Italian-inspired stuffing balls

At a glance

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Christmas Dinner is a curious beast – there are some things that are generally considered integral to a Christmas dinner, but most of us only eat them on December 25. Chief among these is roast turkey – it’s a difficult bird to roast without it drying out, it is not a particularly flavoursome bird, and most people don’t roast a turkey at any other time of year. There are very sound reasons why more people are choosing different meat to roast on Christmas Day or going meat-free. See also, sprouts – how many of us eat sprouts outside of Christmas Day in a non-ironic manner? Just as lamb, goose and nut roasts are becoming more popular for Christmas, there are very sound reasons why many a festive meal involves finding inventive ways to make sprouts edible and prevent the kitchen smelling of farts.

But then there’s stuffing – squishy, delicious, flavourful stuffing. And stuffing balls are especially tasty. It seems rarer and rarer to use stuffing to actually stuff the turkey, which is understandable. Instead, stuffing balls make a fantastic side dish, they are fun to make, they taste great as leftovers and it is a mystery why this particular part of the Christmas dinner isn’t made more often.

Making stuffing balls really is a pretty simple matter of frying, mixing, rolling and baking, so why not make them for occasions beyond Christmas? This stuffing balls recipe involves a combination of herbs with sage as the dominant flavour, hard Italian cheese and strips of parma ham to decorate. Wrapping the stuffing balls in the ham is easier than it looks and gives each one the appearance of a cute little present. The butter that is used to grease the baking dish is dotted with sage leaves before it goes in the oven – this is perhaps the easiest way to make a yummy sage butter that can then be used on fish, chicken, turkey or potatoes. Seriously, what is not to like about these stuffing balls? Why not make them all year round?

Ingredients

75g salted butter

3 scallions or a small white onion, finely chopped

3 cloves garlic, crushed

500g sausage meat (or the meat from Italian sausages)

200g breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, plus 10-15 leaves set aside

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (if you can’t get fresh parsley, dried parsley will do the job)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (like the parsley, dried basil will do the job if you can’t get it fresh)

50g Italian hard cheese, grated (I used grana padano, because I like the flavour better than parmesan, but parmesan is fine too)

1 large egg, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

15 thin strips of parma ham, prosciutto or pancetta

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.
  2. Melt 50g of the butter in a frying pan and cook the onion and garlic until it starts to soften. Set aside to cool.
  3. While the onion and garlic is cooling, mix the sausage meat, breadcrumbs, chopped herbs, Italian cheese, egg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. As this is a very dense mixture, it can be easiest to use clean hands to do this. Make sure everything is well-combined and the herbs are evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
  4. Mix through the cooled onion and garlic.
  5. Now for the assembly! Roll into balls about the size of a golf ball. For each stuffing ball, lay out a strip of the ham, place the ball at the end of the strip and roll it along the ham so it is wrapped around the ball like a belt. It should make 13-15 balls.
  6. Use the rest of the butter to grease a baking dish. Place the balls in the dish and dot the stuffing leaves between the balls.
  7. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until they are golden-brown. They can be served immediately or made in advance and warmed up later at 120-140 degrees Celsius for about 20 minutes. And don’t forget to do something creative with the sage butter that is left behind in the baking dish.