perfect plush meatballs, plus a nifty trick of pre baking and then poaching which allows them meatballs to keep their shape, and prevents any faff with cooking them in the fry pan first. If this is what you need in a hurry, skip straight to the recipe at the bottom. If you have time for some waffle and endorsements, read on.
This week it’s all about Swiss Chard.
We’re talking about Swiss Chard because at 37 weeks my daughter-to-be is now as long as a stem of one, and besides, I think it deserves some attention. It can’t be all about kale, all the time. Swiss chard offers a pleasing nuttiness of flavour that melds handsomely with aromatics like nutmeg and basil. It also has a lovely contrast of texture in the stem. I’ve been blitzing it up quite a bit lately and using it to fold through quinoa for a ‘green bowl’ (which also found its way into our Christmas lunch, with roast eggplant and red onion segments, heritage tomatoes, basil, ricotta and pumpkin seeds).
We’ve also been doing plenty of holiday indulging. There’s had to be some serious conversations with Will about how ‘ice cream is not an everyday food’- despite his parents’ demonstrating behavior that is clearly in contravention of that statement. There have been lazy mornings at the beach and a slow recline into summer as we celebrate having well and truly survived the silly season.
Last week my sole concern was not being in hospital for December 25. While I’d be plenty happy not to be pregnant any longer, the first Christmas with a child who has well and truly sipped from the Santa Kool Aid was too much fun to bear missing. Christmas Eve saw us laying out carrots for the reindeer and consulting with Will on what Santa might like to eat. A piece of Christmas cake AND a shortbread cookie, plus a glass of milk AND a nip of whiskey were decided on safe bets. We sat together and ate a shared meal of Christmas Ham Carbonara and then managed to make it through half of a screening of ‘Elf’ before it was time for all of us to turn in. It was the happiest of eves.
And now Christmas is over. We’ve had International Introverts Day (aka Boxing Day), where we all get a chance to recover with books, hammock snoozes and salt water swims. And now, we wait. We wait for a baby. We wait for cooler days. And we wait for times when it will will seem sensible to be eating baked meatballs, rather than just answering a mad craving from a woman who makes a noise like a hippopotamus caught in mud when she tries to wrench herself up from the couch.
The beauty of these meatballs is how flexible they are. Feel free to use pork mince, veal mince, turkey mince, beef mince or a mix of any of the above. You could substitute kale for the swiss chard, or baby spinach. Similarly you could replace the oat flour with blitzed rolled quinoa or breadcrumbs. They bake together into a pleasing marriage of pliant meat and soul-soothing greens. And there are very few moods that can’t be improved with the addition of molten mozzarella and fresh basil – of this, I’m certain.
Here are a few other things that are going on:
Reading: This piece from Eater on Anthony Bourdain’s take on a Trump USA. It’s a good one.
Loving: My Christmas haul. It included this pearler of a book from my sister – the most comprehensive guide to Australian seafood ever written, with some glorious recipes to boot.
I also got a fabulous inflatable chair aka a ‘Happy Cloud Air Hammock‘ from Santa. No more sitting on the ground awkwardly at picnics for me.
I was also pretty pleased with some of the purchasing I managed to get done, including nailing the brief for The Hungry One of some new summer shorts. These ‘Submersibles’ from Billabong manage to be both wet/dry – smart enough to wear out to a casual dinner, but also made of boardshort fabric, so they can go straight into the surf. Hurrah for me.
Listening: This episode of Bon Appetit’s podcast with Julia Turshen, who has co written books with Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Batali and has this year released her own first book ‘Small Victories‘. I’m itching to now get hold of a copy to read. The premise is just so sensible – unlock one skill or technique in the kitchen (one ‘small victory’) and it opens the gateway to a swathe of other switchable alternatives.
Eating: For Christmas breakfast at my Dad’s it was Black Forrest Bircher, plus a crunchy topping of the Black Forrest granola, then followed by my Dad’s signature Christmas feast; pannetone french toast, with bacon and maple syrup. Too good.
Watching: Some really terrible films on iTunes in the evening once Will goes to bed, including ‘The Mechanic, Resurrection‘ with Jason Statham last night. It seems any film with Jason Statham has to involve at least 9 different modes of transportation. A fun game for anyone not heavily pregnant would be to take a drink everytime he involves himself in a new vehicle. Extra points for cable cars and submarines. And the Australian accents are HILARIOUS.
Loving: My end of pregnancy treat to myself are acupuncture sessions with Spring Fertility. Yes, my acupuncturist happens to be my step sister, but she’s fantastic and was instrumental in getting this baby girl to stick in the beginning, so I’m hoping she can work her magic and help her leave with womb with just as much grace and ease.
Swiss Chard Baked Meatballs
500 g mince (veal/ pork/ a mix of both, or beef)
100 g oat flour (finely ground rolled oats)
100 g ricotta
3 Swiss Chard stems and leaves (approx 150 g), blitzed in a food processor
10 basil leaves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp sea salt flakes
1 x 400 g tin white beans, drained and rinsed
700 ml jar tomato passata
200 g mozzarella cheese
handful of fresh basil leaves to serve.
Here’s how we roll
1) Preheat the oven to 220C/450 F.
2) Blitz the swiss chard and basil leaves together in a food processor until finely chopped. Then combine all of the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl.
3) Combine with your hands until you have a cohesive mass.
4) Line a large baking sheet with baking paper. Use an ice cream scoop, or a tablespoon to portion out meatballs, then firm them into a sphere with your hands. You should end up with between 20 and 25 meatballs.
5) Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes until firm (this pre baking helps them keep their shape). Turn the oven down to 180C/350F.
6) Combine the passata and drained beans in a Dutch Oven/ large oven proof skillet. Nestle the meatballs in amidst the beans and sauce. Top with the mozzarella.
7) Bake with the lid off at 180C/350F for 30 minutes, until the mozarella is molten and the meatballs are cooked through.
8) Top with fresh basil leaves and serve with a bitter leaf salad.
Previously in Poppyseed to Pumpkin
Each week mad websites and baby books will tell you how big your baby now is in comparison to a seed, fruit or vegetable. It starts as a poppy seed and goes from there. To make this process a little more palatable, join me as I bake my way through. Here’s the journey so far. (Nb, you can also see the poppy seed to pumpkin process in the app, or ebook from my first pregnancy with Will, or read about it on the blog here.)