Meatballs for spaghetti

I have no reason to think that mine are anything other than average, but this is what I do….


  • 1.5kg mince, I like a combination of beef, pork and veal, if available.
  • c. 5 slices white bread, no crusts, soaked in milk and squeezed to remove excess moisture
  • finely chopped onion
  • finely chopped garlic
  • finely chopped lemon rind (no white)
  • a little Worcestershire sauce
  • a few drops of Tabasco
  • freshly ground pepper
  • parsley finely chopped, if available

Mix all these together thoroughly. Hands does the best job. Now divide up into small meatballs. Roll in seasoned flour, or shake in a bag of seasoned flour.

There are probably various ways you can proceed next, depending on whether you want a clean or dirty sauce. I want dirty.

Heat a large deep frying pan and add a generous amount of ghee. You are using ghee because it has a high burning point. A bit before it starts smoking, gently place the meatballs into the fat. Don’t crowd the pan. One reason you made the meatballs small is because you want a lot of surface area relative to meat as this will make the taste of them better as they interact with both fat, and later, sauce.  I’m happy for these to get a caramelised, burnt aspect to them, this is what makes the sauce dirty and dirty tastes good. Really…good. Gently turn them at some point. You don’t need them to cook right through, this will come later. So, take the first lot off with a slotted spoon, add more ghee, do the next lot and so on.

Don’t wash the pan, you are going to use it for the sauce.


  • 5 tins tomatoes pureed
  • 1 or 2 cups of white wine
  • finely chopped onion and garlic

I like the sauce for this to be smooth, hence I puree the tomatoes. If there is a lot of ghee left in the pan, drain it off, but don’t clean the pan! Add a generous amount of olive oil, heat gently until it is able to sizzle and add finely chopped onion and garlic. Fry on LOW heat for a minute or two and then add quite a lot of dry white wine, maybe a cup or two. Raise heat to high now, bring to the boil, and while it is reducing to practically nothing, deglaze the pan. Dirty and yummy. Add the pureed tomato and stir, bring to the boil and then down to a simmer for maybe one hour. Then gently add the meatballs and simmer for at least another thirty minutes.

Not surprisingly, best prepared the day before and left to sit in the fridge overnight.


Next day, prepare the spaghetti, reheat the sauce, grate lots of parmesan and this is what will happen. A table of people who had been making a lot of noise go quiet. There is a particular sort of quiet, I think, that you only find at the dinner table and it signifies blissful contentment.

Spaghetti with chicken liver V2

Rough notes:

I chopped the livers up smaller than usual.

Sauce: fried shallot in butter, added garlic, and then a couple of large sloshes of white wine. Burnt that off and added a heaped teasp of tomato paste and some water from the cooking spaghetti. Added the chicken liver when the spaghetti had about 5 minutes to go.

I’m sure there is lots one could do with this basic recipe.

Pasta with broccoli and salmon (II)

I had one idea here a few years ago. Here is take two.


  • smoked salmon, wild
  • broccoli, washed and chopped into smallish pieces
  • pouring cream
  • garlic, chopped
  • shallots chopped
  • vodka


While the pasta is cooking, heat the cream to a simmer, add the garlic and shallots. Bring to the boil, add a large splash or two of vodka and burn that off. Next throw in the broccoli and cook at a lively simmer – you can add more cream or some of the pasta’s cooking water if necessary.

When the pasta is almost al dente, drain but not thoroughly, add it and the salmon to the sauce, stir thoroughly for a minute or two, while the pasta finishes cooking by soaking up the sauce. The thing is you don’t want to overcook the salmon, you are just heating it through.

That’s it. Bung it on plates, offer lashings of freshly ground pepper.


Pasta with sardines, pine nuts and prunes

If that’s not alliterative for you, change to ‘Pescatorial pasta with pine nuts and prunes’

We used to buy a lot of tinned tuna here in Geneva because it’s so much cheaper than fresh fish. We’d get the posh tins from Globus. But I wondered recently why sardines might not be at least as good and a whole lot cheaper. Tinned, that is. The kind of recipe that follows is normally prescribed for fresh sardines but they are expensive here too.

Ingredients for two

  • can of sardines in olive oil
  • a couple of shallots peeled and chopped
  • some fresh fennel bulb: discard outer coarse layer and very finely shave what’s left
  • some garlic peeled and chopped
  • 1 chilli washed and chopped
  • a handful of pine nuts toasted in a dry pan
  • some soft prunes – those packets last for ages in the fridge – chopped
  • parsley off the stem and chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste


While the pasta is cooking, drain the olive oil from the sardines and heat. Gently fry the shallots, fennel, garlic and chilli until shallots are softened. Stir in the sardines and chopped prunes, breaking up the sardines as you do so.

Let that sit on low heat until the pasta is cooked. Drain it and toss it through the sauce, adding most of the parsley and pine nuts. Mix thoroughly.

Serve on plates and top with the last of the parsley and pine nuts.

For next time: I like to try the basic idea before getting fancy. Next time I would add more fennel, it was too subtle today. White wine may add some good depth of flavour that would contrast well with the fish.

Some people add saffron to this dish, but that’s if it’s made with fresh sardines. Tinned, they are too strong for this subtle flavouring. Save the saffron for something else.

I don’t see cheese, grated or even shaved adding to this dish.

White bean and spinach pasta sauce

One of our favourite spaghetti sauces is a tarted up white bean puree. You can see it here.

It got me thinking, recently, as spinach season comes upon us here in Geneva…

This is a three ingredient dish. Rinse and drain a can of white beans. Put them in a saucepan. Add some washed spinach – I did a few large handfuls. Enough water to make sure it all cooks without sticking. When spinach is done enough for you, you might want to take some of the water out, I did, though I saved it to add later if required – or it can be added to vegetable stock. Puree. Add salt and pepper.

I suggest letting this sit overnight in the fridge, it’ll taste better the next day.

When spaghetti is still a bit too al dente, drain but not carefully, you want a little water still in the pot, put spaghetti back in the pot and add the sauce to taste. Start with a few big spoonfuls, you can add more later. Keep stirring over low heat while the spaghetti absorbs some liquid so that the sauce isn’t watery. Last moment add maybe 100g of grated mature cheddar and mix thoroughly.

Serve. I think this is enough for four.

Value for effort? Tops.

I love sauces which are cheap, easy to make, and if you can freeze them (which I assume I will be able to do with this one), so much the better.

Update: we have since tried this thus:

  • with a little pesto stirred in at the table: parsley, pinenuts, garlic, a little cheese, heavy on the olive oil.
  • bacon chopped and fried and added at the end
  • parmesan cheese at the table

Last time I made it, I started with an onion chopped and fried in a little ghee before adding the beans and spinach.

Hard to see what you can do wrong with this dish.

Two things you need to know about Swiss Chard before you die

1)  It gives wonderful depth of colour ranging from a delightful pink tinge to spaghetti sauce or something more polished to stock.

2) The stalks taste lovely raw. If they are too ropey, finely chop and add to stock.

Things I’ve done with it lately:

  • Started off with plain chicken stock made from wings (of course). I keep that in the freezer. Defrosted, added fairly finely chopped vegetables: some ordinary cabbage, peas, a bit of broccoli, parsley – to taste and according to what you have to hand. I included all the chopped stalks of a bunch of chard, having used the leaves for other things. Just before serving, I added a bag of tortellini, spinach and cheese which serves two. A few minutes later, serve. You might want to put parmesan on the table, but I don’t think this needs it.
  • risotto with prunes and pinenuts and lots of the leaves finely chopped. My base is olive oil, shallots, and white wine. Love the colour of this.
  • spaghetti sauce consisting of tin of tuna, finely chopped leaves, garlic, shallots, olive oil, served with parmesan.

Four greens pasta sauce

Wanting some sort of variation on this green vegetable pasta sauce, I ended up with zucchini, broccoli, parsley and chives as my greens. This was a strictly vegetarian version with white wine. I also wanted the broccoli to be overcooked. Love the way Chinese dishes make almost raw broccoli work, but those aside I think it sucks if it’s underdone.

As it happened, we were in Leiden last week and I tried one of the top rated cafes where, as a change from soup and sandwiches (so often the offerings there) I had their pasta dish. At the time of writing, Bistro Noroc is rated #3 on Trip Advisor of all restaurants in Leiden. It is tiny and therefore has nothing like a proper kitchen. Food is kept very simple. The pasta included pesto, sun dried tomatoes and other bits and pieces. For me the zucchini which featured, was undercooked in large pieces which were hard to cut through and too big to want whole in one bite. It made me come back thinking next time I put it in a pasta sauce I’m going to cook it ’til it’s given in.

The advantage of over-cooking such a sauce is that the vegetables take on the taste of the sauce’s liquid, white wine and olive oil in this case. But you can have your cake and eat it. Overcook these, then add parsley near the end, just to wilt. And snip the chives onto the top when serving. Toasted pine nuts went in this too.

I suppose in general that using four greens rather than one for such a sauce gives more balance to your food consumption. And it’s a good way of using up bits you might have sitting about the crisper.


Pea and spinach pesto

Ingredients for two

  • 100g+ peas, weight after podding
  • 100g+ spinach, thoroughly washed, chopped and stemmed
  • 1-2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 chillies, washed and chopped – red gives a nice fleck through the green sauce
  • several generous slugs of dry white wine
  • ghee/butter/oil 1 tblesp
  • 1 tblesp of pistachios and 1 tblesp pine nuts, both toasted


While the pasta is cooking:

In a saucepan heat the ghee and gently fry the shallots, garlic and chilli. Add the wine and turn heat to high. After it has bubbled vigorously away for a bit and reduced, add the peas, cover with a lid and bring the heat to a simmer. Add the spinach when the peas are close to cooked.

Use a stick blender to puree the mixture, including the nuts. When the pasta is cooked, add a few spoons of the cooking water to the sauce. Mix in the pasta.



I can’t see that parmesan cheese would add to this, we loved it without. Salt and pepper to taste – if the pistachios are salted, be light on adding it.

A relatively healthy pesto-ish sauce. Little oil compared with standard pesto and no cheese.

The peas stand out, it is their dish. I had good fresh peas from the market, but presumably frozen peas would do just as well. I didn’t weight the peas or the spinach so I’m guessing on the weights I used.

Olive and bacon pasta sauce

I don’t know if that’s the right way to put the emphasis on this dish. I wanted something that included a good variety of ingredients (balanced diet) that somehow fit together. Ie not the kitchen sink pasta sauce.

Ingredients for two

  • half a dozen green olives, take the stone out and sliver
  • a shallot, peeled and slivered/finely diced
  • a couple of slices of bacon – not too much, so it depends on your bacon, chopped
  • garlic, one clove peeled and finely chopped
  • a couple of fresh chillies sliced
  • tomatoes seeded and chopped or slivered. I use about 20 cherry tomatoes.
  • olive oil
  • parsley, maybe half a bunch, stripped (do something else with the stalks) and chopped
  • lemon juice, maybe half a lemon
  • grated parmesan for serving


While the pasta is doing its thing:

Take the fat/rind off the bacon and fry it. When rendered of its fat, eat the crunchy remnants (otherwise your dish may fail) and add the bacon to the fat in the pan. You may want to add some olive oil to taste, it depends on how fatty your bacon is. I use lard fumé on account of being in French parts and that has a very high fat to meat content, as the name suggests. Therefore I use maybe a tblesp of olive oil at most. Once I’ve added the olive oil, I don’t cook on high heat as olive oil seems to prefer it that way.

Add the shallot, garlic, chilli, fry and stir on low heat. When the shallot has softened add the tomatoes. This can all sit on low heat, you don’t want the tomatoes to cook, just warm through. Add parsley at the right moment to give it time to wilt. Put in the lemon juice just before the cooked and drained pasta which you stir through the sauce.


Everything rides on the quality of ingredients. As far as tomatoes go, you might be lucky enough to grow your own. Here in Geneva I rarely find any tomatoes that make me truly happy. There is no concept of traditional varieties that I can see. So, I have a kitchen that doubles up as a tomato preparing zone. I have several containers of them which are staggered in terms of when they were bought. They need a couple of weeks before they are really nice to eat, so you do have to think ahead. After that long they will be relatively juicy and ripe, squishy even. Which is about how they need to be for a good eating experience.



Spaghetti with asparagus….

One of my staple sauces for spaghetti has long been the bacon/spinach/pinenuts concoction. Today we bought asparagus at the market and I have to say it is actually an improvement on an already fine dish.


  • asparagus, stems snapped, tops left whole and the nice part of the stem chopped into a few pieces and then into quarters longwise, if they are thin stems.
  • garlic, finely chopped
  • pine nuts toasted in a frying pan and not burnt (wish I’d remembered that today)
  • bacon or lard fumé if you are in some part of the world that doesn’t do bacon.
  • olive oil for cooking
  • best olive oil for serving
  • parmesan


While the spaghetti is cooking, fry the bacon or equivalent (pancetta is okay too) in olive oil, add the garlic and then the asparagus. You want all this to cook on a really gentle heat, maybe even off heat some of the time. When the spaghetti is boiled, drain and mix it thoroughly into the sauce, add the pine nuts.

Serve with black pepper ground at the table and parmesan. I found this a beautifully sweet dish, which perhaps did not even need cheese. We did add best olive oil at the table.