In these days of the wonderful internet, I tend to google ingredients that I want to use and glance through the recipes that show up. So this time I googled meatballs, cheese sauce, mushrooms and spinach. I started to conjure up a picture of what I thought could be a good looking and tasty meal.
I came across a recipe that incorporated hard boiled eggs; another recipe used leeks as well and my picture started to fit nicely together.
I used to grow my herbs from scratch when I lived in the subtropics but I have found that supermarkets here in Scotland sell ‘living herbs in a pot’ at such cheap prices. So I don’t bother nurturing seeds and seedlings through the small growing window here, but buy them already grown. I have transplanted chives, flat and curly leaved parsley into the halved wooden tub near the kitchen door. Perfect. Just replace with the next living herb pot when necessary. There is rosemary, thyme and sage in both the front and back gardens where ever I decide to pop a plant in the ground. The basil is now inside in a pot because winter is upon us. The curry plant is also inside as is the Vietnamese mint and a couple of oreganos and a marjoram.
My study/library is a perfect place for these warmth loving plants. I have a few decorative cacti as well. The wooden floor is ideal in case water spills over and dross is easily cleaned. One day soon I will have a greenhouse and garden shed. My herb babies will always need coddling in the winter though! In the meantime, I snip whatever herbs I need for cooking.
Anyway, back to the meatballs. There were a number of plain beef mince balls and another lot of balls seasoned with sun-dried tomato and basil mixed in. So I browned all of them (ten in all) in sunflower oil and spooned them onto kitchen paper to drain.
A thinly sliced leek and about 6 medium mushrooms less thinly sliced.
Melt a mixture of butter and oil into a wide pan and fry the chopped garlic clove for a minute. Add the leek and sauté for 2mins. Add the mushrooms and cook a further 3mins. Now add the cheese sauce. I used a tub of Italian three cheese sauce that is available to buy. This is a good product to use to augment sauces. This time however, I used it by itself and poured it over the leek and mushroom mix and heated it up but not to boiling.
Otherwise make a plain béchamel sauce to about 350ml – a cup is 250ml. It is a good base sauce used for many other sauces. Add grated cheeses – I use a mix of Red Leicester and Mature Cheddar and grate the cheese blocks as necessary. Freshly grate some Parmesan Cheese and add with smooth Cream Cheese, like Philadelphia. Take the sauce off the heat before adding the cream and Parmesan cheeses – otherwise it gets stringy. Do stir the added cheeses well into the sauce until incorporated. Don’t forget to season the leek and mushroom mixture with freshly ground black pepper but the cheese sauce with white pepper and some salt.
Spoon the leek, mushroom and sauce mixture into an oiled ovenproof dish and arrange the quartered eggs and meatballs on top. Cover with foil or a lid if one fits and bake in a moderate oven 200ºC – middle oven – for 30mins. Remove from the oven and sprinkle a mix of grated cheese and breadcrumbs on top. Dab a little butter over this topping. Raise the oven temperature to 225ºC and place the dish on the top shelf. A further 7mins should see the cheese topping start to brown. Garnish with fresh chopped curly parsley and some basil leaves.
Serve with steamed, quartered baby bokchoi arranged onto some steamed basmati rice on the plate next to the meatball mix. Actually you can use whatever vegetable and carbohydrate you prefer. I just love bokchoi and basmati.
10 meatballs – pork, lamb or beef, some enhanced with spices, sun-dried tomato or a red pesto would be good. Leave some plain.
4 hardboiled eggs shelled and quartered
1 clove garlic chopped finely
A leek thinly sliced
6 mushrooms medium sliced
1 x 350gr store-bought cheese sauce or equivalent cheesy béchamel sauce
Grated mature cheese and some breadcrumbs
Béchamel Sauce with Cheeses
300ml whole milk
25gr butter (I never use margarine. Butter is one of the joys of food)
20gr plain flour
White pepper and a pinch salt
1 cup grated Cheddar
½ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup Cream cheese
Melt the butter gently with the salt and pepper then add the flour stirring with a wooden spoon. Use a heavy base sauce pan for this so it doesn’t burn. Add the milk slowly stirring all the time to prevent lumps. Keeping the mixture smooth and cooking keep adding the milk until a good consistency is found. The sauce should be thick and creamy and drop slowly from the spoon. Add the Cheddar first and stir until melted in the sauce. Take off the heat and add the Cream cheese and lastly the Parmesan. Adjust seasoning to taste, remembering that you have seasoned the leeks and mushrooms in the oil.
Baby bokchoi, quartered lengthways and steamed
Basmati rice steamed
Freshly grated parmesan
Chiffonade flat leaf parsley