For someone who absolutely despises the taste and smell of anything remotely like aniseed or liquorice, I’m surprisingly coming to appreciate ingredients like fennel seed and caramelized fennel root. I can even tolerate fennel that isn’t cooked down to the point where it just tastes of sweetness!
My slowly growing tolerance for the fennel family is where these meatballs come in. When I first tried them at Polpo, one of my top London restaurants, I was really reluctant, but my dining partner was eager to sample them. I gave in and I’m really glad I did… they were delicious.
They were so good that I have even tried replicating them at home. While my pork and fennel meatballs are not exactly the same (for one thing I make mine a lot smaller), they’re easy to make and delicious. Just as an aside, I haven’t bought the Polpo cookbook (yet), so these are my own recipe, rather than from the book, but I’m eager to compare them.
My favorite way to eat these is with a slow-cooked tomato sauce and spaghetti, though they’re pretty good as Swedish meatballs, too. One of the best things about meatballs is making a big batch and freezing the leftovers for future quick and easy weeknight dinners.
I’ve tested regular and gluten-free versions, which I’ve included in the recipe below. Next trial: egg-free meatballs.
On the Counter
500 g ground pork
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, lightly crushed
1 small onion (1/2 cup or 75 g), very finely diced or blitzed in the food processor
50 g breadcrumbs or blitzed gluten-free oats
1 clove garlic, finely minced or blitzed
1 tsp salt
What to Do
Combine all ingredients and squish them together until thoroughly combined. Take enough of the mix to make 2.5 cm/1 in diameter meatballs into your hand, and roll them into a ball. (If you’re worried about the meat sticking to you, rub just a drop of vegetable oil onto your hands before rolling.)
Once you’ve rolled all your meatballs, set 4-5 per person aside if you’re using them for pasta or Swedish meatballs with sides. Take the rest and lay them on a flat baking sheet, then cover it tightly with plastic wrap and freeze them overnight. (The next day, you can just throw them into a zip-top bag and back into the freezer.)
There are 2 ways to go forward with meatballs now. You can sear them in a very hot pan with a little oil, turning them so they brown on all sides. The other option, and my preferred, is to lay them all on a baking sheet in 1 layer, and bake them in the oven (200C/390F) for at least 5 minutes per “side” to ensure browning and consistent texture.
Once you’ve browned them, you can try them in Swedish meatballs, or cooked low and slow in a tomato sauce.