Braised Lamb Meatball Sugo with Orecchiette

This is a relatively quick braise but it is still important that the meat is not too lean or it will become dry as it cooks. I always go to my butcher so that I can choose meat that is marbled with fat as it will taste sweeter and be more succulent. I will also use the favoured secret of the Italian mammas and add bread soaked in some milk because there is no better way of keeping the meatballs soft and moist. If you are in the mood for a more exotic shape of pasta, then the small dome-shaped orecchiette is perfect for scooping up this sauce (or sugo). Homely, satisfying and begging for a glass of wine.

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To prepare the Braised Lamb Meatball Sugo with Orecchiette

For the meatballs & sauce

Pour the milk over the bread in a bowl and leave it to soften. Mix all the minced meat ingredients together. Squeeze the excess milk from the bread and add to the meat, breaking it into crumbs as best you can. Mix well.

Heat the oil in a deep frying pan. Break off small clumps of the mince (about the size of a large marble), add to the pan and sear, turning occasionally, so that they are browned all over. (The meatballs may need to be browned in two batches). Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onion, carrot and celery and cook for about 5-10 minutes with a lid on, until the vegetables begin to soften. Mix in the tomato purée. Stir everything together and add the chicken stock and bay leaf. Return the meatballs to the pan. Simmer gently until the stock has reduced by half which will take about 30 minutes.

To cook the pasta

Bring a large pot of water to the boil. For 4 litres of water, add about 1½ level tablespoons of salt. Add the orecchiette to the pot. Meanwhile, heat the sauce in a deep frying pan and swirl in the butter. When the pasta is 90% cooked, drain, holding back some of the pasta water. Add a small ladleful of pasta water to the sauce, followed by the orecchiette and toss together. Simmer for a few minutes, reducing the sauce to coat the pasta. Add a fistful of Parmesan and another dash of pasta water if necessary to keep it loose. Serve with extra Parmesan.

Note: If you don’t have fennel seeds, replace with 60g grated Parmesan.

Ingredients

Serves 4-5

For the meatballs
100ml milk
50g white bread, such as ciabatta, broken into chunks 500g lamb mince (from the shoulder)
300g pork mince (preferably from the belly)
3 garlic cloves, crushed
½ teaspoon salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground black pepper
1½ tsp fennel seed, ground

For the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, very finely diced 2 small carrots, very finely diced 2 stalks celery, very finely diced 3-4 tbsp tomato purée
500ml chicken stock or Marigold bouillon
1 bay leaf
400g orecchiette pasta
30g unsalted butter
50g Parmesan, freshly grated plus extra for serving

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