Orecchiette with lamb meatballs & parmesan eggplant bites

“Life is a combination of magic and pasta”  Federico Fellini

I like the way you think Federico.

The Italians get a lot of things right.  Food especially.  Can you think of Italian food without thinking of pasta?  I certainly can’t.  I like pasta: versatile, easy, tasty.  One of the ultimate comfort foods, it sometimes gets a bad wrap from the anti-carb brigade, but I’m all for balance so it remains in my diet, just not everyday.  Barilla recently sent me some of their range to try.  I loved what I made with it and wanted to share it.  This recipe serves 2.




Barilla Orecchiette Pugliesi – La Collezione range
1/2 jar Barilla Ricotta Sauce
2 small finger eggplants
1 egg, lightly whisked
plain flour
salt and pepper
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
100gm lamb mince
tablespoon pine nuts
1/4 cup baby spinach leaves
small French shallot, very finely diced
basil leaves


None of the elements of this dish are time consuming or difficult.  The meatballs and eggplant bites can be made ahead of time.  For the meatballs you can do everything for these in one small frying pan and only wash it once at the end.  First, in a dry ‘toast’ your pine nuts until they start showing some colour.  Remove them and put in a small mixing bowl.  Next, lightly sauté the shallot and add to the bowl. Gently wilt the spinach leaves with a tiny splash of water over a low heat.  You don’t want them mushy,  just softened.  Remove, chop roughly and add to bowl.  Combine the lamb mince with the ingredients in the bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Use your hands for this and really work the mince.  Roll the mixture into small balls, about 1.5cm in diameter.  Lightly spray the frying pan with olive oil and cook the meatballs over a medium heat until golden.  Swirl them around the pan frequently to get an even colour.

eggplant bites

For the eggplant bites, quarter the eggplant lengthwise then chop into 1cm pieces.  Line up three plates for your crumbing production line.  One for the flour, one with the eggwash and the last one with the parmesan and breadcrumbs.  Dust the eggplant with seasoned flour, dip in the eggwash, then roll in the crumb mixture.  Spread out on a small oven tray lined with baking paper and bake in the oven for 10 minutes at 200 degrees.

If you want to nail the timing on this dish, bring a pot of water for the pasta to boil before the eggplant goes in the oven.  The orecchiette take 11 minutes, so put them in just before you bake the eggplant.

When the pasta is al dente, drain and return to saucepan.  Add half the jar of ricotta sauce and the meatballs and stir and heat through for 2 minutes.  Spoon into two serving bowls, place half the eggplant bites on each and garnish with fresh basil leaves.

TIP:  If making the meatballs does seem like more work than you feel like, go to a good butcher and get some lamb sausages.  Remove the casing and roll into meatballs.

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