Friday 15 April 2011

Meatballs for the whole family

Now I'm not going to lie to you, this is based upon an adult recipe which, before my baby friendly adaptations was much better.  Sorry.  I can't pretend it wasn't and I can't pretend that once my baby is a toddler I won't be reverting to the old recipe, albeit with perhaps a little less seasoning.  That said, it's still nice and useful to have in the freezer.

The seasoning is a personal thing.  Play around with it to suit your palate, you could add a small amount of chilli for adults or older kids.  If you want to test the seasoning before you cook, fry off some of the mix until completely cooked and taste it.  Generally I would over season these by preference but obviously that's difficult with a baby.

The good thing with this is there is so many hidden vegetables.  There is courgette in the meatballs, tomato, onion, peppers and carrots in the sauce and garlic in everything so served with salad or cucumber you're getting a decent variety of vegetables into your child (or your other half...)  You can vary the mince proportions or substitute sausages for adults.  I think beef is a good idea though as it has more flavour.

You can make this in smaller quantities but it is one of those things where I like to get into a rhythm once my hands are dirty and they freeze brilliantly.

Meatballs - makes approx 6 adult portions and 6 baby portions; more if you serve with pasta.  The baby portions are generous (the photo only shows less than half a portion because with self feeding you expect some losses!  I also find he eats finger foods better if I don't overload him.)


800g Beef mince
800g Pork mince (if making just for adults or older kids, I would substitute this for some good quality, well seasoned garlicky sausages, skinned)
Herbs of your choice (I tend to use thyme, parsley, garlic chives and rosemary) chopped up fine
(Chilli - for adults only)
1 large courgette, grated
1-2 gloves garlic, grated finely
1 quantity of tomato sauce (made using 3 tins of tomatoes) - a thick batch!


Mix the courgette, minces, garlic, herbs and spices together using your hands.  Roll into small balls.  I am a believer that small is beautiful when it comes to meatballs so I roll into balls smaller than a walnut, perhaps a scant 2cm in diameter.  This is a bit of a labour of love but if you do it at a weekend, let the other half have some baby time, it can be surprisingly therapeutic.

Put the balls onto a tray or large plate.  As you finish the tray, put it in the fridge, covered and continue until you've used all the mix.

Make sure your batch of tomato sauce is a thick one, I will explain later.

Use some spray oil in a non stick pan.  Fry a few (5-6) of the balls at a time until starting to brown.  Shake the pan to make sure they don't stick (this is just for flavour and appearance as basically the rest of the cooking process is poaching).  Put a small smear of sauce in a very large saucepan or casserole which can be used on the hob.  Lay your meatballs in gently.  Continue until you have a layer, put some sauce on top and continue.  When your pan is about 1/3 to 1/2 full, put a gentle heat on underneath so the ones on the bottom start to cook (and not squash!)  Continue layering with the sauce and fried meatballs until you've used up both.  Be aware that some juices will come out of the meatballs as they cook which will thin out the sauce a little.

Put on a gentle heat covered with a lid.  Bring to a simmer.  Leave for 10 mins then have a look.  If the top ones are looking more solid, you can then give a stir.  Don't stir it until the meatballs are almost cooked as otherwise they will break up.  If the sauce is now too thin, turn up the heat and boil with the lid off.

Serve up on their own with cheese and a salad or with pasta.  Can also be made into a lovely pasta bake.

I was thinking about baby led weaning today.  It was something I intended to do but didn't as it just wasn't right for us.  One thing which a friend said to me did make me think "I didn't want a 6 month old deciding their nutritional intake" and I fundamentally agree with that.  I also got a bit concerned by the mantra baby led weaners seem to say "food is for fun before 1".  I have no problems with food being fun but this phrase gets trotted out whenever any concerns about nutritional content of the baby's diet or weight gain are expressed.  Having said that, I do see the upsides.  Having a baby who feeds themselves is easier in a lot of ways and the argument is that the diet could be more varied.  But I also have more concerns.  Although my diet doesn't contain a lot of salt (I eat very little processed foods and add little during cooking and eating), I do like cured meats, anchovies and other non friendly foods like chilli.  All this means that a lot of my food isn't suitable for my son which takes away some of the 'easier' argument and as I said this recipe is a compromise which is to the detriment of the original dish.  

I am on a tight budget as anyone would be on their final months of maternity pay.  My son is good with finger foods but he didn't used to be and he still has days when everything goes on the floor.  I don't buy the argument either that you can put something clean underneath and reuse the food.  My food safety training will not allow me to take anything off the floor and reuse it, however cleanly it has lain there.

Now this might get a response and I hope it does, because it's something I've wondered about a fair bit.  My son has a decent amount of meat and fish in his diet which kids need at this age.  How do baby led weaners get their kids (especially younger babies) to eat this and in what form?  I remember lying in bed thinking "well if I do baby led weaning, I feel like he'll be eating sandwiches and pasta all the time and far too much cheese".  I honestly don't know if this is true but my gut feel is that the diet could potentially be a bit restrictive.  Please prove me wrong and post ideas I've not thought of!  I also don't buy Gill Rapley's assertion that babies can get a lot of nutrients from sucking on a piece of meat.  Hmmm.

Anyway, my last objection is it's one of those "black and white" techniques and actually there is nothing wrong with doing what people have done for years and having a bit of finger foods, a bit of purees or spoon feeding and adapting to what your child needs and wants (surely that's truly baby-led?)   I think there is far too much unnecessary restriction in child rearing circles; the "you must do it like this" and "you're not supposed to do that" brigade.  Some of it I'm sure is sensible and useful advice, others is just creating rules for rules sake in my opinion.

That all said, the reason I started thinking about it is the above recipe would probably be a good one for baby led weaners.  So I've probably offended you all; if I have, I apologise but I do like a good debate... 

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