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.
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
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
flour for dusting
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.