Last week was the fifth anniversary of my friend Steph’s wine shop, Ottimi Vini. It’s an excellent achievement bearing in mind the economic situation in the last five years and the challenges of being an English girl, in Italy, selling Italian wine. However, through hard work, determination, and an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, she’s made it and now has one of the most well-known and popular enoteche in the town of Sansepolcro.
To celebrate, Steph threw a party for the locals and all her clients and she turned to me to do the catering. This was an honour, but also a challenge, since she wanted something a little bit different from what was normally available here in Italy.
I decided to do five different kinds of hors d’oeuvres using Tuscan ingredients, since I thought it was important to make things that would go well with and complement Steph’s excellent cellar. But, I wanted to present them in an unusual and original (for Italy) way. I also wanted something that people could eat in one bite without need for a plate.
The final menu ended up as follows: Focaccia con olive e mortadella (flat bread squares with olives and mortadella sausage); Crostata di pomodori secchi, pecorino, e capperi (sun-dried tomato, pecorino cheese and caper quiche); Torta di zucchina (savoury courgette cake); Crostini con porcini, tartufo, e noci (toasts with porcini mushrooms, truffle, and walnuts); and Polpettini al finocchio (fennel seed meatballs).
I was delighted with the reaction to the food. It was very well received, which is an achievement when one considers the conservatism of Italian taste. I would even go so far as to say that one of my bites went viral. It was the polpettini, which were hailed as a very original way of combining ingredients, and ran out. I was hounded all evening for the recipe and so have decided to share it with everyone here.
Polpettini al finocchio
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 20 mins
Total time: 30 mins
250g pork mince
250g beef mince
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1. Mix the pork and beef mince together. In Italy, you can buy it already mixed since it is the basis for ragù (bolognese sauce).
2. Put the meat in a large bowl, and add the egg, breadcrumbs, and fennel seeds. Mix together with a wooden spoon until all the ingredients are combined.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Take a small amount of the mixture and roll it between the palm of your hands to make a ball about 1 1/2 centimetres (1/2 inch) in diametre. Place on a baking tray covered with tin foil.
5. Continue until all the mixture has been used up. This should make about 30 balls, but you could make a smaller number of larger ones.
6. Cook at 180 °C (355 °F) for 20 minutes. Allow to cool before serving.