Improved Fennel Polpette

A few weeks ago I prepared fennel ‘meatballs’ for the first time, based upon my memory of having them at the great trattoria Tischi Toschi in Messina, Sicily. I was aware that Luca Casablanca, chef and owner of Tischi Toschi, follows my blog, but I had not imagined that he would react to my post. He did, and he left me some constructive feedback. I loved this, as what better way is there to improve upon my cooking then to get feedback from a master? He wrote: “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.”, which means: “It’s better not to put flour on them, the raisins need to be those black ones “Corinto Nero”, use onions instead of garlic for the sauce, not pieces of fresh tomatoes but a tomato sauce, and I recommend to use only half the parmigiano. Well done and thanks for remembering.”

I decided straight away to honor his reaction by making the polpette di finocchietto again, using his suggestions. As you may remember I was not completely happy with the texture of my first attempt, as they were too wet and didn’t keep their shape. I really needed to fix that as well, as without flour they would be even more prone to falling apart. I decided to wring out the fennel greens with a kitchen towel to remove more water from them, and that worked like a charm.

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At first I thought it may be hard to find “Corinto Nero” raisins, but when I googled them I found out they are currants that are easily available. The other changes were easy to make, and the improved polpette turned out great. The currants were easier to spot in the polpette, the texture of the ‘skin’ of the polpette was slightly better without the flour, the smooth tomato sauce looked better and the sweetness of the onions worked well in the sauce.  I already liked my first version, but this second version was slightly better. Grazie mille, chef Casablanca!

Ingredients

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For 4 polpette

200 grams (.44 lbs) wild fennel greens, or the same weight of fresh dill (1 bunches) and fennel fronds (from 3 small bulbs)

1 Tbsp (10 grams) pine nuts

1 Tbsp (10 grams) “”Corinto Nero” currants, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and drained and patted dry

1 egg

50 grams (1.8 oz) fresh bread crumbs

20 grams (4 Tbsp) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

1 can (400 grams/14 oz) peeled tomatoes, or 400 grams tomato puree (passata di pomodoro)

1 small onion, minced

salt and freshly ground black pepper

fennel seeds and pine nuts for garnish

olive oil

Preparation

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Roughly chop the fennel and dill, separating the thick stalks from the tender greens. Parboil the thick stalks in salted water for 10 minutes.

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Add the tender greens and parboil for another 5 minutes.

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Drain the fennel greens.

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Wrap the fennel greens in a kitchen towel and wring out some water.

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Beat the egg.

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Add the fennel greens, currants, pine nuts, bread crumbs, and parmigiano, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

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Mix with your hands to get a compact mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to firm up in the refrigerator.

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Meanwhile, prepare the tomato sauce. Heat 2 Tbsp olive oil in a frying pan and add the onion. Sauté for a few minutes until the onion is soft and fragrant.

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Whiz the tomatoes in the food processor (or use passata di pomodoro) and add this to the onion.

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Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a mere simmer.

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Simmer the tomato sauce for half an hour or so over low heat.

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Pass the tomato sauce through a fine sieve to make it smooth.

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Take the fennel mixture out of the refrigerator and shape it into compact ‘meatballs’ with your hands.

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Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan. Add the polpette.

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Brown the polpette over high heat on all sides.

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Allow the polpette to drain on paper towels to get rid of any excess oil.

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Put the tomato sauce in a small saucepan and add the polpette. Cover them with the sauce.

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Cover the saucepan and cook over low heat for 15 minutes.

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Garnish the polpette with fennel seeds and pine nuts when you serve them.

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17 thoughts on “Improved Fennel Polpette

  1. How exciting to get some feedback from the chef! I never realized until I got to the end of your post that there is no meat in these meatballs. Finally, I’ve never tried a recipe before that features fennel as the primary ingredient. And the result looks so beautiful. You’ve captured my imagination and I’m going to give these a try – Thanks, Stefan!

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    1. Perhaps I should have stated more clearly in the title that there is no meat. I like to eat meat (or fish), but in this dish you don’t miss it at all because it is so flavorful. Would love to hear how they turn out!

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  2. Well, this certainly is a win-win situation! Had not made your previous recipe yet although I love fennel. Fine: now I can go direct to the No 2 version and am certain will enjoy the co-operative effort of both of you 🙂 !

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  3. Excuse me for being so parrot-like but yes … ditto what Conor Bofin wrote above. It’s the diligent care in your approach, the attention to even the smallest detail, and the joy of discovery that I really appreciate about the way you cook!

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  4. We have recently dined at Tischi Toschi in Taormina .We loved the fennel balls and I was so happy to find your recipe.We have so much fennel/dill in the garden and it is great to have a recipe that needs bulk amounts. Your recipe was GREAT and authentic.All the family loved it ,even the carnivores..I also had to make a vegan version which was pretty good too.Thanks so much for allowing us to remember a lovely meal

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