Jez Felwick, lives my dream job I so want to have a food truck…ever since I saw the first food truck in California about 10 years ago I have longed to be 40 maybe 45 years younger and head off into the sunset with my Airstream, setting up here and there on street corners, at markets and festivals doing great food with local produce, pickles, relishes and crusty artisan bread. Who would have thought it!
Since it doesn’t look like it will become a reality for this aged hippie, I’ve been encouraging my students to consider it as an option and several have with considerable success.
The aforementioned, Jez Felwick AKA The Bowler – a spirited student who did the 12 Week Certificate Course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in April 2006 – has a food truck that has created a street food sensation in London.
The ‘Lawn Ranger’ – his grass covered street food van has been rolling out meat ball classics at various markets, Summer festivals and music events all over the UK. Classic combinations include Pork and Fennel Meatballs, Sweaty Balls – so hot they make you sweat – and the Popeye – packed with spinach and beef chuck. Jez has great fun creating unusual and pun-laden recipes, such as Bjorn Balls (a Scandinavian take on a classic meatball) and Balls Games – Game Balls (made with pheasant and bacon). And it’s not all meat; fish lovers adore Jez’s recipes for Wasabi Salmon & Sesame Seed Balls and Tuna and Ginger Balls, and veggies queue up for Brown Rice and Lentil Balls and Bean Balls.
So meatballs are all the rage. Grazia Magazine recently wrote ‘Who knew meatballs could be so hip?’ and meatballs have been buzzing on the US street food scene for a few years now – so it was only a matter of time before they reached our shores. Meatballs – whether they are made from meat, fish or veggies – are really good for and are also deeply comforting. They’re easy and fun to make whether you’re 8 or 80 and they’re also brilliant for using up ‘fridge odds and sods’.
I can’t image how Jez got time to write his first cook book – The Bowlers Meat Ball Cookbook published by Mitchell Beazley but he did and it’s full of great advice and exciting recipes for meatballs, fish balls and veggie balls, inexpensive comforting food. Who knew that meat balls could be so popular and that truck food could be such an exciting scene.
Vietnamese Noodle Soup with Pork Balls
Preparation time 40 minutes Cooking time 1 hour
Whenever I travel abroad now, I always try to factor in a visit to a local cooking class. It’s a great way to get an insight into the food culture of a country, find out about new ingredients and come away with a few handy tips. I went to Vietnam on my honeymoon and couldn’t move for pork balls, especially in soups, skewers and grilled. Here I have dropped some into a fairly traditional Vietnamese noodle soup that would be eaten day, night and even for breakfast.
1 large free-range egg
2 tablespoons plain flour
500g (18oz) pork shoulder, minced
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tablespoon chopped coriander
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
3 tablespoons Nuoc Cham (see recipe)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2.5 litres chicken stock
1 stick of cinnamon
4 spring onions, sliced lengthways
1 x 5cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 star anise
200–300g (70z – 10 ½ oz) rice vermicelli noodles (allow 50g (2oz) dried weight per person)
1 red Thai chilli, seeds removed and sliced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
3 shallots, thinly sliced
150g (5oz) beansprouts, blanched
Beat the egg with the plain flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the minced pork, spring onions, coriander, ginger and Nuoc Cham and mix with your hands until well combined.
Heat a small frying pan over a high heat. Break off a small amount of the mixture, flatten between your fingers and fry until cooked. Taste to check the seasoning and add more if necessary. Form the mixture into 16–18 balls each 4cm in diameter, packing each one firmly.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan and add the balls in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Brown the balls for 3 minutes on each side then remove them from the pan and set aside. In a large pan, add the Chicken Stock, cinnamon, spring onions, fresh ginger, sugar, salt, fish sauce and star anise, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes to let the flavours infuse. Strain the broth into another pan and taste for flavour – you can add a little Nuoc Cham if it needs a boost. Turn the heat back on, drop in the pork balls and simmer for 15 minutes, or until the balls are cooked through. Meanwhile, drop the noodles into a pan of boiling water and cook for 2 minutes, then drain, refresh under cold water and drain again. Pour the soy sauce into a little dish and add the sliced chilli.
Drop the beansprouts into a saucepan of boiling water. Return to the boil and cook for 1 minute, then drain. Refresh in ice cold water and drain again.
Divide the noodles, shallots and beansprouts between your serving bowls, then pour over the broth and balls and garnish with coriander, basil and a wedge of lime. Serve the chilli soy sauce on the side to mix in if you require an extra flavour kick.
Preparation time 10 minutes Cooking time none
Makes 200 ml (7fl oz)
This sauce is a staple in Vietnam. Primarily a dipping sauce for just about everything,
it balances the sweet, sour, salty and spicy elements that make Asian cooking so good
and gives a nice flavour to the pork balls used in Vietnamese Noodle Soup.
125ml (4floz) water
50g (2oz) granulated sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 small garlic cloves
2 red Thai chillies, seeds removed and finely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons fish sauce
Put the water, sugar, lime juice and vinegar into a bowl and stir to dissolve the sugar. Taste to check the balance of sweet and sour, making adjustments if necessary. Combine the garlic, chillies and salt, using a pestle and mortar to create a smooth paste. Mix the garlic paste with the liquid in the bowl and add the fish sauce. Stir and taste again, checking the balance of sour, sweet, salt and spice.
Beef & Chorizo Balls
Preparation time 20 minutes Cooking time 30 minutes
Chorizo is one of my favourite ingredients. I love it. Sweet, spicy and smoky. I will keep a cooking chorizo on hand to add to just about anything, in order to take it to the next level. A starter for ten is to finely slice or dice it, fry it until crispy and use it like a crouton on soups, salads and in sandwiches. It makes a great partner to beef, so it was thrown into the mixer for this recipe early on.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 large free-range egg
500g (18oz) beef chuck steak, minced
200g (7oz) cooking chorizo, sweet or spicy, finely diced
400g (14oz) white rice, cooked weight (100g uncooked)
200g (7oz) Manchego cheese, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
100g (3 ½ oz) breadcrumbs
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425ºF), Gas Mark 7 and line 2 baking trays with non-stick baking parchment.
Heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan. Add the shallots and cook on a low heat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, or until the shallots are soft and translucent. Beat the egg in a large bowl. Add the minced beef, shallots, garlic, chorizo, rice, cheese, smoked paprika, breadcrumbs, lemon zest, salt and parsley and mix with your hands until well combined.
Heat a small frying pan over a high heat. Break off a small amount of the mixture, flatten between your fingers and fry until cooked. Taste to check the seasoning and add more if necessary. Form the mixture into 28–30 balls each about 5cm in diameter, packing each one firmly, and place them on the prepared baking trays.
Bake for 18–20 minutes, turning the trays halfway through – the balls should begin to brown on the top. Keep an eye on them to make sure that they don’t get burnt underneath. I often serve these Bap ’n’ Ball style. Choose a bread roll of your choosing (I like a toasted ciabatta or brioche burger bun).
Great Balls of Fire
Preparation time 20 minutes Cooking time 35 minutes
This is the first ball I developed, and the first ball that I served to a member of the paying public. That was the moment when things really started to roll, with my cooking truly exposed and the adrenaline pumping. It felt good. This is a ball with plenty of flavour and texture, and I like to load up the chilli to increase the fire. The balls can take a good braise in any sauce, but I serve them in my spiced red onion and tomato version.
100g (3 ½ oz) ricotta cheese
2 free-range eggs
400g (14oz) pork shoulder, finely minced
200g (7oz) beef chuck steak, finely minced
100g (3 ½ oz) Japanese panko breadcrumbs or fresh breadcrumbs
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander stems, leaves reserved
2 teaspoons sea salt
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes
1 x recipe Spiced Red Onion & Tomato Sauce (see recipe)
Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425ºF), Gas Mark 7 and line a large baking tray with non-stick baking parchment. Put the ricotta into a large bowl and fork through to break it up. Add the eggs and whisk together. Add the minced pork and beef, panko crumbs (or breadcrumbs), garlic, coriander stems, salt and chilli flakes, and mix with your hands until well combined. Heat a small frying pan over a high heat. Break off a small amount of the mixture, flatten between your fingers and fry until cooked. Taste to check the seasoning and spice levels and add more salt and chilli flakes if necessary. Form the mixture into about 18 balls each 4–5cm in diameter, packing each one firmly, and place them on the prepared baking tray. Bake in the oven for 15–18 minutes, turning the tray round halfway through – the balls should begin to brown on the top. Keep an eye on them to make sure that they don’t get burnt underneath. Meanwhile, heat the sauce in a large pan over a medium heat. When the balls are cooked, add them to the sauce and simmer for 15 minutes. Serve with soured cream on the side and a few leaves of coriander scattered on top, and a baby spinach and rocket salad.
Spiced Red Onion & Tomato Sauce
Preparation time 10 minutes Cooking time 1 hour
When I’m asked what gives this sauce its flavour, I simply say, ‘I just get all the spices you can buy whole, toast them, grind them and put them into the sauce.’ Although this is a slight exaggeration, it’s pretty much the case. Be sure to take your time with this sauce, making sure the onions cook down slowly, then let the sauce reduce for a rich flavour.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 onions, thinly sliced
1 x 5cm piece of fresh root ginger,
peeled and finely chopped
3 medium red chillies, seeds removed, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander stalks
2 tablespoons Bowler’s Dry Spice Blend (see recipe)
1 tablespoon tomato purée
2 x 400g (14oz) tins of Italian/quality chopped tomatoes
400ml (14fl oz) Chicken Stock
25g (1oz) soft light brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
75g (3oz) dried cranberries or sultanas/raisins
juice of 1 lime
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep pan over a low-medium heat. Add the onions, stir, then cover the pan and leave to cook gently for 10 minutes, or until very soft, but not browned. At this stage, I would always add a few pinches of salt and several grinds of pepper so that the onions are seasoned from the start, meaning that you won’t have to add so much later in the recipe.
Add the ginger, chillies, garlic, coriander stalks and Bowler’s Dry Spice. Blend and stir for 4 minutes, or until the chillies start to soften, making sure nothing catches on the base of the pan and burns. Then stir in the tomato purée and cook for 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the chopped tomatoes, chicken stock and a few pinches of salt and bring to the boil, then simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from sticking. Add three-quarters of the sugar, the soy sauce and the dried fruit. Stir and simmer for a further 15 minutes, then taste. The sweetness of the sauce can vary depending on the flavour of the tomatoes, so add more sugar or soy sauce if necessary. Taste again and add some or all of the lime juice. You should now have a thick, rich sauce that has a deep, sweet and sour flavour with warmth from the chillies and spices. Best served with Great Balls of Fire.
The Bowler’s Dry Spice Blend
Preparation time 5 minutes Cooking time 10 minutes
Makes approximately 135g (5oz)
This is a great way to add some deep spice to your sauces and other cooking. It really pays to buy all these spices whole and toast them in a dry non-stick heavy-based pan. Once toasted, the spices can be ground in a pestle and mortar, coffee grinder or food processor. The flavour you get from whole spices is much more intense and fresh than that of their ready-ground brothers, which will lose flavour once they hit the packet and certainly once opened. Heat a heavy-based non-stick frying pan over a medium heat until it starts to smoke.
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
½ a star anise
1 whole cardamom pod
1 dried bay leaf
1 x 4cm stick of cinnamon, broken
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon black or yellow mustard seeds
½ teaspoon nigella seeds
Add all the ingredients to the dry pan except the mustard seeds and nigella seeds, and shake the pan every few seconds to keep the spices moving. After 1 minute add the mustard seeds and nigella seeds. After a further minute there will be a nutty, fragrant aroma coming off the pan and the coriander seeds and fennel seeds will start to turn a red-brown colour. Once this happens and the seeds begin to pop, remove the pan from the heat and tip the spices on to a plate to cool down. (If you leave them in the pan they will continue to cook and will quickly burn.) If using an electric grinder or processor, make sure the spices are cool to the touch before grinding in batches – if they are still hot they can give off a bit of moisture and stick to the sides of the machine. Alternatively use a pestle and mortar and grind the spices to a fine powder by hand. Once ground, you can keep this spice mix in an airtight container for up to 4 weeks.
Green Chilli Chicken Balls
Preparation time 20 minutes Cooking time 25 minutes
I love these balls because you can really taste the green chilli in them – it adds a great freshness. I use chicken thighs here because they have much more flavour and the result is a lot moister compared to using breast meat, which can sometimes dry out too quickly.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 fresh green chillies, seeds removed, finely chopped
1 x 4cm piece of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
20 cashew nuts
3 tablespoons finely chopped coriander, plus extra leaves to garnish
2 free-range eggs
2 tablespoons milk
750g (1 ½ lbs + 2oz) boneless chicken thighs, minced
2 teaspoons Garam Masala
150g (5oz) breadcrumbs
2 teaspoons salt freshly ground black pepper
lime wedges, to serve
Preheat the oven to 220ºC (425ºF), Gas Mark 7 and line a large baking tray with non-stick baking parchment. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based pan. Add the onion and cook on a low heat for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, chillies, ginger and cashew nuts and cook on a low heat for 3 more minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Remove from the heat, allow to cool a little, then put into a food processor with the coriander and blitz to a rough paste. You might have to add a splash of olive oil or water to help it blend properly. Beat the eggs with the milk in a large bowl, then add the paste, minced chicken, garam masala, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper, and mix well. Heat a small frying pan over a high heat. Break off a small amount of the mixture, flatten between your fingers and fry until cooked. Taste to check the seasoning and add more salt and spices if necessary. Form the mixture into 20–22 meatballs about 5cm in diameter, packing each one firmly, and place them on the prepared baking tray. Bake for 15–18 minutes, turning the tray halfway through – the balls should begin to brown on the top. Keep an eye on them to make sure that they don’t get burnt underneath.
Find of the Week – The Courgette and Ginger Jam I found in the Skibbereen Farmers Market is made on Loughbeg Farm near Schull in West Cork by Walter and Josphine Ryan-Purcell – a completely delicious spread that was so good slathered on my morning toast. It’s also yummy with goat’s cheese, with black pudding, in a sponge cake…
Walter and Josephine Ryan-Purcell also run a residential course in April ‘The Good Life’ at Loughbeg Farm. Live for a week on a small working farm in West Cork. Learn how to grow vegetables, milk goats, make cheese, yoghurt, ice cream, chutneys, jams, and raise pigs, sheep, cattle, poultry, and look after horses. See www.loughbegfarm.com for details – sounds idyllic. 00 353 (0) 86 819 7188 – firstname.lastname@example.org
Food Writing Course with Clarissa Hyman – 1 Day Course on Saturday 23rd February 9:30am to 5:00pm – at Ballymaloe Cookery School – €175.00 lunch included. Clarissa Hyman is a multi-award winning writer and author. She writes for a wide range of newspapers, magazines and guides, and has published three books on food, cookery and culture: The Spanish Kitchen (2005), Cucina Siciliana (2002) and The Jewish Kitchen (2003). She also contributed to “How the British Fell in Love with Food” (2010), and wrote a highly acclaimed column in Country Living magazine about British food. Phone 021 4646785 or online www.cookingisfun.ie