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Italian Street Polpette (meatballs)


Made with minced beef and pork and given added spice with fennel seeds and cayenne pepper, these meatballs from new cookbook Black Sea are inspired by the early Italian restaurateurs in the Ukraine port city of Odessa.

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Written by travel and food writer Caroline Eden, Black Sea: Dispatches and Recipes Through Darkness and Light shares stories, photos and recipes from Odessa, Romania, Bulgaria and Turkey – from Mark Twain’s Debauched Ice Cream (the author wrote about eating ice-cream on a visit to Odessa in The Innocents Abroad), to Black Sea Börek and the rose-laced Damask Cocktail.

Italian Street Polpette

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, on Italian Street. Livened up with fennel seeds and cayenne pepper, a spice sold in Odessa’s first shops, these make for a great mid-week supper, served with spaghetti or linguine.

Makes around 25–30 meatballs


For the meatballs:
500g minced (ground) beef
500g minced (ground) pork
1 large egg
½ teaspoon fine salt
75g breadcrumbs
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed to a powder

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced into half moons
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch of cayenne pepper, to taste
2 fat garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon dried oregano (or marjoram)
Pinch of caster (superfine) sugar
2 x 400g cans peeled plum tomatoes
200ml / generous ¾ cup chicken stock

To finish:
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 220C. 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).

Serve on some spaghetti or linguine, topped with freshly grated parmesan and some parsley.

This is an edited extract from Black Sea, by Caroline Eden, published by Quadrille Books, RRP $39.99, available in stores nationally. Photographer: © Ola O Smit

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