Odessa’s very first restaurateurs were Italians and, for a while, their meatballs and spaghetti became the dish of Odessa. This recipe for beef and pork polpette is how I imagine they were eaten back then. Livened up with fennel seeds and cayenne pepper, a spice sold in Odessa’s first shops, these make for a great midweek supper, served with spaghetti or linguine.
Italian Street Polpette
Makes around 25-30 meatballs
For the meatballs
500g minced beef
500g minced pork
1 large egg
½ tsp fine salt
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 tsp fennel seeds, crushed to a powder
For the sauce
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced into half moons
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp fine salt
1 tbsp tomato paste
pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped
1 tbsp dried oregano (or marjoram)
pinch of caster sugar
2 x 400g tins peeled plum tomatoes
200ml chicken stock
roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
Start with the sauce. Heat the oil in a flameproof casserole over a medium heat. When warm, add the onion, pepper, salt, tomato paste and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the oregano, sugar, tomatoes (breaking them up with a wooden spoon as you go), and stock, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, then remove from the heat.
For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 220°C/gas mark 7. Grease a baking tray or line with foil. Add all the ingredients to a large bowl and mix together using your hands. Roll the mixture into around 25-30 golf ball sized balls. Place on the tray and roast in the oven for 7 minutes, turning the meatballs once, then cook for another 7 minutes, or until browned and cooked through. Remove from the oven and set aside.
Meanwhile, blitz the cooled sauce until smooth using a blender. Add the sauce back to its casserole and add the meatballs. Poach gently for 5 minutes, keeping the lid on (or use foil to cover). Then serve on some spaghetti or linguine, topped with freshly grated Parmesan and some parsley.
Extracted from Black Sea by Caroline Eden (Quadrille, approx €29). Photography © Ola O Smit.