pork and beef meatballs

Fawkes at the ready

Florence Knight has warm, comforting and naughty recipes to help Bonfire Night go with a bang

AS the trees drop their leaves, it's time for autumn's last bolt of colour: the amber, orange and russet of the season, which appear alongside the hues of the harvest — bright butternut squashes, golden pumpkins and red pippins; celeriac, kohlrabi and jade-green kale, leeks and watercress.
It's the time of year when I like to be by a blazing fire, toasting marshmallows until they're molten on the inside, charred on the outside. On Bonfire Night, fireworks whistle skyward as we bundle up against the November cold, smoke seeping into every layer. There's a sense of adventure, a little nostalgia and lots of comfort food.
I like to serve piping-hot king edward potato chips and tender meatballs — to be shared at the fireside — and hand out sticky toffees and maple biscuits, to be stuffed into our pockets for later, for a naughty midnight feast

Use a light touch to make these meatballs. The tomato sauce is slow-cooked and improves with time. It is worth making a big batch to stir through pasta and add to sandwiches. Extras can be stored in the freezer for a month.

serves: 8, makes: approximately 45

for the sauce
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 tsp dried chilli
6 sprigs of thyme
6 sprigs of rosemary
3x 400g tin of chopped
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon

for the meatballs
1 large onion
3 cloves of garlic
4 sprigs of rosemary
6 sprigs of thyme
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
2 slices of bread (stale or fresh)
100ml milk
5g parmesan, plus extra
2 tsp Dijon mustard 300g beef mince
150g pork mince 1 tsp dried chilli
Freshly grated nutmeg (to taste)

1. Heat a glug of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan on a low heat. Halve, peel and slice the onions. Add them, with 1tsp of sea salt, to the pan, then reduce the heat and cook for 10 minutes, until soft. While the onions are cooking, peel and finely slice the garlic.

2. Stir through the garlic, chilli and herbs and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices from the tins. Swill each of the emptied tins with a little water to get the last remnants of tomato and add this to the pan. Raise the heat to high and cook for a few minutes, avoiding the temptation to keep stirring. Turn down the heat and reduce the sauce to a thick, chunky texture. The longer you cook it, the better the sauce will be. I tend to leave it to simmer for 30-60 minutes while I make the meatballs.

3. While the sauce is reducing, make the meatballs. Peel the onion and garlic, dicing the onion finely. Using a pestle and mortar, grind the garlic with a pinch of salt to a smooth paste. Pick and finely chop the rosemary and thyme leaves.

4. Heat the oven to 180C (fan 160C) and lightly grease a baking tray. Put a pan on the heat with a little olive oil and sweat down the onion, garlic, rosemary, thyme and fennel seeds. Once soft, spread over a plate and put in the fridge to cool.

5. Soak the bread in the milk in a shallow bowl for 5-10 minutes, until the milk has been absorbed. Grate the parmesan on a fine setting. Once softened, break the bread into small chunks with your hands and discard any leftover milk.

6. Put the cooled onions and garlic, soaked bread, parmesan, mustard, beef and pork mince, chilli and nutmeg in a large bowl and mix together with your hands. Be careful not to overwork the mixture. I like meatballs to be light and juicy, and overworking results in a dense, heavy meatball.
Grease your hands with olive oil, then shape the mixture into balls the size of large marbles.

7. Place the meatballs on the greased baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. They will still be soft when they come out: the baking is to colour them and set their shape, not to cook them through, which happens in the sauce.

8. Grate the lemon zest into the now-reduced sauce and add a splash of olive oil. Add the meatballs to the sauce; simmer for a few minutes to cook through.

9. Serve in shallow bowls and cat topped with finely grated parmesan and a dash of olive oil.

When making meatballs, use milk-soaked bread to bind, rather than egg. It will keep them tender rather than hard and bouncy.