This is beautiful comfort food, but not as rich as it may appear. The very lean beef is accompanied with a white bean purée that has no butter or dairy and the spinach is flash cooked in seconds with only a drizzle of olive oil.
It has all the filling taste needed for a cold winter, but is nicely balanced.
The meat balls (for 4) :
500 g / 1 lb lean minced/ground beef
70 g/ 3/4 cup bread crumbs
(I use large chopped home-made crumbs from old bread dried in the oven, use up to a cup if bigger)
120 ml / 1/2 cup of milk
1 onion finely chopped
2 tablespoons of dried chives
2 teaspoons of thyme
flour to roll your meat balls in
240 ml to 480 ml (1 to 2 cups) of red wine - depending on how rich you want your sauce and what you have to hand!
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
(possibly, half a teaspoon of honey if the tomato paste is acidic)
In a bowl, soak the breadcrumbs with the milk for ten minutes - this makes the meat balls tender. Mix together thoroughly the beef, the chopped onion, the herbs and the egg. Spread some flour on a board, shape the balls by using all your finger tips pressing together, but not too hard as you don't want to over work them; put them on to the board and lightly roll them across (the flour will thicken the sauce). I made thirty with this mixture, but you can make them to the size you want. Fry them until they are browned, add the wine and cook for 8 - 10 minutes to reduce the wine. Add 480 ml (2 cups) of water and cook on a low heat after you have brought it to the boil. Add in the tomato paste and season to taste. Cook through for about 25 - 35 minutes or more if the meat is less lean (add more water if needed).
The bean purée is just made of white beans (that are precooked) from a jar, blended with a few tablespoons of water, heated in a non-stick pan to the desired thickness and well seasoned. You don't need any butter for the bean purée, just a splash of olive oil.
The fresh spinach goes into a cold pan with just a tablespoon or two of olive oil - do this just before serving when everything is cooked. Keep turning the spinach as it warms. Once the pan is hot, cut the heat and keep turning. Total cooking time is 90 seconds, it should still have a crunch to it - season well.