Fennel ‘Meatballs’ (Polpette di Finocchietto)

As an appetizer for my Sicilian dinner I prepared vegetarian meatballs made from fennel and dill, served with a tomato sauce. In Italy these polpette di finocchietto are made with wild fennel greens, which grow abundantly in Italy in spring. For lack of the wild fennel greens, I decided to use a mixture of fennel fronds (the green stuff on top of fennel bulbs) and dill. We loved the polpette di finocchietto during our wonderful dinner at Tischi Toschi, the best trattoria of Sicily in the port town of Messina. I did not ask for the recipe, so this is my own version. They came out great with a lot of flavor. If you’d like to cook vegetarian, this is also very suitable as a main course.

I managed to find some fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes, which are the best Italian tomatoes to make tomato sauce. If you can’t find good plum tomatoes, please substitute with good canned tomatoes. Canned San Marzano tomatoes are more expensive than regular canned tomatoes, but with more taste.

To get juicy polpette I used fresh breadcrumbs. The drawback was that the meatballs were slightly soft and didn’t keep their shape very well when I fried them. If a round shape is important, you could deep fry the polpette, or use dried breadcrumbs for a firmer texture.


For 8 polpette, serving 4 as an antipasto or 2 as a vegetarian secondo

400 grams (.9 lbs) wild fennel greens, or the same weight of fresh dill (2 bunches) and fennel fronds (from 3 bulbs)

2 Tbsp (20 grams) pine nuts

2 Tbsp (20 grams) raisins, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and drained

2 eggs

100 grams (3.5 oz) fresh bread crumbs

80 grams (3 oz) freshly grated pecorino or parmigiano cheese

500 grams (1.1 lbs) plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped (or 400 grams/14 oz canned tomatoes)

1 clove garlic

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fennel seeds and pine nuts for garnish

olive oil

flour for dusting


Roughly chop the fennel and dill, separating the thick stalks from the tender greens.

Parboil the thick stalks in salted water for 10 minutes.

Add the tender greens and parboil for another 5 minutes.

Drain the parboiled fennel and dill and allow to cool.

Make the breadcrumbs by grinding Italian or French bread in the food processor. It is okay if the bread if slightly stale.

Beat the eggs in a bowl.

Add parboiled fennel and dill, raisins, pine kernels, breadcrumbs,  cheese, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Mix with your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to firm up in the refrigerator for a few hours.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a frying pan and add the whole clove of garlic, peeled. Sauté the garlic over medium heat until golden on all sides, then discard the garlic.

Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring now and then, over low heat for about 45 minutes or until the tomato sauce has a nice thick consistency. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Shape the fennel mixture into 8 balls and dust them with flour.

Heat an ample amount of olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and add the polpette.

Cook the polpette in the hot oil until they are nicely browned on all sides.

Put the browned polpette and the tomato sauce into a saucepan. Finish cooking the polpette in the tomato sauce over low heat, stirring gently now and without breaking the polpette.

Serve the polpette with the tomato sauce, garnished with pine nuts and fennel seeds.


24 thoughts on “Fennel ‘Meatballs’ (Polpette di Finocchietto)

  1. How marvelous! I have never seen vegie-balls like this recipe. It sounds so brilliant! I like to learn a few vegetarian dishes for my friends’ sake (if not mine 😀 ) and this is perfect, as I the carnivore want to eat it! As in now! 😛


  2. Well, this is the second of your recipes to be copied within a week: the recipe looks and sounds like ‘me’ [what a presumptious statement 🙂 !] and I do have a fennel bulb with a jaundiced eye looking at me every time i open my fridge!! Have the dill . . . shall make the breadcrumbs fresh ‘in spite of’ . . . interesting eating for me and a couple of friends . . .


    1. You mean a vegan version? I have googled that for you and found: “As a vegan binding agent, use a tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed with three tablespoons water.”


      1. Yes, I am vegan and am having a Sicilian dinner party tonight as i just spent time traveling the island. Thanks Stefan….check out my blogs of my trip. Will let you know how the cooking goes!!


  3. These sound wonderful, Stefan, and I bet that fennel really flavors the polpette. I’ve a vegetarian friend that will enjoy these and I’ll be sending her the link. Coincidentally, next Spring she & her husband will be touring Sicily. I’m sure they’ll appreciate hearing about Tischi Toschi, too. Thanks for both. 🙂


  4. What a marvelous creation, Stefan! The addition of fennel leaves really got my vote! Can’t wait to try out your recipe. I had some silican dishes in restaurants recently. oh love them


  5. E’ preferibile non passarle nella farina, l’uva passa deve essere quella nera ” Corinto Nero ” nel soffritto mettere cipolla e non aglio, non pomodoro fresco a pezzi bensì salsa di pomodoro, e mi raccomando di metter almeno la metà di parmigiano . Complimenti e grazie del ricordo. 🙂


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