The European Crisis – It’s Big Picture Stuff. Meatballs and Tomato Sauce.

Our European leaders can’t agree on the future of the Euro. Here in Ireland, we were lucky enough to be the first bailout boy of the current financial shambles. The God-like Greeks stepped in and took on the mantle of shame for a while. The poor chaps over in Cyprus were hardly noticed when they asked for a couple of billion to keep the dole queues queueing and civil servants civil. As I write, Spain is attracting the interest and Italy is only a few bond auctions away from the fun.

My friend L and I were discussing European politics and food (as you do). We agreed that both Spain and Italy have the ability to bring the whole show down. We also agreed that both do tasty meatballs.

Somebody else can sort out the Euro bailout billions. I decided to do my bit for European integration and try some Spanish Meatballs and Extreme Tomato Sauce. The sauce is inspired by the lack of good tomatoes in Irish supermarkets. This my first recipe ever inspired by a lack of ingredients. This despite our being a full member of the EU for many years. I don’t use any fresh tomatoes. If I were in Spain or Italy or virtually any sunny European country, I would.

For the Spanish Meatballs

  • 1 kilo (2lb) of minced rib beef (rib = more fat = better flavour)
  • .5 kilo (1lb) of minced pork
  • 2 tablespoons of smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 2 onions
  • A few handfuls of breadcrumbs
  • 2 good eggs
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Oil for frying

For the Extreme Tomato Sauce

The garlic takes a pounding. The pestel and mortar is a new toy. I love it.

  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • .5 litre of passata
  • A big squeeze of tomato puree
  • A dollop of spicy tomato chutney (optional)
  • A pinch of saffron
  • 2 bay leaves
  • A bunch of thyme
  • A bunch of oregano
  • 3 to 6 cloves of garlic (It’s up to you…)
  • A glass of the Spanish wine that you will be drinking

First the mentally easy but physically difficult bit.

No great culinary challenge here. Just pile it all into the bowl.

Put all the meatball ingredients into a bowl and mix them by hand. I used the latex gloves to stop my hands turning budget red in the process. You decide what’s good for you.

There is a lot of mixing involved. Use a machine if you are a Euro Weenie. Yes, I called you a Euro Weenie.

Then make up the meatballs. No smaller than a golf ball (Mine are a bit bigger).

22 meatballs. Perhaps, like the EU, they are a little on the large side? Perhaps not.

Let the meatballs rest in a cool place and make the sauce. Sweat down the onions and garlic over a low heat (just like the EU, ECB, IMF, troika are doing to the Irish). Add the rest of the ingredients bar the wine and bring to a simmer.

I am after an intense tomato flavour here. Hence the reducing and concentrating.

You want to reduce it by about 25%. (Just like Ireland’s debt to the troika).Then add the wine and reduce it again (repeat previous brackets here) until you have a good thick sauce. Season to taste. You can do this while you are frying the meatballs.

The meatballs give off an excellent aroma while cooking. It starts to mix with the sauce aromas and the family start to appear from around the house.

Did I mention the wine? This European crisis is big picture stuff so it’s time for a big picture of the Museum Real Reserva 2006. It’s an excellent Cigales wine, worthy of this very Spanish dish.

Assemble the meatballs on a serving dish and pour over the sauce. Serve it with some nice bread. I used some focaccia breads that I got from the excellently named ‘One in the Oven’ at the Dun Laoghaire Sunday market.

Please don’t point out that we had Italian bread with our Spanish meatballs. That would be churlish and may lead to the collapse of the Euro. On the Spain V Italy thing, we will have to bring Italy into the spotlight. That’s for a later post. There’s not much more to say, except that the family want to know when I am doing it again. That is a result. Time for me to bail out, as it were. And I haven’t even mentioned the Germans…..

Footnote of gratitude: Thanks to Wife’s friend Mary who got into and out of Greece without getting stuck in a riot. She brought back some Saffron (on top of the tin of tomatoes in the first picture) for us.

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Latest comments
  • These look fabulous! I love all of your financial metaphors. I find it so sad that you can’t get good tomatoes. That’s just the kind of thing that could stop me from moving to a place. Stay tuned for a post about our shared garden.

  • Looks great Conor. Question about the meatballs. Is it a teaspoon and a half of the chili flakes? You mention this twice in the ingredients and I want to make this and not kill my husband. I can handle 1 1/2, he cannot…sadly! This looks absolutely fabulous and will be a bookmark for later! Thanks for another great post!

    • Thanks for that Barb,
      I was flip flopping (like the Germans on debt sharing) about the amount of chili flakes to use. I eventually used half a teaspoon. I would have preferred a full one but the Wife rules on matters of heat. My own flip flopping continued into my writing. I have adjusted the post now. It also proves that you are reading it!
      Best, Conor

      • These look great still Conor and I will use the 1/2 as my husband has a burn ratio!

        • I would make him sweat! Enjoy anyway.

  • Hi Conor,
    Lovely recipe, bit confused by the chili as already indicated in other posts, but I don’t mind the heat, will actually put in more probably. Anyway the politics of the continents are to say the least to me utterly confusing, I’ll stick to cooking as long as we still have farmers left who produce lovely tomatoes in SA – and boy are they good this year!



    • Hi Willie, I have adjusted the recipe. Let’s settle on a spoon and the sensitive amongst us can just use less. I have adjusted the post to make sense, If I ever make sense, that is.

  • This looks so delish! I wish I were there to tuck into a bowl myself.

    • There’s a welcome on the mat.

      • The hard part of food blogging is all the food that I can’t eat, but so very much want to 🙂

  • Love it! My sweetie is making his tomato sauce for our one year anniversary (tomorrow!). Could you grow tomatoes in a smallish greenhouse? My crop this year is not very good. New house, new soil I guess. Still there’s nothing like a vine ripe tomato eaten in the garden, warm from the sunshine. Yummy. 🙂

    • Sadly, If I were waiting for sunshine here, that’s what I’d be doing, waiting.

  • Looks devine. The wine is also tempting me. Is 4 in the afternoon too early?

    • 4 in the morning is. 4 in the afternoon is fine.

      • Well, that’s all I need, a yes from a fellow blogger. Can you also choose 6 numbers between 1 and 49 and let me know what they are?

  • A year or so ago a Daily Mail journalist foretold of a new European war based on the ongoing crisis. He reckoned Sarkosy would invade the UK (which in his view would by then have Ed Milliband as leader) whilst Germany took out southern Europe because it was just getting, well so annoying). Obviously there is a flaw in there already but I liked the sentiment. We’ve already decided to pitch up at my Aunt’s in Dublin (she doesn’t know that yet) – I’m not being dictated to by the French.

    • If all that goes down, we might not let you in…

  • That’s it, I’m sending you some tomatoes. That is a travesty… But WOW, what a nice looking dish

    • It was pretty intense. However, a fresh tomato sauce would have been epic with it.

  • hahaha I’m already looking forward to your next post about Italy!!! Thank you for sharing!

  • I don’t do many meatballs. Perhaps this is something I should experiment with. Great post as always. Love the ‘extreme’ tomato sauce, and I especially love the you serve it with the meatballs (rather than stewing the meatballs in the sauce, making them difficult to taste).

  • Haha, well written. I am going to try this recipe, will tell you how it turned out.

    • Please do. Hopefully, you can use real tomatoes for the sauce. I look forward to hearing how it went.

  • Loved your wit about the euro…what else can you do. Your recipe sounds terrific…I love meatballs and sauce. What would you suggest for a substitute of passata as I have not seen it in the stores. When I googled it, the suggestion was tomato paste but I’m sure you wouldn’t want to use .5 liters of paste.

    • Hi Karen,
      It is more of a sauce than a paste. Pulped tomatoes without the pips, skin and other bits. You are right, the paste would be far too strong for that quantity.

      • Thank you Conor for the clarification.

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