Spaghetti with Lamb and Anchovy Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I was asked to create a series of recipes using Brita filtered water as part of the Better with Brita campaign, and I have to admit that at first, I was a little sceptical. I wondered if using filtered water could actually make a blind bit of difference in cooking. I mean, I didn’t even drink filtered water at that point (I do now – the difference it makes to London council pop is quite something – less chewing involved). Anyway I decided to do some experiments, and found that actually, in some dishes in particular, using filtered water really does affect the end result. Here’s the first of my recipes, then, a foodstuff very close to my heart (and my arse, and my belly) – pasta.

At first I considered the possibility that my ‘orrible South London, ‘ard as nails, thick-with-limescale-potential water would be absorbed by the pasta and taint the flavour, which it does, actually, as I found out when I did a side by side taste test. Once I’d put the sauce on though, it was hard to notice that much of a difference. What was left with me however, was the idea of all the crap being in there. Once I’d tasted the impurities, they were lodged in my mind and muddying my pasta. Nothing messes about with my pasta.

There was a bigger difference, however – the starchiness. In On Food and Cooking, McGee says that hard, alkaline water like mine increases the amount of starch that is released from the pasta, by weakening the ‘protein starch film at the noodle surface, and the ions act as a glue to bond noodle surfaces together’. Basically, it’s stickier. I don’t want sticky pasta. I want the silkiest separated strands of spaghetti and I’m damn well going to have them. I deserve the best pasta it is possible to have, don’t I? There’s a perfect slipperiness about this spaghetti, and a creamy texture. I’ve topped it here with lamb and anchovy meatballs (the only dish where I don’t mix sauce with pasta as I think it looks pleasantly old school). The meatballs are bright with lemon zest, and they have a lightness from the bread soaked in milk, meaning you can easily plough through a massive bowl while channeling Ray Liota.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Spaghetti with Lamb and Anchovy Meatballs Recipe

For the meatballs

400g minced lamb
8 anchovy fillets, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed (I like garlic in both the meatballs and sauce, but feel free to omit this here if you don’t)
1 slice decent white bread, crusts removed, soaked in 5-6 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon parsley, leaves finely chopped
Zest of 1 lemon

For the sauce

2 tins of good quality chopped tomatoes
1 largeish onion, finely chopped
1 fat clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon chilli flakes (or to taste)
A good knob of butter
2 bay leaves, torn
1 glass white wine
450ml good quality vegetable or chicken stock
Parsley, finely chopped
Parmesan, to serve

Spaghetti (I’ll leave the amount up to you as I’m not prepared to divulge the disgusting amounts I can get through in one sitting)

Mix all the meatball ingredients together with some black pepper. Fry off a tiny little patty of the meatball mixture to taste it for seasoning – you may want to add some salt. Form the rest into meatballs with floured hands (slightly smaller than golf balls). It should make around 28-30 depending how large you make them.

Add a very small amount of oil (groundnut, veg) to a pan and fry the meatballs in batches, around 6-8 at a time. When they are browned remove them and set aside.

Soften the onion in all the lovely flavoured fat that has come out of the meatballs. Once they’re softened, add the garlic and fry briefly, then splash in the wine. Let it cook out for a couple of minutes, then add all the other ingredients. Simmer gently for about 45 minutes, or until the sauce is thick. Add the meatballs back in and get your spaghetti on.

Fill a large pan with BRITA filtered water. and a good amount of salt, more than you think. When it has come to the boil, add your spaghetti and cook until al dente. Drain. Top with some meatballs and sauce, parsley and parmesan.

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  • Avatar
    Reply Alicia (foodycat) March 11, 2015 at 10:11 am

    Interesting – but I like to add a bit of the starchy water to my sauce, so I like those gluey ions! Definitely wouldn’t be without my water filter for drinking water though. And those meatballs sound very good – I totally agree about not mixing it through.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen March 11, 2015 at 3:58 pm

      Yes, but it’s still very starchy, just not AS starchy.

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    Reply OneHungryMan March 11, 2015 at 10:17 am

    great meatballs and intrigued by the filtered water and will be trying this. As you say, silky pasta is what we want and troughs of it! Geat blog!

  • Avatar
    Reply MattB March 11, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    Totally. We bring filters from the UK to Trinidad by the bucketload as the water here, while generally safe, is very hard and full of chlorine. Makes a huge difference to tea and coffee as well.

    I’m constantly banging on to my London friends about getting filters; whenever we come home and stay with them, the water is grim, but they all seem totally non-plussed about it. I read once that the problem with drinking municipal tap water is not that it is unsafe in the short term. Rather, over years and years the build-up of shit in your body can cause subtle problems to develop.

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    Reply Lizzie March 11, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    Interesting. Wouldn’t you want the spaghetti to be sticky for the sauce to stick to it?

    Those meatballs sound great – I am also buying myself a filter, stat. Mmmm build-up.

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen March 11, 2015 at 3:57 pm

      The sauce still sticks to it, but less starch comes out, so it isn’t claggy. It’s stopping so much starch leaching out from the pasta, basically. We’re talking subtle differences. It’s a kitchen experiment…

  • Avatar
    Reply b March 12, 2015 at 2:59 pm

    I’m going to make this tonight, looks great

  • Avatar
    Reply Claire Jasmine Taylor March 14, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Hi Helen, great post as per usual and I will definitely be trying out these meatballs.

    So I drink tap water but the OH drinks bottled water. Sick of the amount of cash I was shelling out for water I don’t even drink I bought a black elemaris Brita jug from Tesco a couple of weeks ago. I descaled my kettle and now I’m only using filtered water in it and drinking the water instead of tap. Honestly? I can’t say I’ve really noticed the difference – but it’s nice to say that I’m doing IT and hopefully it’s doing my body some sort of benefit! Also my kettle is back to best and silver on the inside again which makes me happy (the little things…) X

    • Avatar
      Reply Helen March 14, 2015 at 9:35 am

      I can really tell the difference when I’m drinking it. My water really is horrible though!

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    Reply Fiver Feeds April 19, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    I just got the idea what to make for today’s lunch. Thank you for that 🙂

  • Avatar
    Reply bristol plasterer June 30, 2015 at 3:27 pm

    this recipe is delicious, thanks for sharing. I’m always looking for new recipes to try 🙂


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