Italian food may be simple, but often it’s not fast: but that’s one of its charms. Good ingredients, cooked well. It’s no surprise therefore that the Slow Food movement started in Italy. Traditionally, a lot of the more time-consuming dishes would have been cooked by housewives while their husbands were out at work, and so often consist of dishes which can cook more or less unattended while you get on with other chores. A good example is the authentic ragù which would be cooked slowly for about three hours. If you’ve ever tasted a three-hour ragù, you’ll appreciate why.
These polpette, or meatballs, fit into the category of slow food, since they take a long time to cook. But the pay off is in the fully-developed flavours, especially of the caramelized onions and fennel. I’ve called them ‘biscotte’ (twice cooked) as a bit of a joke, since you cook them first on their own and then in the tomato sauce. You could of course, make them in three different phases. Firstly, the meatballs, secondly the sauce, and finally cook them together. Alternatively, you could make the sauce while the meatballs are in the oven or even at the same time. The possibilities are endless!
In Venice polpette are often served as cicheti. However, they make a really nice autumn dinner or Sunday lunch. I serve them with sautéed potatoes but you could serve them perhaps with rice. Just, not with spaghetti, OK?
Polpette ‘biscotte’ al finocchio
Makes 24 polpette
Cooking time: 2hrs 45 mins
For the polpette:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 white onion, cut into small dice
1/2 bulb fresh fennel, cut into small dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
500g (18 ounces) minced pork
500g (18 ounces) minced beef
1 tablespoon salt
2 eggs, beaten
60g (2 ounces) grated parmesan cheese
For the tomato sauce:
1 white onion, halved and sliced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 x 400g (14 ounce) cans chopped tomatoes
1/2 bottle red wine
1 tablespoon sugar
Make the polpette:
- Melt the butter in a frying pan over a low heat. Add the onion, fennel, and salt with a little water and cook on low until caramelized, about 1 hour. You may need to add a little more water every ten minutes or so.
- Allow to cool completely.
- Preheat the oven to 180° C (355° F).
- In a large bowl mix the onions and fennel with the pork, beef, salt, eggs, and cheese.
- Make the mixture into ball shapes with your hands.
- Place the balls on a lightly greased baking tray and then place them in the oven for 30 minutes.
Make the tomato sauce:
- Fry the onion gently, sprinkled with the salt, in a little oil until translucent, about 10 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes, wine, and sugar. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Remove the lid and cook for a further ten minutes to reduce slightly.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180° C (355° F).
- Place the meatballs in a large, oven-proof dish.
- Cover them with the tomato sauce.
- Place in the oven for 30 minutes.
- Leave to stand for 10 minutes before serving.