Mention meatballs, and I'm going back in time to our old kitchen, with Mum making my favourite meals. I loved meatballs as a child, served either with mashed potatoes and gravy, or in a thick pasta or rice soup. For me this is one of those comfort foods which bring happy memories.
Most children that I know (in omnivore families) love meatballs.
My sons are quite fussy when it comes to meat, they wouldn't eat roast meat, for example. But sausages, meatballs and anything made with mince are a totally different matter. Eddie would even happily gobble up school lunches if there are meatballs or sausages on the menu, and I can just imagine the quality of those products.
Lean red meat is a versatile ingredient in many child-friendly meals, from cutlets to shepherd's pie, from Ragu Bolognese to chilli... Meatloaf, tacos, lasagne, sloppy Joes, pies, pirozhki, and so many more wonderful dishes could be cooked with red meat.
Food nutritionists recommend including red meat in children's diet from weaning onwards, as it provides important nutrients that are often low in toddlers and children - including iron, zinc, B vitamins, selenium and potassium.
Dr Emma Derbyshire, a public health nutritionist and mother, says: "Including a small portion of red meat in the diet a few times a week after weaning can help to bridge nutrient gaps and so help to maintain good health through childhood and beyond"
Recently BritMums and Meat Advisory Panel have invited bloggers to join in the #HealthyRedMeat challenge and create a delicious recipe including beef, pork or lamb - "to bring a little variety and inspire some enticing ways to include red meat into your family diet".
What shall I cook for the challenge, that my children would like? Meatballs, of course. I have quite a few recipes for meatballs on my blog - you might have seen my posts for Swedish Meatballs for Karlson on the Roof and Easy Midweek Dinner: Fusilli with Meatballs in Tomato Sauce, and Italian Baked Meatballs with Mozzarella.
This time I am cooking a pasta soup with vegetables and - you've guessed it - meatballs.
Italian meatball and pasta soup
400g minced beef
500g minced pork
3tbsp Grana Padano, grated
1 slice of bread
a dash of milk
1 clove of garlic
1 medium egg
1tbsp vegetable stock
1/2 white sweet onion
8 baby tomatoes
1tbsp tomato paste
50g stellette pasta shapes
4tbsp cannelini beans (tinned)
100g fine green beans
100g baby courgettes
2tbsp basil leaves, chopped finely
|Ingredients for meatball pasta soup|
First of all, make the meatballs. You will make about 44 meatballs from this amount of mince. I didn't use all of them at once. I have put more than a half in the freezer, once they were cooked and cooled - to use later in the week with spaghetti.
Toast a slice of bread, then cut off the crusts and break the bread into smaller pieces. Add a dash of milk and soak for a couple of minutes. Squeeze the milk out.
In a deep mixing bowl grate the cheese. You can use parmesan instead of Grana Padano. Add the beef and pork mince, a crushed garlic clove as well as the soggy bread. Mix all the ingredients together and season the mince.
You can skip the bread, but then the texture will be more dense.
I used a mix of beef and pork mince, as I believe this combination makes the best meatballs. Go for leaner mince - for example, 8% pork mince and 10% Aberdeen Angus beef mince is a tasty combination.
Pinch a walnut-size piece of minced meat and roll it, using hands, into a ball. Keep rolling until you use all the mince.
In a deep pan bring the water with half an onion and stock to boil. Cook meatballs in batches for about 5 minutes. Take meatballs out of the pan with a slotted spoon and put on a plate. Discard the onion.
|raw and cooked meatballs|
You will be left with a rather murky-looking broth.
Leave it as it is, or clarify it with a help of a beaten egg white which you add to the broth. Boil it for a couple of minutes, then strain the broth through a large sieve with a piece of clean cheesecloth. Discard the egg white with all the bits on it.
Peel a carrot and chop into small pieces, slice courgettes into little discs. Halve the tomatoes and slice the green beans.
First add the carrots to the broth. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the pasta shapes, halved tomatoes, green beans, tomato paste and cannelini beans. Cook for 6 minutes. Add the chopped basil in the last minute of cooking. Put the meatballs in the soup before serving.
Serve hot with 4-5 meatballs per person.
In this recipe I used De Cecco Stellette, which is a tiny star-shaped pasta, perfect for soups. If you cannot find Stellette, any small pasta shapes will do.
The verdict was unanimous - this soup is delicious. It has pasta and meatballs, and is an all-round crowd pleaser.
This post is an entry for the BritMums #HealthyRedMeat, sponsored by the Meat Advisory Panel.
Disclosure: I received a £10 voucher to buy meat for the recipe.