My mother served her favourite meatballs on nearly every festive occasion — birthdays, weddings, anniversary parties — but most often as mini nibbles with pre-dinner drinks. World-famous amongst friends and family, they were a unique combo of Italian and American influences. 

Italian meatballs are considerably smaller than those enjoyed in America or New Zealand. Known in Italy as polpettes (or if marble-sized, polpettines), they are usually served as a main — without sauce — or in a light soup. Their origins can be traced back to the Roman Empire when these delights were prepared from squid or chicken. Considered simple peasant food, they are not generally served in restaurants today.

However, the most likely precursor of the meatball is thought to be the Persian kofta — a dish of minced chicken, pork, lamb or beef mixed with rice or mashed lentils. They were rolled into orange-sized balls and glazed with egg yolk and saffron. These days they are usually cigar-shaped and often served on skewers.

Meatballs are comfort food — an economical dish that can be stretched by adding mashed potato or other vegetables, or breadcrumbs to the meat. The secret to successful meatballs is to roll them in clean, wet hands for about 30 seconds or until the meat holds together well.


Serve with pan-fried pineapple and rice.

400g minced pork
1 teaspoon finely grated root ginger
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1/2 cup each: coriander leaves, basil leaves
1 small egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper to taste
Sauce: 1 cup pineapple juice
1 teaspoon finely grated root ginger
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup lightly-packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon each: cornflour, soy sauce

Combine all the meatball ingredients well. Roll into golf ball-sized balls. Sauté quickly in a non-stick frying pan until lightly coloured. Add a little canola oil if necessary.

Combine all the sauce ingredients well in a saucepan. Stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbling. Pour over the meatballs and simmer them gently for 10 minutes, until cooked. Great garnished with back sesame seeds or nigella seeds. Serves 4.


Indian flavours permeate this dish.

Meatballs: 500g minced chicken
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon each: ground cumin, curry powder
pinch cayenne, optional
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon canola oil
Sauce: 300g fresh spinach
1 medium onion, diced
2 tablespoons ghee or canola oil
2cm knob root ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon each: cumin seeds, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds, chopped chilli
3/4 cup each: water, plain yoghurt

Combine the chicken, garlic, spring onions and spices. Roll into balls. Brown lightly in the oil.

To make the sauce, wash and chop the spinach. Steam or microwave until limp. Cool a little then squeeze dry and chop again. 

Sauté the onion in the ghee or oil in a medium frying pan, until softened. Add the ginger and spices. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the spinach and water and heat through. Place in a blender or food processor and mix until smooth. 

Return to the frying pan and add the meatballs. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes or until cooked. Stir in the yoghurt and heat through. Serves 4.


Meatballs: 400g minced lamb
2 tablespoons each: dried breadcrumbs, finely chopped mint
1 small egg, lightly beaten
grated rind 1 small lemon
1 tablespoon canola oil
Sub: 4 x 15cm lengths French bread
salad ingredients eg mayo, alfalfa sprouts, mint jelly, 1-2 kiwifruit, peeled and sliced

Combine the lamb, bread crumbs, mint, egg and lemon rind. Roll into walnut-sized balls. Take 5 meatballs and thread onto a skewer. Repeat to make 4 skewers. Brush with oil.

Grill or pan-fry — turning often — until cooked, about 12-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the bread lightly in the oven. Cut each piece in half lengthwise. Fill with the salad ingredients and top with the meatball skewers. Serves 4.


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