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I saw a few episodes of Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals on the plane back from Europe last month. Like many others, I do have a minor but long-standing crush on Jamie – the man is a cooking legend but still seems so humble. I loved the 15 minute premise of the show – how do you get people to cook at home, healthily without it taking hours? Brilliant. I tried a couple of Jamie’s recipes at home – the 15 minutes are a bit of a stretch – but hey, they were simple and only took me around 30 minutes. It also got me thinking about simplicity and the challenge of “fast food” that I could rustle up in about 15 (or 30) with what I had in the fridge and in the pantry.


I figured I could not go wrong with meatballs for a fast meal – little tasty chicken ones using the mince I had in the fridge. The mince was half thighs and half breast (the butcher minces it up for me). I wanted to use the lemons my mother had given me from her tree plus the basil from the tiny plant on my terrace. So I made simple chicken meatballs, Italian style with lemon and basil. I used fresh bread soaked in milk as an ingredient – which makes them incredibly moist. I served them up as an appetizer but you could also make the meatballs a bit bigger and serve them with a salad as a main course. We ate the tiny meatballs with a lemon mayonnaise for dipping and a glass of Sicilian Spritzer (Rosso Antico, Cinzano Bianco and soda water). A great way to spend a spring evening, without too much fuss (or cooking time).

Chicken meatballs with lemon and basil
500g chicken mince
1/2 medium sized zucchini, grated
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
2 tsps capers
1 cup grated parmigiano cheese
1 egg
Handful basil leaves, chopped
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
1/2 cup fresh bread, cut into small cubes, crusts removed, soaked in 1/2 cup milk
Olive oil for cooking

Place all the ingredients except the bread in a large bowl. Drain the bread and squeeze with your hands to remove excess milk and place that in the bowl with the other ingredients. Mix well with your hands until the mixture looks fairly homogeneous. If it seems a bit wet, add some more parmigiano . Make small balls and cook in olive oil in batches in a non-stick fry pan on medium heat, turning after about four minutes. Take care turning them as they are soft and can split if turned too quickly. Cook until golden brown on all sides, removing excess oil with absorbent kitchen paper. They can be eaten hot, warm or cold and are delicious dipped in home made lemon mayonnaise.

To make the lemon mayonnaise, whisk together an egg yolk, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of white wine vinegar. Slowly dribble in half a cup of peanut (or vegetable) oil, a drop at a time to start with, then a slow steady stream, whisking all the while. When it is creamy, adjust salt to taste and stir in lemon zest to taste (I used about half a lemon).

chicken meatballs with lemon and basil


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