Pork and Parsley Meatballs with Moroccan Tomato Sauce

Next time you are cooking up a storm for six and want food you can make in advance, remember meatballs. I make them with all kinds of mince from beef and lamb to duck and sausages, here though I’ve used minced pork. The pale, flavour-receptive meat is mixed with creamy breadcrumbs, lemon zest, flat leaf parsley and egg to hold them firm. They’re poached then stirred into a thick, spicy, tomato and chorizo sauce, the dish finished with sweet little petits pois and masses of coriander. Both meatballs and sauce can be prepared up to 48 hours in advance, the peas which go in at the end, could be cooked at the last minute, the dish then assembled and heated through an hour or so before you plan to serve the meal. Cous cous is the easy make-ahead option to go with this meaty bowlful but rice goes well here, or crusty bread and butter, or garlic bread. It looks dramatic, smells exotic and tastes seriously interesting. Preparation and cooking times, as always, are approximate.

Serves 6
Prep: 60 min
Cook: 60 min

1 large onion
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp coarse brown breadcrumbs
2 heaped tbsp crème fraiche or thick cream
25g flat leaf parsley leaves
2 eggs
2 x 400g minced pork
1 lemon
650ml light chicken stock

for the sauce:
2 large onions, approx 325g
2 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves
very generous pinch saffron
1 tbsp boiling water
2 cooking chorizo sausages
1 tsp ras al hanout
150ml red wine
700g jar passata
300g frozen petits pois
70g bunch coriander

To make the meatballs, halve, peel and finely chop the onion. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a spacious frying/sauté pan and stir in the onion. Cook, adjusting the heat so the onion softens without browning, allowing about 15 minutes; you want it slippery soft. Meanwhile, stir the breadcrumbs into the cream, leaving to turn thick. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Whisk 2 eggs in a mixing bowl and crumble the meat over the top. Microplane zest the lemon over the top, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle over the parsley leaves. Pick little lumps of breadcrumbs and scatter them over the top. When the onions are done, scatter them over the other ingredients in the bowl. Use a fork initially and then your hands to mix and mulch into a ball with all the ingredients evenly distributed. Cover and chill the ball for at least an hour to firm before you form into meatballs. I find it easiest to roughly quarter the ball and work on one quarter at a time, aiming to make about 15 cherry tomato-size balls, possibly more, from each quarter. Rinse your hands in water before and during rolling the balls between your palms to avoid the mix sticking, transfer to a dinner plate/plates as you go. Cover with a stretch of clingfilm and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours before cooking. To pre-cook the balls, add the stock to the frying/sauté pan and bring to simmer. Add half the balls and simmer steadily for about 8 minutes until set firm and just cooked through. Scoop into a poly box if not finishing the dish immediately (I did this 48 hours before the dish was completed and served), cool then cover and chill. The stock will be used in the sauce, so cool and chill, covered, in cartons.

To make the sauce, halve, peel and finely chop the 2 onions. Heat 2 tbsp oil in a spacious, lidded sauté/frying pan and stir in the onion with a generous pinch salt. Cook, stirring to smear thoroughly with oil and cook, adjusting the heat as necessary, to soften without browning. Allow at least 15 minutes for this, more like 20 or 25; you want it slippery soft and hardly coloured. Meanwhile, peel, chop and crush the garlic to a pulp with a pinch of salt; I do this with the flat of a small knife. Place the ras al hanout in an eggcup and cover with 1 tbsp boiling water. Run a sharp knife down the chorizo and peel away the skin. When the onion is slippery soft, pinch scraps of chorizo off the sausage into the onion. Keep going it’s a messy job but you will be crushing it to emerge bumpy in the sauce, so the smaller the pieces the better. Add the garlic, stir and cook, stirring often, for about 10 minutes until chorizo fat melts into and colours the onion. Stir in the ras al hanout and saffron, then the red wine. Increase the heat slightly so the wine bubbles up and virtually disappears. Add the passata and half the stock reserved from poaching the meatballs. Simmer briskly, stirring thoroughly, crushing to break up the chorizo with the back of a wooden spoon/fork. Taste and add salt if necessary. Cool and chill until needed. When ready to finish the dish, tip the sauce into a spacious, lidded pan/dish that can go over direct heat and can hold the entire dish (I used a large Le Creuset). Reheat and slacken with more of the stock; in the end I used all of it. Stir in the meatballs when the sauce is hot and simmer very gently, stirring often, for about 15 minutes until the balls are heated through. Meanwhile, cook the peas and chop the coriander. A few minutes before you are ready to serve, add both and stir well. The dish can be held and reheated after the meatballs are added but add hot peas (I cooked and drained mine, then just before serving, I covered them with boiling water and left them for 5 minutes, before draining and adding them to the dish). Serve with a ladle.