Meatballs with Orzo

Nigella Lawson's delicious one-pot recipe for Orzo with Meatballs is a comforting and warming pasta dish perfect for wintry weekend cooking.

Introduction

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, cosy one-pot dishes, of which this is a pre-eminent example.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

For the meatballs:
500g minced beef
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 x 15ml tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus more to serve
2 x 15ml tbsp breadcrumbs
4 x 15ml tbsp finely grated parmesan, plus more to serve
1½ tsp sea salt flakes
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
For the sauce:
1 ltr cold water
2 x 15ml tbsp regular olive oil
1 (approx. 150g) onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 x 15ml tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tsp dried oregano
4 x 15ml tbsp (60ml) Red Vermouth
2 x 400g tinned chopped tomatoes
1½ tsp sea salt flakes
275g orzo pasta

Instructions

1. Line a large baking sheet with cling film, then put all the ingredients for the meatballs into a large bowl and mix together, gently, with your hands. Don’t overmix, as it will make the meatballs dense-textured and heavy.

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

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

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

5. 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 the meatballs 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.

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

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