Spinach Meatballs in Lemon Gravy with Carrots and Leeks

This is a delicious way of turning meatballs into an interesting family meal. I used pork but lamb would work and so would a mixture of lamb and beef. The meatballs are seasoned with onion and garlic, thyme and spinach, bolstered and kept light in texture by breadcrumbs in milk with a couple of eggs. They’re rolled small but swell slightly as they poach in bay and thyme seasoned broth. This poaching liquid is used to make a sauce-cum-gravy to float the meatballs along with big chunks of carrot and leeks, the lovely bowlful served with a garnish of flat leaf parsley. Usefully, the meatballs could be poached 24 hours in advance, the liquid kept and the sauce made the next day.

Serves 6
Prep: 45 min
Cook: 60 min

1 large onion
2 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp thyme
4 tbsp fresh breadcrumbs
3 lemons
100ml milk
2 eggs
2 x 400g minced pork or mix lamb and beef
50g young spinach
1 litre water
6 bay leaves
small bunch thyme
200g leeks
300g carrots
50g butter
2 tbsp flour

Halve, peel and finely chop the onion and garlic cloves. Soften the onion in 2 tbsp olive oil with a pinch of salt, stirring in the garlic and 1 tsp thyme when the onion is slippery soft. Microzest 1 lemon over the top. Stir and turn off the heat. Stir the breadcrumbs and milk together. Whisk the eggs in a mixing bowl and crumble the meat over the top. Boil the kettle and pour the boiling water over the spinach. Leave for a few minutes to wilt then drain into a colander, press to extract excessive water, cool slightly then squeeze tight and ‘dry’ with kitchen paper. Chop the pile of spinach and scatter over the meat. By now the onion will be cool. Tip onion and juices into the bowl. Mix everything together and knead for 5 minutes as if making bread; the meat will soften and change into a doughy looking mix. Quarter the mix in the bowl and aim to make 20 cherry tomato-size balls from each quarter, rolling between wet hands (to avoid sticking). Chose a decent-sized pan; I used a sauté pan, add 1 ½ litres water, the bay, 1 tsp salt, bunch of thyme and 3 thick slices of lemon. Simmer for 10 minutes then add half the meatballs. Return to simmer – this will take a good 5 minutes and simmer for 15 minutes. Scoop onto a plate with a perforated spoon and repeat with the other half. The cooled meatballs could now be cooled and stored in plastic boxes until you are ready to finish the dish. To make the sauce, choose a spacious, lidded pan and melt the butter in it over a medium-low heat. Stir in the flour to make a smooth paste. Add a cup of cooking liquid, stirring vigorously then gradually add the rest stirring or using a globe whisk to make a smooth sauce. Simmer, stirring, for 5 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice. Meanwhile, cut the leeks in 4cm lengths, scrape the carrots and cut in chunks on the slant (for prettiness). Add both to the sauce and simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes or so until just tender to the point of a knife. Add the meatballs. Warm through and serve now with a garnish of finely snipped flat leaf parsley or cool and reheat later or the next day, adding the parsley at the last moment. Serve with lemon wedges.