These meatballs are one of the first answers I get from my kids to the ‘What do you want for dinner tonight?’ question. I don’t mind one bit because they are full of vegetables (the ‘hidden gem’). My kids had no idea for a long time – of course, now that they love them so much, it’s far too late to complain about the vegetables!


  • 3tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion coarsely grated (see note)
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed or finely chopped
  • 2 medium carrots peeled and finely grated
  • 2, about 250g courgettes finely grated
  • 2tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 1tsp wholegrain mustard
  • 600g lean minced (ground) beef
  • 75g panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 egg lightly beaten
  • 700ml tomato passata (puréed tomatoes)
  • 350g spaghetti or other pasta shape
  • 50g finely grated parmesan or tasty cheese
  • 2tbsp coarsely torn basil leaves (optional)


  • STEP 1

    Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Cook the onion and garlic for 4–5 minutes, or until softened, then transfer them to a large bowl.

  • STEP 2

    Using clean hands (or a clean tea towel/dish towel) squeeze out any excess liquid from the grated carrot and zucchini. Add them to the bowl along with the parsley, mustard, meat, panko breadcrumbs and egg. Season with salt and pepper (if liked). Using your hands, combine the mixture, mixing for a couple of minutes. Form the mixture into golf ball–sized meatballs. If you have time, chill them in the refrigerator for 10 minutes, but this is not vital.

  • STEP 3

    Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil for the pasta. Heat the remaining oil in the frying pan over a medium heat and add the meatballs in a single layer (or do this in two batches if necessary, but return all the meatballs to the pan when adding the passata). Cook for 4–5 minutes, turning occasionally, until the meatballs start to brown. Add the passata to the pan and shake the pan. Using a wooden spoon, carefully scrape between the meatballs to dislodge any crusty bits from the base of the pan. Turn the meatballs to coat them in the sauce, then cover the pan with a lid, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 10–15 minutes, or until the meatballs are cooked through.

  • STEP 4

    Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.Drain, reserving 1 tablespoon of the cooking liquid.

    Stir the reserved cooking liquid into the tomato sauce. Divide the spaghetti between bowls and top with the meatballs and sauce. Scatter over the cheese and basil (if using).


These meatballs can also be baked. Once they’ve had their initial browning, transfer them to an ovenproof dish. Spoon over the sauce and turn to coat, then scatter over the cheese and bake in a 190°C (375°F) oven/170°C (340°F) fan-forced for about 15 minutes.

Dinner Like a Boss Cover

Dinner Like a Boss by Katy Holder (Hardie Grant, £12.99) Photography © Benito Martin