I’m a complete and utter cheapskate. It’s not that I can’t afford nice things, I’d just prefer to pay off my mortgage than wear designer shoes. Boring it may be, but I’d rather have a house than pretty things on my feet.
As a result, I pretty much always buy the own-brand ‘value’ products at the supermarket (you know, the ones with the white labels). I once heard that you should keep buying cheaper and cheaper versions of each item until you can actually tell the difference. With certain ingredients, this led to me buying the value products with no complaints – in all honesty, a 19p bag of pasta tastes much the same to me as a £2 bag (please don’t hate me, Italians – I use my savings to buy wine!).
But there’s one thing that I will never buy with a white label, and that’s tinned tomatoes. I’ve made that mistake a couple of times in the past, and have always ended up with watery sauces that barely even look like they’re made of tomatoes (perhaps someone wafted a tomato through them once upon a time, but certainly not in living memory).
With good quality tinned tomatoes like Cirio (pronounced with a ‘ch’, which I enjoy – it always makes me think of ‘cheerio’!), the difference is noticeable the second you open the tin. Rather than a watery liquid with a few lumps of tomato, Cirio tomatoes are thick and rich, and a deep red colour. They smell unbelievable. Real tomatoes – to make a real tomato sauce! They barely need any help to become a beautifully rich sauce – just simmer them down a little with some seasoning, and bam. Tomato sauce. Good tomatoes really do make such a difference.
Of course, a good tomato sauce can be used in any number of ways, but this time I served it with these easy Mediterranean lentil meatballs. Flavoured with olives, basil and tomato, these meatballs have heaps of flavour, and I love how crispy they get as they bake! I had mine with bulgur wheat (so underrated, why don’t I use it more?!) but they’d be great with spaghetti too, if you want to be a bit more traditional.
They’re easy to make too – just whizz up some a few ingredients in a food processor, and you’re most of the way there. I was only intending to make about two portions’ worth, but when I was rolling the meatballs, they just kept on coming, and I ended up with 24 in total – enough for about 4-6 people, depending on how many you want each! Lentil meatballs for everybody.
Mediterranean lentil meatballs with tomato sauce
For the Mediterranean lentil meatballs:
- 230 g brown lentils (~ 1 cup)
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 medium onion, roughly diced
- 3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
- 45 g bread (~ 1 slice) - I used wholemeal
- Small bunch fresh basil
- 2 tbsp tomato puree (I used double concentrate)
- 2 tbsp sliced black olives
- Black pepper
For the easy tomato sauce:
- 2 x 400g tins good quality chopped tomatoes (~ 2 1/2 cups total)
- Black pepper
- Fresh basil, to serve
- Preheat the oven to 190°C (Gas Mark 5 / 375°F).
- Boil the brown lentils in plenty of water, until soft - around 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a frying pan, and add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook over a medium heat for a few minutes, until soft and fragrant.
- Transfer the cooked onion and garlic to a food processor, and add the slice of bread, fresh basil, tomato puree, black olives, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Blitz to form a chunky paste.
- When the lentils are cooked, drain them and add to the food processor. Blitz again until the mixture comes together. It should be well combined, but it's fine to leave a few lentils whole.
- Lightly grease a lined baking tray. Roll the lentil mixture into balls, and place on the tray. I made 24 lentil meatballs in total, each measuring around 2 inches in diameter.
- Place in the oven and bake for around an hour, or until crispy.
- While the meatballs are baking, add the good quality chopped tomatoes to a saucepan, and season to taste. Bring to a gentle simmer, and cook for around 10 minutes, until they form a thick and rich tomato sauce.
- When the lentil meatballs are ready, serve them with the tomato sauce and your choice of side (I went for bulgur wheat). Top with the fresh basil.
Note: Nutritional information is approximate, and will depend on exactly what ingredients you choose. Information above is for 1/4 of the recipe.