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.
Whenever 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.
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)
- 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.
- 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.
- Mix everything together really well preferably with your hands, cover and transfer to the fridge for 30 minutes (or even overnight).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
And 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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