Chef Laura Pope has teamed up with Comté cheese to create this tasty twist on meatballs, with a lovely gooey, cheesey centre 

Makes: 20 large meatballs and 1 litre sauce – serves between 4 and 6, depending on whether you are eating these for a snack or a meal  

I love to make batches of this wonderfully versatile sauce while the tomatoes are at their best, then freeze it in portions to use throughout the year, so this dish would be delicious at any time. The fennel in the meatballs goes beautifully with the melting Comté in the centre. 


Ingredients

For the sauce

  • 70ml extra virgin olive oil 
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped 
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely chopped 
  • Small pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional) 
  • 500g fresh tomatoes, quartered and hard cores cut out  
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes 
  • Leaves from 15g fresh oregano, chopped, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano

For the meatballs

  • 2 medium eggs, beaten 
  • 500g minced pork 
  • 400g minced beef 
  • 100g breadcrumbs (fresh or dried) 
  • Small pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional) 
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground (in a spice grinder, coffee grinder or pestle & mortar) 
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed 
  • Leaves from 15g flat-leaf parsley 
  • 200g 18-24 month Comté, cut into 20 cubes 

Directions

1To make the sauce, heat 35ml of the oil in a saucepan over a medium/low heat and gently cook the onion with ¼ teaspoon fine salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper and the chilli flakes (if using).

2Turn the heat down low and sweat the onions for about 10 minutes, then add the garlic, and cook for a further 5 minutes until the onions are glossy and transparent. Add the fresh tomatoes with the remaining 35ml olive oil, turn the heat up a little bit, and cook gently for a further 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to check the sauce isn’t catching on the bottom of the pan.

3Add the tinned tomatoes and bring to a gentle simmer, then cook over a very low heat for 1 hour.

4Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the oregano. Leave the sauce to cool, then transfer to a food blender (or use a hand blender) and blitz until very smooth.

5To make the meatballs, preheat the oven to 220℃ normal / 200℃ fan and lightly oil a baking tray.

6Using your hands, squelch all the ingredients, apart from the Comté, together with ¼ tablespoon fine salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.

7Divide the mixture into 20 equal parts (weighing approximately 55g each) and then mould each one into a ball with a cube of Comté at the centre, ensuring the cheese is thoroughly covered by meat and the balls are tightly packed. You can refrigerate or freeze them at this stage, but defrost them fully if frozen or take them out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before cooking them so they cook evenly.

8Place the meatballs onto the baking tray and roast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once halfway through cooking, until they are starting to brown on the outside.

9To serve, gently heat the sauce in a large pan, then add the baked meatballs (it’s best if they’re still hot from the oven so the cheese is still melted and oozing), cover the pan and poach the meatballs in the sauce for a further 10 minutes, turning a couple of times to ensure the sauce coats the meatballs evenly. Serve with warm, crusty bread or a bowl of spaghetti.

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