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Ray's meatballs, inspired by Jamie Oliver


Let's get a few things straight before I start this recipe.

I am in the camp of people who find Jamie Oliver a rather annoying personality (the pseudo-geezer thing), but who appreciate what he has done for food in Britain (example). I like his early books (I only got as far as the first two), but I sit firmly with the Italians when it comes to 'Jamie's Italy'. Basically, if Italy is, as he says, his biggest inspiration ("I should have been Italian"), then why can’t he respect the time-honoured recipes developed over generations instead of coming in and throwing all manner of herbs and spices into dishes that traditionally would have been made up of a few ingredients, cooked simply and allowed to shine. In the words of Angela Hartnett,

Nonna taught me to understand what great Italian cooking is all about: start with the very best raw ingredients and do very little to them; just let them speak for themselves, and make the best of their natural flavours and textures.

I have heard many an irate Italian complain about Jamie’s habit of taking a perfectly good Italian recipe and chucking in a bit of this and a bit of that, making it an entirely new dish in their view, but still calling it by the same name.

I was also until quite recently in the camp of people who think meatballs are boring, would never dream of making them at home, and who would certainly never order them in a restaurant. That was, until my friend Rachel stayed with me in London last year and made me this recipe. It was only this week, when I asked her where it was from, that I found out that it was one of Jamie’s elaborate takes on the traditional, and in my opinion rather dull, Italian meatball. Hmm.

So it is that I must bashfully acknowledge that Jamie Oliver, in this instance, gets one point over the Italians; sometimes, but only sometimes, messing about with their traditional recipes can lead to good results.  

The original recipe for Jamie Oliver’s meatballs can be found here, at and includes a portion of his basic tomato sauce recipe, which can be found here, on Recipe Circus.

In her version of the recipe, Ray has added and substituted a few ingredients: you will note that coriander seeds were not in the original recipe and that she uses balsamic rather than red wine vinegar in the tomato sauce. I would also lean towards balsamic vinegar, because it is sweeter. Nonetheless, I find that any vinegar leaves the sauce tasting a little acidic and find that adding a spoon of muscovado sugar takes the edge off. This is the only ingredient I've added, I hope Ray won't mind.

If you have looked at Jamie’s recipe, you will also notice that Ray does not bother with the optional ingredients. I assume that she, like me, thinks onion and garlic to be unnecessary additions when the sauce is packed full of them; I do love garlic and onion though, so I am not opposed to the idea. Dijon, on the other hand, is to me a perfect example of Jamie overcomplicating things.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did. Perhaps I will inspire a few more meatball converts in sharing it.


For the tomato sauce 

1 tbsp olive oil
1 brown onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp dried oregano
2 x 400g tinned tomatoes
1 tbsp muscovado (dark brown) sugar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 handful basil, roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

For the meatballs

500g minced beef
25g breadcrumbs
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp rosemary, finely chopped
½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground 
½ tsp coriander seeds, toasted and ground 
1 egg, beaten 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
150g mozzarella cheese
30g parmesan cheese (approx), grated
2 handfuls fresh basil, torn or roughly chopped

Serves 3-4 as a main course


For the tomato sauce

Add the olive oil to a large saucepan and put over a low heat. When the oil is hot, add the onions, garlic and oregano, stir and cover with a lid.

When they are soft and pale yellow in colour, add the tomatoes and brown sugar. Leave this to simmer while you prepare the meatballs. Ray says, “I usually cook the sauce for a while and then add the balsamic at the end with the basil. This seems to work better than adding it earlier”. I certainly agree on the basil front, the fresher the better.

For the meatballs 

Preheat the oven to 200C.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the minced meat, breadcrumbs, oregano, chilli flakes, rosemary, ground cumin and coriander seeds, egg, salt and pepper. I use my hands for this, as it is the best way to ensure the mix is well combined. You should then test the seasoning by either frying a little piece of the mixture or tasting a tiny bit raw.

Using your hands, form the mix into balls (the size is up to you) and put to one side on a plate or other flat surface.

Add the olive oil to a thick-based casserole pan and put over a high heat. When the oil is hot, add the meatballs and fry them until they are lightly browned on all sides.

Turn the temperature down to a low heat and add the tomato sauce; depending on the type of mince you are using, you may wish to drain the meatballs of any excess fat before doing this.

Break up the mozzarella over the top and sprinkle with parmesan. Cover and cook in the oven for about 15-20mins. Ray says, "I usually save a whole lot of basil for when it comes out as well" and, indeed, I would take that one step further and say keep it all for the end. When it comes out, throw the basil over the top and serve with crusty bread.


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Reader Comments (4)

I cooked Ray's meat balls last night , and I declare them a knock out. I'm already a meatball fan , having eaten "albondigas" in Spain many times, but we don't often cook them at home .Obviously we should do so more often. I made a couple of additions/variations to the recipe - I used 50% lamb 50% beef mince - since the flavours in the recipe are very suited to lamb I didn't think it would matter and it tasted just great. The King of Wingdang came for supper and suggested mixing a tea spoon of smoked paprika in with the meat spices. I happened to have some fresh marjoram in the fridge too, so that went into the sauce along with the basil. I also used Angela Hartnet's tip and soaked the bread in milk .Everyone including the King thought this was a fantastic recipe , so thanks Ray , it's going to be one of my regulars from now on.

November 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMa

Yes, indeed, thanks Ray! The mix of lamb and beef sounds good, although I'd be interested to hear whether you could actually taste the lamb? I would have thought the flavour of the sauce would overpower it. I think in Spain they tend to mix beef and pork, which you can definitely taste, but I'm not sure how this would work with the rest of the flavours, although with the King's addition of smoked paprika it would be great. Majoram isn't readily available here so I haven't tried it with that. Perhaps we can try it out when I am back in Sydney.

November 1, 2010 | Registered CommenterVix

I actually made these again the other night for my Dad's birthday and decided on using pork and beef. The flavour was fantastic. I'll definitely be doing this from now on!

December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRay

Did you do the paprika too? Or was everything else as is? I think Spain was the first place I ever had meatballs that I liked and they definitely use pork (what Spanish meat dish doesn't in some form or other?) so I can imagine how good it might be. I'll have to try it out!

December 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterVix

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