Cook the Books – Dish's Pork and Oregano Meatballs

. April 27, 2016
Photography by David Parker.
Cook the Books – Dish's Pork and Oregano Meatballs

Every now and then a box arrives for me. I know what's going to be inside: cookbooks! I open it quickly, anxious to see wha's in store for me. I don't often know what books the team at Dish have sent me so with a little trepidation I flick through them hoping to find something interesting. This box contained a few interesting books: a fancy modern Chinese fusion restaurant book, a book from a cake shop, a book by the best pizza maker in the world, a book on the food of Pakistan and at the bottom of the box... the latest Dish magazine.

There weren't any instructions so I had to assume the Dish team are so confident with this issue they thought it was worthy of running the Cook the Books gauntlet. I mean, Dish contains about as many recipes as your average cookbook, so why not? It did also occur to me that maybe they were just trying to do something nice, but either way I'm going to turn it back on them and review Dish issue #65.

I had already tried the braised leg of Lamb with Capsicums from page 70 during a dinner my friend Emilie cooked. It was great – melt in the mouth and sweet from the capsicums. I was also eyeing up the Stromboli but Club Sandwich Project got in there before I could. I settled on the Pork and Oregano Meatballs with Molten Mozzarella, only later realising it was also the cover photo for the magazine. Clearly I have good taste.

I started by cutting the crusts off the bread and tearing it into small pieces, then I left it in a bowl with the milk to allow the bread to soak it all up. 

With the bread soaking I could collate the rest of the ingredients; ground pork, garlic, lemon zest, nutmeg, chilli flakes, basil, oregano, egg and salt. I couldn't find fresh oregano in the two or three shops I tried so I substituted it for dried, using the general rule of thumb; 1 tablespoon fresh = 1 teaspoon dried. While I'm at it, who has nutmeg seeds lying around to freshly grate? Granted, I didn't look far nor wide before giving up. As I couldn't find whole nutmeg seeds at my local supermarkets I used ground nutmeg instead, which I was sure would do a fine job.

I mixed all the ingredients together and started forming balls. The recipe made a fair few more meatballs than I could fit in one frying pan so I fried them in a couple of batches. They were quite delicate but I managed to fry them without any casualties (except one smaller ball that fell into my mouth) and transferred them to a baking dish.

I deglazed the pan with the passata and added to the garlic, sugar and cinnamon. I cooked the sauce for a couple of minutes before pouring it over the meatballs in the baking dish. I topped this with torn fresh mozzarella and baked it in the oven.

After baking I topped with grated parmesan and in lieu of the fresh oregano I added a couple of sprigs of marjoram because it looked nice.

And now for the million dollar question: how did they taste? They were delicious. The sauce was unctuous, rich and sweet but light and fragrant. The cinnamon worked well – I wasn't sure about it when I added it but I guess maybe it's a southern Italian thing where spices from North Africa are more common. The meatballs were surprisingly light and so tasty. Sweet and savoury. I can taste it now, days later, and I am salivating. Also the cheese. THE CHEESE. DEAR GOD, THE CHEESE...

Sorry, I got carried away. The fresh mozzarella and the parmesan added a richness and creaminess. The most important thing is, I think I'll get to keep reviewing recipe books as I can honestly say the recipe was great. I will definitely be making these again, not something I can say for most of the recipes I review.

The Book Cooked
Level of expertise required: Maybe it's the wonderful simplicity of Italian food but I'd say the recipes are pretty easy to accomplish. You needn't worry about any two-day baking marathons, Dish understands you have a life too.
How many trips to the supermarket required? Hmm a couple. I managed to find fresh oregano a couple of days later, it had just been out of stock. I still haven't found whole nutmeg seeds, but maybe I need to try somewhere fancier than my local. 
How closely did dishes resemble those in the book? Dare I go for a 10/10? My meatballs looked perfect but so did the lamb leg my friend cooked. I think almost all the recipes in this issue should come out looking and tasting as intended.
Ease of reading: All the recipes seem very easy to follow, but don't forget the front of the magazine full of great features. I especially enjoyed the piece on Stefania Ugolini – sounds like I need to take some pasta-making lessons.
Pretty on the coffee table or designed to be battered through overuse? Magazines are usually destined for the coffee table but I hope your copies of Dish are dog-eared and food-stained because they're full of good recipes.

Online Editor's Note: As Dave guessed, I did send the magazine as a thank you and had no idea he'd review it. We're very glad he did though.