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Watch Party

Vegetarian Meatballs with Wild Fennel

Written by Linda SarrisPhotos by Alberta Cuccia

EDITOR'S NOTE: What's better than watching a riveting drama with great friends? Watching a riveting drama with great friends while having some delicious food and drink! Invite some friends over to watch MHz Choice and enjoy these scrumptious recipes crafted by Chef Linda Sarris! ~ J.C.

Polpettine di Finocchietto Selvatico

Vegetarian Meatballs with Wild Fennel + Aged Pecorino Cheese

italian party Polpettine 17 1540x1027
Polpettine di Finocchietto Selvatico

Notes from the Chef:

Finocchietto selvatico has a particular savory, earthy, anise or licorice-like flavor that screams “Sicily”. It’s found growing along the side of the road all over the Sicilian countryside during winter and springtime. Wild fennel is most commonly used in the “pasta con le sarde” dish with saffron and sardines. Fennel and wild fennel are different plants, although they come from the same family. Fennel is the more common white bulb that is served raw in salads while the wild fennel is a bright green flowering Mediterranean plant with fluffy fronds, similar to the little sprouts you usually see growing out of the top of a fennel bulb.

So, we all know that everyone loves a meatball! Polpetteor small polpettine in this case, are perfect bite-sized snacks to serve when you have friends coming over and need a little something to nosh on. They are always a hit with the kids as well! Try this simple vegetarian recipe for wild fennel meatballs or feel free to substitute any leafy green like Tuscan kale, frozen spinach or chopped swiss chard if wild fennel greens are not available.

Like most meatballs, there needs to be something added to the mix that will help hold them together. We are using breadcrumbs, grated cheese, and egg to bind them. It could even be made gluten-free with rice/cornflour breadcrumbs. Like many traditional Sicilian recipes, we’re playing with sweet and savory flavors here. The addition of the dried raisins helps to balance the savory and salty notes of the fennel and parmigiano. With a little dash of freshly grated pecorino on top, you’ll have that snowy feeling even if the sun is still shining wherever you may be this winter.

Polpettine Ingredients:
6c. wild fennel fronds, picked from stems, boiled, squeeze-dried
1 large red onion, finely diced
2 eggs
3/4c. breadcrumbs
1/2c. grated parmigiano cheese

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1/4c. small dried raisins or currants
pinch of peperoncino
1T wild fennel seeds
sea salt and black pepper to taste
3c. vegetable oil to deep fry
new harvest extra virgin olive oil for finishing
freshly grated pecorino cheese to garnish the dish

Prepping the wild fennel is the most time consuming part of this recipe. Pick the soft fronds for the polpette, and discard the thick tough stems. Wash the greens thoroughly in a salad spinner then blanch in boiling salted water for about 15 minutes until softened. Squeeze all of the water from the wild fennel, blot on paper towels, or place it again into the salad spinner to remove as much moisture as possible. In a small food processor or with a chefs knife, chop the fennel greens finely and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the diced red onion, two eggs, parmigiano cheese, raisins and wild fennel seeds. Season with a pinch of peperoncino red chili flakes, sea salt and black pepper. Mix to combine and add the breadcrumbs as needed to hold it all together. You should be able to form small “meatballs” that are not too sticky but will hold their shape. Continue making your polpettine with the remaining mix.

In a wide sauce pan, heat at least 2-inches of vegetable oil over medium heat. There must be enough oil to deep fry. It will actually help keep them from becoming greasy if you use more oil and allow the food to float. When a small test piece sizzles in the oil, we are ready to fry!

Carefully place enough polpettine into the hot oil so they can float around without being too crowded. This recipe will make about 30 small balls and depending on the size of your pan you can probably fry 10 at at time. When they become a darker shade of green and you can tell by touching them with a metal spider tool that there is a crisp shell, they can be removed. Let the oil drain off over the pan before moving them to a paper-lined tray to blot off and absorb the additional oil. Continue with the next batch and let the polpettine cool slightly on the paper.

Serve them skewered onto small wooden toothpicks or in a serving bowl. Drizzle them with a bit of high-quality extra virgin olive oil and grate a dusting of aged pecorino cheese over the top before serving.

Pair this recipe with:

Investigative journalist Bruno Palmieri throws caution to the wind and decides to overlook his fragile health and live with gusto. He’s ready to tackle new stories, eat good food again and reconnect with the love of his life.

Italian Watch Party Recipes

About the Chef
Linda Sarris is a food/wine travel consultant and private chef based in Palermo, Sicily. From her sun-lit kitchen studio above the 1,000 year-old Ballarò food market, Linda works as a freelance writer, social media manager, and culinary communications consultant while still traveling regularly for private chef work with clients in the fashion and music industries. Under her brand, @thecheekychef, she is self-publishing a Sicilian food and wine ‘zine and curates a series of Mediterranean culinary/lifestyle retreats and travel experiences. Her first book will be published in 2022 with Hachette Book Group.