Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Meatballs with Pancetta and Parmesan in the Slow Cooker or on the Stove

This is one of our favourite and most regular family meals. The meatball recipe comes from a Rick Stein recipe in Delicious 2008 - the pancetta and parmesan in the balls give them a great texture and taste. My good friend Georgia originally made this for us when my daughter Ava was born, and we have never made meatballs any other way since.

This is a work night dinner in our house. I make up a huge batch of meatballs and freeze them uncooked, then defrost them in the fridge the night before I need them. I lightly fry them up before work, or at lunch time (I only work up the road) and leave them to cook in the slow cooker. I usually cheat for the sauce and just use a jar of passata poured straight into the slow cooker. I want to try not frying them first, just cooking in the sauce, but am sure they won't be as good so have never tried it - maybe next week!

My addition to the recipe has been to include vegetables in the sauce - I try and sneak them in everywhere, as my kids don't eat salad and I don't want to make one after work anyway.

No photo for this one, we forgot and ate it all!

Meatballs with Parmesan and Pancetta in Tomato Sauce
serves 4

¼ C olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
100g sliced pancetta, finely choppd
750 g pork and veal or beef mince
½ lemon, zested
1C (80g) parmesan, grated
2/3 C (50g) fresh white breadcrumbs
2 tbsp flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp oregano, chopped
1 egg, beaten
Tomato Sauce
1 tbsp olive oil
20g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
400g can chopped tomatoes
150g tomato passata
Cheat's Tomato Vegetable Sauce

zucchini, eggplant, sweet potato (or whatever you have), diced
1 jar tomato passata
To Serve
½ C basil, shredded
pasta or polenta
parmesan, grated

Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a small frypan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, cook stirring for 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Set aside to cool.

Place pancetta, mince, zest, parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, oregano and onion mixture in a large bowl. Use your hands to combine well. Add egg, ½ tsp salt and pepper to taste, mix through.

With damp hands, shape mixture into walnut sized balls. Chill for 30 minutes to firm up. At this point you can refridgerate for a day or two, or freeze for a couple of months.

Heat the remaining oil in a non-stick frypan. In batches, lightly brown the meatballs on all sides but don’t cook through. Set meatballs aside while you make the sauce. If cooking in a slow cooker, put the meatballs in the slow cooker now.

Tomato Sauce
In the same frypan, add the oil and butter and cook the onion and garlic, stirring, for 5 minutes. For the slow cooker, transfer the onions to the slow cooker and continue to cook in there. Add tomatoes, passata, salt and pepper, bring to the boil. Return the meatballs to the pan, then partially cover and simmer over medium-low for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until sauce thickens and meatballs are cooked through. Or cook in the slow cooker on low for 2 – 4 hours, you can leave it all day but the meatballs will be tougher.
Cheat's Tomato and Vegetable Sauce
After removing the meatballs from the frypan, add a bit more oil and fry the diced zucchini and eggplant (sweet potato doesn't need it). Put vegetables in the slow cooker with the meatballs and pour the passata over. Cook in the slow cooker on low for 2 – 4 hours, you can leave it all day but the meatballs will be tougher.

Before you eat, gently take the meatballs out of the sauce and use a stick blender to puree the sauce so it is smooth with no vegetable lumps.

Serve on pasta or polenta with parmesan and basil, sprinkled over.


  1. hey shara thanks for coming over to visit, i am the same as you since making the parmesan pancetta meatballs i've not tried any other recipes !!i love your 'whats for dinner this week' idea !! very cool ...

  2. me again, just looking thru your recipes and I make the same new york times bread, it is SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO good :)