Food & drink

James St Recipes: Niall McKenna's family meals for the Christmas rush - tomato and bean soup, and Italian baked meatballs

Niall McKenna's tomato and bean soup with harissa
Niall McKenna

DECEMBER is finally here and anyone in the hospitality industry will know all too well that it is equally the busiest and most magical time of year.

There is no better feeling that welcoming groups and work parties into our restaurants at Christmas and to see the festive spirit and buzz return to the streets of Belfast city centre.

Between a busy month of work, attending school carol services and enjoying Christmas nights out with friends, December is full of events in our house. As many will relate, it can be difficult to find time during the holiday rush to cook and enjoy dinner at home around the table with the kids.

This week's recipes are two simple, quick and hearty dishes for the whole family to enjoy, even when you are in a rush.

Even though it can be a stressful time for those working in hospitality, it is important to remember to take time out to enjoy the Christmas festivities and a delicious meal with your nearest and dearest.

Why not try these dishes at home or if you want help cooking these recipes, have a look at our cookery classes, which also make for a great Christmas gift. You can find out more at


(Serves 4)

40ml of olive oil

1 leek, chopped into 2cm slices

3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

1tsp of ground cumin

3tsp of Harissa

1tsp of honey

1 sprig of thyme

400g tin of cannellini beans or any other white bean

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

750ml of good quality vegetable stock

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper black

75g of kale leaves, with hard stems and veins removed

Extra virgin olive oil to serve


Start by heating the oil in a large pan before adding in the leeks, cook for 8-10 minutes on a low heat until the leeks are soft and translucent.

Add in the garlic, cumin, harissa, honey and thyme, cooking for another 2-3 minutes until the leeks have taken on the colour of the spices and the aroma of spices has been released.

Next, add in the beans, tomatoes, vegetable stock, salt and pepper and bring to the boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer and leave to cook for 15-20 minutes

Next, add the kale to the pot and cook for another five minutes.

When ready to serve, season the soup to taste and add a dash of olive oil on top.

Serve with sourdough toast.


(Serves 4)


35ml of extra-virgin olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

Two tins of chopped tomatoes (400g tins)

Pinch of sugar


1 red onion, finely diced

1 1/2tsp of oregano

1tsp of fennel seeds, crushed

9 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped

1/2 lemon, grated and zested

500g of minced beef

1 splash of olive oil

125g ball of mozzarella, torn


To make the tomato sauce heat the olive oil in a large frying pan before adding in the onions and garlic, frying on a gentle heat for five minutes, stirring regularly until soft, but not coloured.

Add in the tin of chopped tomatoes and a pinch of sugar, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.

Turn up the heat until bubbling then reduce to a gentle simmer, stirring until the sauce has reduced and thickened in consistency. Once cooked, place into a casserole dish.

To make the meatballs, place the red onion, oregano, fennel seeds, anchovies, lemon and minced beef into a bowl and season with salt and pepper.

With clean hands, mix all the ingredients, until combined and roll into balls, approximately the size of a small mandarin orange.

Place the oil in a frying pan on a high heat and when hot, add in the meatballs and cook on all sides until brown.

Once cooked, remove the meatballs from the frying pan and place in the casserole dish with the tomato sauce.

Top with the mozzarella cheese and bake in the oven for eight minutes until the cheese has melted.

Remove from the oven and serve with garlic bread.