Gastrono-me’s Gemma Simmonite's Ikea inspired meatballs, synonymous with new beginnings
Go us! We’ve all made it through the dreaded month of January. February has been welcomed in, and if my snowdrops and daff shoots are anything to go by, spring won’t be too far away.
I am probably one of the few people that doesn’t have such a downer on this commonly hated dour month – maybe the reason is that it’s Mike and I’s wedding anniversary at the end of Jan and looking forward to that probably propels me through the first month of the year’s grey chill.
But of course, I do completely get why people hate January so. Firstly, there’s the post-Christmas blues to fight through; we’ve all usually spent too much, eaten too much, and we now have to tighten our metaphorical belts (if we can?!).
For some it’s dreaded tax return time, which looms menacingly through a sea of accounts. Whatever the reason for our low mood it’s very easy for each day to blur a bit and to feel as if we’re just going through the motions.
This January and February I’ve been feeling a strong sense of déjà vu, and I’m excited to tell you the reason why. Four years ago we didn’t have the time to feel blue as we were busy creating our restaurant-yet-to-be on beautiful Abbeygate Street. It was a hugely terrifying leap as we were leaving the cramped yet familiar comfort of our tiny first home on St John’s Street. Plus, we knew we had a long arduous build ahead of us, as the task of turning a former chemists into a restaurant is no mean feat. The reason I’m writing about these memories of the build is that here we are four years later and we find ourselves in the brilliantly lucky position of building another restaurant, but this time in Cambridge.
We bit our nails in the run up to Christmas, whilst contracts bounced back and forth, and then joyously on December the 23rd we finally exchanged – a Christmas present indeed. But of course, we knew the minute the festivities were over and the tree was down our new challenge was about to begin with alarming alacrity.
Some parts of the process haven’t changed at all, the endless planning, the designing, and certainly the sleepless nights! But this time there are a few bonuses – for one it’s not such a challenging build. We’re luckily inhabiting a former restaurant on Bridge Street, which makes the entire process far simpler – the noticeable difference between an original three-month build in Bury to our subsequent speedy three-week one in Cambridge. But mostly it’s because it’s our second time round. Mike, Rick and I are lucky to have done this once before and we hope that will at least stand us in good stead, if only a little.
Four years ago, I was tucking myself into many of the fabulous coffee shops and cafés of Bury St Edmunds with my laptop looking for somewhere quiet and dust free to work during the build, for at home it was just too tempting to get distracted. I typed out the never-ending to do lists, budget plans, put together job adverts, created recipes and wondered if we would ever see our blue doors open in the spring.
Of course, as you know they eventually did, and boy then did our job truly begin!
Seeing something from your imagination come to life is truly thrilling. Seeing an empty restaurant filled with customers using it at their will and eating recipes that had only lived in your mind is wonderful. Some dishes take, some don’t. But strangely enough righting those wrongs is just as rewarding. I’m in the process of looking at the menus again this time, which often involves looking at past dishes. A bit like going through an old photo album and reminiscing, looking at meals that made way for new ones, or dishes that have yet to be and are merely squiggles in my notebook.
One of the dishes that I ended up creating for Abbeygate Street was the Scandi Meatballs. Its creation came about many years earlier because when we were creating St John’s Street, we were on such a shoestring budget I practically lived in Ikea trying madly to stock the restaurant with bargain cups, plates and anything else I could find. I would then, of course, rest up in the café, after wandering the miles of furniture trails, and I think from those visits their damned meatballs, served up by the thousands, must’ve just lodged themselves in my subconscious! Who knew that eight years later it would finally make its way onto a table in Abbeygate Street?
I thought that if I could amp up the beloved quick dash dish and make it far nearer to the Swedish comfort favourite, it could be a really fun dish. By hand rolling deliciously juicy beef and pork and swapping out canteen mash for super creamy blended potatoes, slathered in a creamy gravy, we could have a dish to be proud of. And it was loved by many for a long time, but nothing lasts forever (except maybe the Hash and the Pain Perdu!) and it eventually stepped aside, so I thought maybe you’d like it if I’d share it with you here. It’s especially perfect in chilly winter and we need some comfort or as the Swedes call it Hygge. I think succulent meatballs with buttery mash is definitely the edible version of a cosy hug.
We aim to open Cambridge in March, just the same as we did in Bury. We really hope you’ll come visit us in the new restaurant, too. Your support will be ultimately welcome. Everything that we’ve learnt or loved about Abbeygate Street we have endeavoured to sew into Cambridge’s seams, whilst, of course, letting its own personality flow and develop. We are now beginning the role similar to that of new parents to a second child, in that we must ensure fiercely that both restaurants feel equally loved and supported. We have exciting plans afoot for Bury and Cambridge, and whereas our service style and menus will remain the same, there will be lots of different fun reasons to visit both.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these delicious meatballs, and the bonus is you can indulge in them without having to haul a Björksnäs home!
SCANDI MEATBALLS WITH CREAMY COMFORT MASH
400g minced beef
250g minced pork
1 large free-range egg
2 tablespoons of plain flour
1 small onion, finely diced (it may be easier to grate)
A pinch of salt for seasoning
1 teaspoon of ground allspice
½ teaspoon of ground black pepper
½ teaspoon of white pepper
A dash of Worcestershire sauce
Preheat oven to 200C/180 fan oven.
Mix the meats with a good pinch of salt, then mix well with your hands, even easier is if you have a meat hook attachment on a free-stand mixer.
When fully incorporated, add the egg, flour, spice, Worcestershire sauce, breadcrumbs and grated onion. Mix really well and leave to chill for about 25 mins, this will make shaping them a lot easier.
Shape the cooled meat into meatballs, damp hands will make the process a little easier – I’ve always found children are a valuable tool at this point, something about rolling a meatball is universally satisfying. They should be around 2.5cm in diameter, golf ball size. (If you wanted to get ahead, this is the stage you could freeze your meatballs.)
Spread your meatballs out in a large roasting tin, they will brown better if spaced out.
Drizzle with a tiny amount of oil, shake a little to coat, then roast for 20-25 minutes until browned.
Keep the fat from the pan as you’re going to need it for the gravy.
CREAMY MASHED POTATOES
1kg of baking potatoes (Marfona are my favourites and my preference, albeit a subversive one, over a floury potato)
50g salted butter
4 tablespoons of warm milk
A good dollop of extra thick double cream
Salt, white pepper, and freshly milled black pepper to taste
Peel the potatoes, cut into evenly sized quarters and put in a large pan of cold salted water – I choose cold as this ensures they cook evenly. They’re ready when a sharp knife inserted slips out easily, around 15 mins, but may need longer.
Drain them thoroughly and return to the pan for mashing.
Season to your taste preference – this is the time to overlook the salt police. . .
Warm the milk and pour into the mash with your butter. A great tool is a potato ricer, this little gadget is fairly inexpensive and will ensure your mash is super soft and lump-free.
When suitably mashed, add your double cream to taste, season again, and maybe one last knob of butter, but I would leave this nearer to serving time.
Meat juices from the meatballs
1 tablespoon of plain flour
A good slug of double cream
A knob of butter
Salt and black pepper for seasoning
In a small frying pan sizzle the butter, add the flour and whisk until emulsified, then add a little of your leftover meat juices and whisk again until it starts bubbling. Keep adding stock until it becomes a gravy, at the end add the double cream and season to taste.
I like to serve this dish with little dollops of lingonberry jam, a little sprig of fresh dill, and lashings of the creamy gravy.
Gemma is executive chef and co-creator of Gastrono-me, Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds
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