Old favourite gets new flavour twist

Joan Bishop
Joan Bishop

Meatballs have become very chic of late - a great way to play with flavours. I love old-fashioned favourites, particularly if they have an intriguing flavour twist as this one does.

The coppa and spices play their part but it is the anchovies which add a deep, indefinable complexity, enhancing the other flavours.

Even those who dislike anchovies will not be aware of their presence. No fishy taste at all but something much more subtle and delicious. During the slow simmer, the anchovies dissolve into the sauce so perfectly that they are unidentifiable.

Their salty piquancy however, imparts an intense savouriness that accents the dish perfectly giving it real pizzazz.

The preparation is easy, the meatballs succulent, the sauce piquant. It can be made ahead of time and it is absolutely delicious, everything I require of a recipe.

Photo: Gregor Richardson.
Photo: Gregor Richardson.
Mediterranean meatballs

Serves 6

20g (one third cup) panko breadcrumbs
125ml milk
½ small red onion, finely chopped
2 tsp ground sumac
½ tsp each sweet smoked paprika and ground cinnamon
100g coppa or prosciutto, finely chopped
700g New Zealand pork mince

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp sweet smoked paprika
5 anchovy fillets in oil, drained (15g) finely chopped
1½ cups red wine
400g can chopped tomatoes in juice
2 Tbsp tomato paste

To serve
Greek yoghurt, plain unsweetened
fresh herbs, I used thyme and oregano


Combine the panko crumbs in a bowl with the milk and stir. Add the red onion, sumac, paprika and cinnamon and mix well.

Add coppa, stir again then add the pork mince and using your hands gently mix all together.

Roll into 24-26 golf ball-sized meatballs.

Set aside while you make the sauce.

Heat the oil in a large frypan. Add the onion and cook slowly over medium heat, stirring from time to time until the onions have softened (6-7 minutes).

Add the garlic, sweet smoked paprika and the anchovies and gently simmer for 3 to 4 minutes more, stirring.

Add the red wine, tomatoes and tomato paste and bring to the boil. Simmer gently on the stove top, lid off for about 10 minutes to reduce and concentrate the sauce.

Now you have two options.

If you want to continue the cooking in the frypan on the stove top, gently add the meatballs to the frypan, turning so they are well coated with the sauce. Cover tightly with a well fitting lid and cook at a gentle simmer for about 60 minutes more until the meatballs are meltingly tender.

The option I prefer is to finish the cooking in the oven as no tending is required. Pour the sauce into a heated 8-cup capacity, lidded casserole dish. Add the meatballs to the sauce, turning to coat. Cover with a well-fitting lid and place in the oven preheated to 180degC.

Cook for about one and a-quarter hours until the meatballs are beautifully tender.

To serve
Drizzle the yoghurt over the meatballs, scatter with fresh herbs and serve with spaghetti, couscous or mash. A side salad goes well.

Pantry note: The dried, crushed red berry of the sumac bush has a sour lemony flavour and is used widely in Middle Eastern cuisine. It is available in the speciality aisle of most supermarkets.

Coppa is cured pork shoulder or neck similar to prosciutto but less expensive. It is available from the deli counters of some supermarkets.

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