Meatballs with Orzo

At the end of my dive into At My Table, A Celebration of Home Cooking, what have I learned by listening to Nigella and cooking from this book for the last few weeks?

– The mezzaluna is a good tool to have in the kitchen. It’s safer than a knife for clumsy people.

– Stock vermouth to use as a substitute for white wine. It keeps longer because it’s fortified.

– A cookbook “should be easy to follow and give you pleasure reading it, just like reading any other book.” Agreed!

– Also noted was the instruction to “cook for yourself” so you don’t get unsettled when you’re making a dish for a bunch of people.

– Don’t belittle being a home cook, there is great value in cooking for yourself, friends and family.

And maybe the best idea of all from the book: “always err on the side of generosity … whether in the kitchen or out of it, this is a happier way to be.”

Meatballs with Orzo is a fine example of the recipes in this book: it makes lots, it’s quite easy to put together and it tastes great.

Here’s what happens.

The mezzaluna is used.

Chopping parsley with my mezzaluna.

Ground beef, an egg, freshly chopped parsley, breadcrumbs, grated Parmesan, garlic and salt… AKA the ingredients for meatballs.

Meatball ingredients.

All mixed and rolled into meatballs.


Now, make the sauce. Cook the onions in olive oil until they’re softened, then add the almost freshly chopped parsley and oregano.

Add the parsley and oregano.

Add the red wine (substituting for red Vermouth).

Adding red wine (a whatfoodimade action shot™!).

Let that bubble for a minute, then add the tomatoes.

Adding the tomatoes (another whatfoodimade action shot™!).

In a move that would make my depression survivor grandmother proud, swirl water around in the just-emptied tomato tin and add that to the mix.

Adding tomato-y water (a third whatfoodimade action shot™!).

Add salt and bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.


Add the meatballs to the sauce, bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Meatballs are added to the mix.

Add the orzo, increase the heat so there is bubbling and cook for 10 to 15 minutes. Stir this once in a while.

Adding the orzo (the fourth whatfoodimade action shot™!).

Serve the dish topped with Parmesan.

Meatballs with Orzo.

Meatballs with Orzo.

Here’s the recipe:

Meatballs with Orzo
Serves 4-6


Orzo pasta is a non-negotiable staple in my kitchen. Simply dressed in butter and salt, and maybe a dusting of nutmeg or grated parmesan, or indeed both, it often serves at my table as a substitute for rice or potatoes, and I regularly use it to cook what in Italian is pasta risottata, a kind of pasta risotto. It makes for wonderful, cozy one-pot dishes, of which this is an eminent example.


For the meatballs

1 lb. ground beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more to serve
2 Tbsp dried breadcrumbs
4 Tbsp finely grated parmesan, plus more to serve
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1½ tsp sea salt flakes

For the sauce

2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion (1 cup loosely packed), finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tsp dried oregano
4 Tbsp (60ml) red vermouth
2 x 14 oz tins chopped tomatoes
1½ tsp sea salt flakes
10 oz (1-1/2 cups) orzo pasta

Line a large baking sheet with clingfilm, then put all the ingredients for the meatballs into a large bowl with 1½ tsp sea salt flakes and mix together, gently, with your hands. Don’t overmix, as it will make the meatballs dense-textured and heavy.

Pinch out pieces of the mixture and roll between the palms of your hands to form meatballs that are somewhere between a cherry tomato and a walnut in size, putting them on the tray as you go. You should get about 30 meatballs.

Fill a measuring jug with 1 litre cold water and put near the hob.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a heavy-based casserole or pan that has a lid and is large enough to take the meatballs and pasta. Cook the chopped onion over a medium heat, stirring every now and again, for about 10 minutes, or until completely softened. Add the parsley and oregano and stir for a minute or so before adding the vermouth. Let this bubble up for a minute, then tip in the tomatoes. Half-fill the empty tins with water from the jug, give them a good swill and pour into the pan, along with the rest of the water and 1½ tsp sea salt flakes. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down, clamp on the lid and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Uncover the pan and drop the meatballs gently into the simmering sauce. I try to let these fall in concentric circles, working around the pan from the outside edge inwards, but this is more habit than necessity. Bring it back up to the boil, then turn the heat down again, put the lid back on and simmer for 20 minutes.

Remove the lid, tip in the orzo, stir gently and turn up the heat to bring back to a bubble. Cook at a robust simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the pasta is cooked. You will have to give the odd gentle stir throughout this time to make sure the orzo isn’t sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Serve in shallow bowls, sprinkled with parsley, and with parmesan on the table alongside.


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