Venison meatballs with roasted tomatoes, pesto, garlic crumbs and mozzarella

Our kitchen garden cook reveals how to utilise tomatoes in dishes from gazpacho to meatballs.

Our glasshouse is bursting with shiny, bright tomatoes and it’s hard
 to resist eating them straight off the vine. Homegrown tomatoes taste significantly better than shop-bought alternatives—they may not look as pretty, but the flavour is definitely superior.

Venison meatballs with roasted tomatoes, pesto, garlic crumbs and mozzarella (serves 4)


For the meatballs
600g venison, minced
Half a red onion, minced
A small handful chopped parsley

For the tomato sauce
2Ib tomatoes, on the vine
3 cloves garlic
1 red onion
A splash of red wine
A splash of olive oil
A handful of fresh basil

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For the topping
100g fresh breadcrumbs
40g butter
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2tbspn fresh pesto

2 x 125g buffalo mozzarella
1tbspn fresh pesto

500g wholewheat spaghetti
Olive oil

Mix the venison with the red onion, seasoning and parsley in a bowl, then form small balls of the mixture with your hands, set aside on a plate and refrigerate while you prepare everything else.

Preheat the oven to 180 ̊C/350 ̊F/gas mark 4, then roast the tomatoes (whole and on the vine) with a little olive oil and the peeled, chopped onion, on a baking sheet for about 20 minutes until they burst. Many people like to add a little sugar to the tomatoes before baking to enhance their flavour, but I prefer not to as I don’t think my family needs any more sugar than necessary.

Once cooked, leave half of the tomatoes on their vines and pulse the other half in a processor with the onion and tray juices, along with the garlic, a splash of red wine and the basil, then set the (coarse) sauce aside.

Next, cook the meatballs in the oven, at the same temperature, for 20 minutes, making sure to turn them over after 10 minutes. Then, melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan, add the breadcrumbs, crushed garlic and pesto and cook until golden and crunchy.

Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted, boiling water until al dente, then drain in a colander.

Gently heat the tomato sauce in a saucepan to cook out the red wine, then add the spaghetti and toss well, followed by the meatballs and pour onto a large serving plate. Scatter with the breadcrumb mixture, add the mozzarella with a drizzle of pesto, arrange the remaining cooked tomatoes that are still on the vine on the top and serve immediately with grated Parmesan and a lightly dressed salad.

More ways with tomatoes

Gazpacho with peach
Blitz 4 large tomatoes, 1 peach, with stone removed, 1 jalapeño chilli, a quarter of a red onion and seasoning in a blender and serve, icy cold, with a few slices of fresh peach.

Venison meatballs with roasted tomatoesTomato salad (left)
Slice 6 large tomatoes and arrange them on a plate, then scatter each with a handful of caper berries, thinly sliced red onion, lemon zest and chopped fresh basil. Make a dressing by blitzing 6 anchovies, the juice of a lemon and 50ml olive oil with a hand blender, then drizzle it over the tomatoes, add pepper, some garlic ciabatta croutons and serve immediately.

Stuffed beef tomatoes
Cut the tops off 4 beef tomatoes, scoop out the insides and, having discarded the juice and the seeds, cut the remaining flesh into fine chunks. Heat a microwaveable pouch of mixed grains, such as quinoa, pearl barley or brown/wild rice, and mix it with a chopped spring onion, a diced quarter of a cucumber, several chopped anchovies and a handful of chopped rocket. Make a dressing by shaking 50ml olive oil, 20ml red-wine vinegar, a teaspoon Dijon mustard, seasoning and a crushed clove of garlic in a jam jar, pour the dressing over the grains or rice, add the chopped tomatoes, stir well, spoon into the tomato shells and serve with a small mound of dressed rocket on top.


Strawberries in red wine

Soaking strawberries in wine and orange liqueur will lift their flavour to new heights, says Simon Hopkinson.