Sunday, 10 March 2013

Dutch-style meatballs and beans

Meatballs are a staple of the Dutch diet - I learned this fairly soon after beginning what turned out to be a 9-year sojourn in Amsterdam. Tiny little ones floating in a bowl of tomatoey vegetable soup, great fist-sized ones grilled or fried and then drowned in gravy, bite-sized and casseroled with beans...

The latter forms the basis of a dish called gehaktballen met bruine bonen, which translates as mince (literally "chopped") balls with brown beans. Every Dutch person will have their own recipe for this but the core ingredients are the meatballs and beans, onions and tomatoes. Brown beans are native to the Netherlands and hard to find elsewhere - kidney beans or pintos are good substitutes.

I like this dish because it relies on storecupboard staples - everyone has beans and onions to hand - and it's fairly quick. It's also hearty and filling, ideal for cold weather (last week, as my city bathed in sunshine and enjoyed a balmy 11C, I was eating salads. Go figure). This is a cheat's version using sausages that I make when I have no meatballs to hand, or mince to make any.

What you need:
2 beef sausages
1 onion
Small tin of kidney beans
2 tomatoes
Tomato purée
Worcestershire sauce

What to do:
Peel the onion and, leaving the root intact, cut it into 8 wedges. Heat a generous splash of vegetable oil in a sauteuse and fry the onions until they soften and start to caramelise. Cut the sausages into meatball-sized pieces and add to the pan.

Rinse the beans well and cut the tomatoes into wedges. As soon as the sausage pieces have browned, add the beans and tomatoes to the pan. Squirt in about a dessert-spoon of tomato purée and a dash of Worcestershire sauce. Add enough water from a freshly boiled kettle to create a thick gravy, jam a tight lid on the pan and leave it to cook on a low hob for about 20 minutes until the tomatoes are collapsing.

Cook's tips:
The sausages should yield 8-10 pieces. If you're making meatballs, you want about 6-8 and they should be the size of an apricot.

A half-tin of tomatoes replaces the fresh tomatoes if you have none. Adjust the amount of tomato purée in that case.

Parsley is often added to this dish, both during the cooking and as a garnish.