Meatballs with Pasta & Sauce

Meatballs with Pasta & Sauce

I'm entering new territory…….

For most of my career I've taught people to cook, delivered cookery workshops for families, run seminars for parents on how to feed their kids better. And now, all of sudden, I'm on the 'other' side! For the first time, I'm that busy mum with 3 small children - all of whom have their own fledgling opinions about what they want to be eating. And like most things in life, actually doing it is a whole different story to talking about it! I’ve heard countless parents telling me about the stresses of cooking for fussy eaters, the challenges of catering for allergies and intolerances, the time consuming hassle of cooking different meals for different kids, and then something different again for the adults in the family…….(and now I feel like I owe a MASSIVE apology to all the parents to whom my helpful advice about feeding kids came with a side of TOTAL OBLIVION about how hard it actually is when you do it 24/7!) But however challenging it is, I’m determined not to become that mum who spends hours cooking every day to suit everyone’s various requirements.

So here’s my plan:

I’m coming up with a series of easy, nutritious recipes which work ‘3 ways’ – so that the same meal can be:

  1. A delicious, healthy adult dish
  2. Well-balanced kid-friendly food/baby finger food
  3. Nutritious purees for anyone in the family who likes to be spoon fed

My criteria:

  • Cooking from scratch using fresh ingredients
  • Minimal washing up
  • Keeping it simple - not too many ingredients
  • Prepare-ahead meals that can be refrigerated or frozen until needed

This week’s recipe is Beef Meatballs with Pasta and Tomato Sauce (with hidden veg to bulk out the meat and help towards your 5-a-day). For non-gluten eaters, just switch the pasta for gluten-free pasta, or skip the pasta for a low carb option.

Beef Meatballs with Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Serves: 2-3 adults (depending on appetite) and 3-4 children (depending on age)


500 grams lean beef mince

1 egg

1 large onion

1 large sweet potato (or 3 carrots)

2 fat cloves of garlic

4 large fresh tomatoes (or a tin of chopped tomatoes)

100 grams tomato puree

1 teaspoon mixed dried herbs

Optional: salt, pepper and chilli sauce to taste

1 beef or veg stock cube (I use knorr stock pots but you can use baby-stock or any brand you like)

250 grams fusilli pasta

Optional: 2 balls fresh mozzarella (approx 200g total), or use any other melting cheese

to serve: 1 head of broccoli image Method: 1. Peel the onion, garlic and sweet potato. If you have a food processor, chuck the veg in all together and pulse it until it is finely chopped. otherwise grate the sweet potato and finely chop the onion and garlic.image 2. Add a tablespoon of oil to a saucepan or large frying pan, and fry the onion, garlic and sweet potato for 5 minutes over a high heat, stirring regularly until it is softened. image 3. Leave half the sweet potato mixture in the pan, and transfer half to a mixing bowl. image 4. Chop the tomatoes into large chunks. Add them to the pan along with the tomato puree, herbs, beef stock and a mugful of boiling water. image 5. Simmer the sauce with a lid on, adding a splash more water if it seems too dry. It needs to cook for at least 15 minutes on a low heat. The tomatoes should reduce down to form a thick, pulpy sauce. (note: If you want to make the sauce completely smooth, when it is cooked put it in a blender with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil) imageimage 6. While the tomato sauce cooks, make the meatballs. In the same bowl as the reserved half of the sweet potato mixture (which should have cooled down by now) add the mince and egg. Use your hands to mix all the ingredients together. Half of this mixture will be used to make meatballs for the kids - so remove half of it into a separate bowl (or save dirtying that extra bowl and skip straight to rolling meatballs as in step 8). image 7. The other half of the meatball mixture is for adults - so add a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and a couple of tablespoons of chilli sauce or sweet chilli sauce. image 8. Get 2 medium sized oven proof dishes or baking trays. Grease them with a little bit of oil. Roll the meatballs into even sized balls - the mixture is enough to make 18 golf-ball sized meatballs. Put the kids meatballs into one dish, and the adult meatballs into another dish. image 9. Put the meatballs into the oven at 180 degrees C for 15 minutes. 9. Boil the pasta according to pack instructions. Do not add any salt to the cooking water. To save using a second saucepan, cut the broccoli head into quarters and place it on top of the pasta. Put the lid on as it cooks. When the pasta is ready drain it together with the broccoli - it should be easy to pull out the broccoli pieces. image image image 10. The meatballs should be cooked by the time the pasta is ready (cut one in half to check that the meat is cooked through). Divide the cooked pasta between the two dishes of meatballs. image image 11. Spoon half the sauce over the kids meatballs. Then add salt, pepper and a dash of sweet chilli sauce to the other half, before spooning it over the adult meatballs. Slice the 2 balls of mozzarella and lay slices of cheese over the top. Finally scatter some mixed dried herbs over the top (or some chilli flakes on the adult dish). image image 12. Bake the dishes for 15-20 minutes at 180 degrees C until they are heated through and the tops are as melted/crispy as you like. Serve with the broccoli on the side (this may need reheating in the microwave). Note: For the kids version there's actually no need to bake it if you don't want to, as all the components are cooked and ready to eat. I find large meatballs make great finger food for babies. At this stage you can stick the adult version in the fridge for later. Or freeze one or the other dish to eat another time. imageimage 13. To make baby puree, just remove as much of the kids version as you want to, and put it into a blender along with a dash of extra virgin olive oil and enough water or milk to make a smooth puree.  I then spoon the puree into baby food portion moulds, freeze them, and then pop the cubes out into a labelled freezer bag. Just make sure when defrosting that you heat the baby food until it is piping hot and then let it cool before serving. image image