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Meatball stuffed tomatoes

There are somethings I never tire of and could eat for all eternity and one of those things is meatballs. I just adore them. Served with spaghetti, stuffed into a sandwich, as a canapé or just on their own, I can’t get enough of them. I usually use Allegra McEvedy’s failsafe recipe from the first Leon cookbook, but as the sun slowly came out over London a few weeks ago, I fancied something lighter and more summery. A chance encounter with some veal mince at Waitrose helped focus the mind and the next thing I knew, I had a plateful of veal, black olive and parmesan meatballs chilling in the fridge.

Pan-fried until well sealed and then steamed with stock until fully cooked through, I served them with some grilled courgettes and the pan juices for a treat of a Friday night dinner after a long week. And they were good. The sweet meatiness of the veal was enhanced utterly by the umaminess of the parmesan and the olives. I scraped the plate clean in record time and even recommended the combo to the little loaf on Twitter. But something was missing. It needed something to take it from good to amazing.

It had to be tomatoes. The July sun and heavy rains of the past few months mean that everything is better with a British tomato right now. Bursting with flavour and warmed up naturally by the flickering sun, they add a note to every dish that lifts it beyond just good. But even having decided on the welcome addition of tomatoes, it still needed something beyond just a sauce. And flicking through some stored up summer recipes, I saw an idea for stuffed beef tomatoes and it all fell into place. Meatball stuffed cherry tomatoes…

As I’ve mentioned before, my life is never too short to stuff anything. Not when everything is more delicious filled with something else. Taking the tops off and scooping out the middles of the cherry tomatoes is in fact no more time consuming than rolling individual meatballs and chilling them into shape. It’s almost as relaxing in fact.

I used about 200g of veal mince, a handful of fresh oregano, about 75g of parmesan and about ten black olives finely chopped and bound together with an egg yolk. I didn’t bother with the usual milk soaked breadcrumbs as I didn’t need the mixture to form such distinct shapes and then I stuffed the tomatoes nice and full. They then got baked for around 35 minutes until soft and collapsed and intensely tomatoey. This was longer than I thought they’d need and when I checked them about 20 minutes in, I added a splash of tomato juice to help steam them quicker. I then served them along with the pan juices on a big plate of pasta.

And they had gone up a notch from tasty to terrific. The tomato was exactly what they needed to set off the flavours perfectly and despite my intentions to only have half the meatballs for dinner, I found myself wolfing down the other portion immediately because let’s face it, there was never really any chance of me saying no to two of my favourite things combined. I enjoyed every single scrap and wished I had twice as many. I did miss the sticky cruncy crust that you get on a fried meatball, but I might just put them in upside down, pan sear them and go from there in future. But really these are the perfect summer supper. Stuff one immediately!

Pork Shank

 

Finished dish

Finished dish

Yesterday I found myself in a branch of Morrisons in search of their Ten Pound Pimms’ offer. Sadly Camberwell was very lacking in refreshing summer beverages, but managed to redeem itself with an abundance of delicious pork products. I resisted the temptation to stock up on pork dripping and bacon ends, but I did succumb to a splendid looking pork shank.

I’ve never seen one of these before, either to buy or on a gastro-pub menu, despite the ubiquitousness of the lamb shank, but the price made me look again. Just over £2 for a kilo or so of shank appealed to my currently lean finances (even if I’m probably going to hell for buying intensively reared meat.) The label suggested roasting it and even at the counter my mind wandered to making something wholesome and hearty with Puy lentils…

Back home, I turned my attention to my cookbooks for a little bit more information on cooking the shank, but found them all somewhat lacking. Google was next up and it also offered surprising little in the way of advice, especially as there seemed to be no distinction drawn between pork shank and ham shank. Having established that as mine was actually pork, so I didn’t need to soak it, I realised that most of the braising recipes required a slow cooker or a tonne of ingredients I didn’t have. I decided to go with what the label suggested and keep it simple!

After leaving the shank out all afternoon to come to room temperature and dry the skin out, I seasoned it and sealed it in a casserole with a bit of olive oil until the skin started to colour nicely. Since I wasn’t planning on eating the skin, I didn’t attempt to get to crackling proportions. I then softened an onion and several whole cloves of garlic in the remaining oil, before adding some home grown sage and oregano and a few cupfuls of gorgeous glistening green Puy lentils. I added a good glug of homemade chicken stock, topping up with water until the lentils were well covered and plonked the pork back on top. Lid on, the whole thing went into a oven at 190˚.

Two and a half hours later, I opened the lid of the casserole to pork and legume heaven. The meat was soft and tender and easy to carve. But the lentils were the star of this show. Shot through sweet morsels of caramelised onion and hints of garlic and rich with pork juices and chicken stock, these were so good I could happily have climbed into the casserole and bathed in these beauties to get maximum enjoyment. Even if I had made twice the amount, I still wouldn’t have made enough of them…

As it was, I have enough lentils for 3 portions and enough pork for about the same, plus a bone to try making more stock or flavouring another dish, making this combo both delicious and economic. I’d like to try making it again with more ethically raised pork as it would make me feel less guilty and would probably be more tasty as well! I highly recommend picking up a pork shank if you happened to be in a Morrisons or a decent butcher. The knobbly wobbly bits of the animal often excel themselves and this cut is no exception!

Gardeners’ Delight

After a freakishly chilly May, I have finally got everything planted in my little garden (despite the person who stole a bag of soil from me. What kind of person steals dirt?). I am now impatiently awaiting the appearance of tender green shoots like an eager child…

As I had previously mentioned this is my third year growing my own and with my confidence growing, I am hoping my crop will too! Things took on a life of their own slightly when I managed to get hold of some raised beds fairly cheaply online, expanding my growing space hugely and unexpectedly. Getting hold of soil online proved a bit tricky, but the beds were soon ready to go.

Raised beds

A trip to the amazing garden centre at RHS Wisley led to a rather large credit card bill and some new finds for the garden. I will be experimenting with Munchkin squash in the beds this year as well as hopefully bedding in some perennial Holsteiner Blut and Pink Champagne rhubarb beside the beds. As you may remember both Mister North and I are very fond of rhubarb so I have high hopes for this!

Wisley was also the source of several new herbs for the patio. I got my hands on a stunning tarragon plant, some beautiful marjoram and a fabulous oregano in a self composting pot. Along with the chervil, borage, lovage, sorrel, lemon basil, Thai basil and regular basil I have planted in pots, I think I might just have the best herb garden in Brixton! I’m really looking forward to cooking with some of these new herbs, plan to make litres of pesto and my Pimms will be enhanced beautifully by the borage!

herb-tastic

My little raised beds are home to beetroot, salad leaves, pak choi, gherkins, squash, curly kale, carrots and Swiss chard. I’m using a combination of seeds from Just Seed on Ebay, some swaps with friends and family and my freebies from the brilliant Dig in! at the BBC. I planted last week and seven days later, my pak choi and salad leaves are fantastic! My beetroot was a total washout last year, so I’m particularly excited for that…

I’ve gone for two types of potato this year; the sweet nutty Pink Fir Apple and the stunning looking Shetland Blue. Last year I had limited success with the Pink Fir Apples. I don’t think I planted them deep enough or banked them up well enough. So this year, I dug a trench for them both and buried them deep enough that neither squirrels or sun can damage them. I want to make chips with the whole Fir Apples for utter indulgence and the Blues will make the prettiest mash in all the land.

My tomatoes are less than two weeks in their pots and already showing fruit. I’m starting to think I may be some kind of tomato whisperer. Sadly I couldn’t get the amazing Cheriettes of Fire again this year, but I’ve got two Tumblers instead. These trailing plants are so easy to grow I’d recommend them to anyone with even the smallest amount of outside space, even a strong hanging basket. They just need regular watering and a bit of a feed and they crop like nobody’s business. I’ve also got a lovely Gardener’s Delight again and a heritage variety called Black Cherry because I’m a sucker for purple fruit and veg!

pots & planters

I’m also hoping to get some peas and beans going. I did buy runner bean plants at Homebase, but an unfortunate slug infestation means they have been eaten to shreds before even seeing a flowerbed. I hope to get some more this weekend, plus I plan to get my peas and mangetout underway. I’d like to fully grow the mangetout, but I think I’ll simply sprout the peas to feast on those sweet crunchy pea shoots that make a salad a sensation.

I also have several collapsible planters (supposedly for potatoes) on the patio for courgettes. I’ve planted two varieties this year, a striped Italian number and some yellow ones. I had fairly good success with my zucchini last year, but the globe type I planted seemed to run out of steam quite early and I only had about 8 in total. I’ve heard better things about the sort that resemble mini-marrows instead, so fingers crossed!

I’m hoping for a nice mixture of sun and rain this summer to get my money’s worth from the fruit and veg I’ve got going. Planting most stuff in beds or pots makes them quite easy to care for and hopefully I won’t spend all summer weeding! I’m secretly hoping for a glut of tomatoes again as I’ve really been enjoying sampling that fresh grown flavour throughout the winter months thanks to the home made sauce in the freezer. Home made pesto would be a lovely addition this year to perk up pasta!

I’m just keep my fingers crossed that I don’t have too much die on me this year, but if you’ve got any tips on getting any of the plants mentioned to thrive, please let me know! My nerves may not be able to take the stress otherwise!