beef / pork

Italian meatballs (with surprise ingredients)

Café Sopra is one of Sydney’s most well-known and highly regarded casual Italian eateries. Being a part of the Fratelli Fresh providore business means diners typically sit alongside an abundance of fresh produce and Italian treats. One of the things that makes Café Sopra so special is that it’s never tried too hard to be anything other than an everyday Italian that showcases simple seasonal produce and leaves guests with a satisfied stomach. The experience sits firmly in the casual/sharing space and gives Sydney foodies the chance to enjoy the kind of hearty food that Italian nonnas serve to their own families.

Italian meatballs with beef & porkWhenever I visit Café Sopra the two dishes I can’t resist are the chicken liver pate and the meatballs. I think both have been on the extensive blackboard menu since the first branch opened over 10 years ago.

Italian meatballs – Café Sopra style

The fact that I’d call these meatballs hard to resist might surprise you. Maybe you’re thinking meatballs are, well meatballs, typically made with mince, egg and breadcrumbs. I did too until I discovered this recipe. After trying it many times (with a few twists) I’m confident that it’s a winner. I’ve shared my version here and noted which ingredients from the original can be omitted or substituted whilst still producing a great result.

Italian meatballs with beef and pork

Essential ingredients:

Serves 4-6 with pasta or 2-4 people with a salad or greens

  • Olive oil
  • 500g good quality mince – beef or pork  (a mixture works well)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 tbsp parsley, chopped
  • A small handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • ½ cup – 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs*
  • 600g – 800g tomato passata or chopped tomatoes
  • Grated parmesan to serve

* for a gluten free, high fibre, alternative add 3 tbsp psyllium husk in place of the breadcrumbs

Optional surprise ingredients:

  • 1 cup fresh ricotta (ideally full fat)
  • 2-3 tbsp chopped pine nuts*
  • ½ cup red wine – the sauce works without it but it does add extra flavour
  • Grated zest of one lemon
  • 1-2 tsp ground fennel seeds
  • 1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary – reduce the quantity of basil by half if you use rosemary

* pine nuts can be expensive – alternatively use walnuts (or even pecans)

Italian meatballs with beef & porkMethod

  1. Heat a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a saucepan, add the onions and nuts and cook until the onions are soft and the nuts are light golden. Add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. In a large bowl combine the egg, ricotta, lemon zest, breadcrumbs and herbs. Add the meat and the onion/nut mix. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Mix everything together really well preferably with your hands, cover and transfer to the fridge for 30 minutes (or even overnight).
  4. Remove from the fridge and roll the mixture into small balls (the original recipe recommends walnut sized balls). If you use all of the ingredients above you’ll end up with around 25 or so meatballs.
  5. To make the sauce add the tomatoes (and optional wine) to a large pan. Season and simmer for 15-20 minutes, or until the sauce reduces.
  6. Transfer the meatballs to an oven proof dish and cook at 180C for 15-20 minutes. Then pour over the sauce and cook for another 5-10 minutes (or until your meatballs are cooked through).

Alternatively to cook in a saucepan: fry the meatballs with olive oil until golden brown on all sides (use enough oil to prevent them sticking to the pan). Then gently add the meatballs to the reduced sauce and simmer, covered, for another 10 minutes.

Top with grated parmesan and serve with pasta, polenta or mash potato, a fresh green salad or other greens.

Italian meatballs with beef & porkAnd here’s a link to the original recipe and steps to prepare: Italian meatballs with tomato sauce

By Laura (Feast Wisely)

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21 thoughts on “Italian meatballs (with surprise ingredients)

      • Pasta will also make a great combo, I totally agree.
        Was going through your blog and juz loved “Tandoori chicken oven-cooked”. M preparing it for dinner tonight. 😛

      • Hi Ema – glad you came across the Tandoori chicken – let me know how it goes! I find chicken can be a little plain but this recipe was amazing….

      • Actually I am a huge fan of chicken.
        I tried baked Chicken Cutlets. You can also enjoy them in brunch or carry away to office with bread and salad.
        The best part is that it is baked (healthy)
        http://bit.ly/JahYM2

  1. I love meatballs! It’s a matter of fact we had meatballs for dinner last night. I’m going to post them someday because it was a very different recipe than I usually make and I just have to share it. This Cafe Sopra sounds wonderful! And so do your meatballs. 🙂

    • Thanks Seana, I’m now curious for your recipe so will keep my eyes peeled…..yes Cafe Sopra is a real gem – and I’m glad they don’t keep their meatball recipe a secret…..

  2. How eerie is this? I had lunch today at the new Cafe Sopra in Macquarie St at Fratelli Parlamento. Same fabulous menu – I skipped the meatballs (as we were having them for dinner tonight) in favour of the polenta chips with mushroom in a gorgonzola sauce. Ricotta and Parmesan always make meatballs taste better.

    • Yes that’s eerie timing! I tried he Parlamento branch a few months and found the atmosphere a little ‘underground’ compared to other venues – but of course the food is still fantastic, I haven’t tried the polenta chips – next time maybe!

  3. Now this is amazing ❤ I am sure my hubby will love it!!! Saving the recipe right now!! I think it's time for me to start cooking some meat… somehow I am afraid to do so, I think my meat never tastes good! I need to try this recipe!!

    • Hi Allane, glad you like the recipe and yes I think it would be a winner with all guys – this is a really foolproof way of cooking meat and you can use just beef, just pork or a combination….let me know how it goes!

      • Guess what? The day after I found your recipe I cooked it!! And it was AMAZING ❤ my hubby loooooved it and so did I!! It was enough for the 2 of us for 2 meals… which means we had the rest last night 😀 sooo easy and delicious!!
        Really, thank you for sharing this recipe. I felt like wonder woman cooking meatballs in the oven hahaha 😀

      • So glad you cooked the recipe and it was a success! I love that once you have mastered the meatballs you can experiment serving them with mash, pasta or just a salad and extra sauce!

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