Peasant food in the provinces: Pasta and meatballs

Peasant food in the provinces: Bring on the meatballs

Here we were last night sitting on the sofa staring at the idiot box and wondering what on earth to make for dinner. My partner, since she met me, has been ruined forever.

The Philippine staples, things like the ubiquitous Adobo and that Macaroni Salad stuff no longer have a seat at our dinner table. We still rice, but we tend to have it with Rendang or a nice curry rather than more traditional fare.

On this particular evening the larder was a little bare. We had a tin of anchovies which I’d procured on one of my trips out of the province.

A jar of capers (which anyone who has a Monterey Meatshop near them can probably obtain), some green olives (came from the same place as the capers) as well as some beef mince, tomatoes and various other bits and pieces. We also had a bag of macaroni spirals.

I had a terrific craving for a huge bowl of pasta and meatballs. We had everything but the bread crumbs that are a requirement if they’re going to bind properly.

I don’t like making bread crumbs from Philippine bread, there’s too much in it. However, I have concoted a trick which works extremely well.

Go to the local sari sari store, buy a few packets of Skyflakes and bring on the blender. If you don’t have a blender then use a plastic bag and a rolling pin (or similar weapon). This works, extremely well.

No breadcrumbs? No problem – these little will take care of that for you!

So, the long and short of things (or the large and round) is that we cracked out a very decent version of the classic dish, here’s what we did. Anchovies, capers and olives are option but if you’ve got them then definitely throw them in.

Another thing we have a huge problem sourcing locally is canned tomatoes. Drives me nuts. In this case I had some on hand, when I don’t though, here’s how I do it:

Go to the market and buy the ripest, reddest tomatoes you can. Wash, put them in bags and peg them in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, pull them out of the and drop them into a bowl of boiled water. Skin comes right off. Then use either a blender or a knife to chop them up.


500 grams Minced beef
One large onion, finely chopped
4 (or more) cloves of chopped garlic
1 egg
A handful of breadcrumbs
Oregano (dried or the local version from the garden is fine – it grows like a weed)
Basil (I’ve got it fresh in the garden but again, go for dried if needed)
Tomato paste to thicken
Salt & Pepper
A can of tomatoes (or 6-8 which have had the above freezer treatment)
Anchovies, capers, olives etc if you have them on hand.
A glass of red wine for the sauce
The rest of the bottle for the chef!


From here on in you’re basically bastardising a bolognese sauce. Who doesn’t like a bit of bastardisation? As I’ve often said, cooking in the provinces is needs-must, especially when you need ingredients that aren’t commonly available.

(By the way, here’s some tips for getting hard-to-find food delivered to your door.)

So yours is probably going to taste a little different from mine depending on what you can find.

Combine the raw mince with half the herbs, some salt and pepper, the egg and the breadcrumbs. Combine this with half the onion and half the garlic.

Use your hands (or get the kids involved) – it’s loads of fun. Fashion into balls about 3/4 of the size of a golf ball (or bigger if you want but I wouldn’t go a lot smaller).

Throw some oil in the pan, toss in half the chopped onions and garlic and give them a solid bit of a cook. Once they’re translucent in goes half the basil and oregano. To this add the meatballs you made earlier and cook them off for a while (depending on your pan and how many meat balls you may have to do this in batches).

Once they’ve firmed up, remove them from the pan and in goes the read wine. Let it cook off for a little while then in goes your tomatoes and tomato paste. It is also at this stage that I add capers, anchovies and olives.

Once your sauce has got it together, set it to a low simmer and cook whichever pasta you want to put it over. Cook the pasta, put it into bowls. A few meatballs on top of the pasta and coat in the sauce.

Serve, enjoy and get pleasantly drunk with the rest of the wine (if there’s any left).

PS: For a neat little compromise between East and West, why not try this recipe for Italian style spicy adobo meatballs