Lamb and Cimi de Rapa Meatballs with Roast Tomato Sauce

I love meatballs and love introducing extra textures and flavours to whichever meat I’ve chosen. Here it’s minced lamb with cabbagey greens cooked until very tender with chilli and garlic. It’s wise to chill the meatballs so they get a chance to firm up. They are, though, cooked in the oven, which is much simpler than frying or poaching. The meatballs are served with spaghetti and an intense cherry tomato sauce enriched with balsamic vinegar. Do try it, it’s worth the extra effort of cooking the broccoli.

Serves 4
Prep: 30 min
Cook: 45 min

250g broccoli di rapa or tenderstem broccoli
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tbsp crème fraiche
3 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
400g minced lamb
1 egg yolk
400g spaghetti
knob of butter

For the sauce:
300g cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

Begin by cooking the broccoli. Chop into 2cm lengths. Chop then crush the garlic to a juicy paste. Warm 2 tbsp olive oil in a medium pan over a medium heat and stir in the garlic and chilli. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes then add the broccoli and a mug of water (approx 150ml). Cover and cook for about 15 minutes until very soft. Remove the lid and cook on until the broccoli is moist rather than wet. Leave to cool. Chop again, draining in a sieve if very wet. To make the sauce, place the tomatoes in a small ovenproof frying or similar pan. Pierce the toms with a pointed knife (to avoid bursting), add 1 tbsp olive oil, swirl the pan and cook at 150C/gas mark 4 for 25 minutes, checking after 15, until the tomatoes are squashy and creating juice. Don’t under or over cook, you want them squashy. Swirl with balsamico and leave to cool. Briefly pulse in a liquidizer to coarsely chop. Transfer to a jar (if you are making this ahead) or small saucepan if cooking now to eat later. For the meatballs, mix together the crème fraiche and breadcrumbs in a mixing bowl. Crumble the meat over the top. Add the egg yolk, a generous seasoning salt and pepper, the chopped, cooled greens and use a fork and then your hands to mix everything together, mixing and mulching. With rinsed hands (to avoid sticking), form into balls – the mix is soft, so the balls will be loose – transferring to a plate as you go. Cover with a stretch of clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes (mine sat overnight and all day before I cooked them). Place, spaced apart on a shallow roasting tin lined with baking parchment. Cook for 15 minutes in an oven heated to 200C/gas mark 6. They can sit for a few minutes if necessary while you cook the spaghetti. To serve, toss the spaghetti with butter, pile into a warmed bowl, top with tomato sauce and then with meatballs. Yum.