Supermarket Vegetarian: Part II
Continuing my SUPERMARKET VEGETARIAN series, I am now giving you a ridiculously audacious recipe. It’s a recipe for meatballs using frozen vegetarian sausages, God damn it. Look, this series was not supposed to bring you upmarket recipes that dazzle on plates, it’s supposed to make vegetarian food super easy to access, super easy to cook and more importantly – will fill you up and taste amazing, right?
Down with frozen food snobs.
So the beauty of these meatballs – with no meat, so technically just weird little balls, right? – are so easy to put together and they’re perfect evening work because once the balls are chilling, you can make the sauce, and then while the sauce bubbles, the balls can cook and once the balls cook – you can do whatever else that needs doing of an evening.
And I call them polpettes sporadically throughout because it’s just a fancier word for meatballs. Okay? Plus polpettes is a funny word to say.
This is also perfect to cook if you’ve got company because they can help you out. I know it’s actually a nerve to ask someone to help you cook when they come over to relax, but when you’re half cut on supermarket wine and rolling little balls/polpette things in the palm of your hand, you’d be surprised how much catching up you can do.
So it all starts with a sausage. Or two. In fact I used four and managed to get 12 meatballs, if that’s anything to go by. I used Linda McCartney’s veggie sausages which I took out of the freezer in the morning and by the time I got home they were defrosted. Throw these into a big bowl before adding some salt and pepper.
Then in a pestle and mortar, grind together a teaspoon of fennel seeds, half a teaspoon of paprika and a little pinch of cinnamon. Pour this mix into the sausage bowl and mash everything together with a fork until they break up into a meat like lump. Sounds gross, but I find that bit really cathartic after a lousy day in work. Now using your fingers, take small pinches of the meat (roughly a big heaped teaspoon size) and roll in the palms of your hands until you get conker sized meatballs.
Place them all on a baking tray (I put a baking sheet down first for ease of cleaning because I’m lazy) and slide them in the fridge to firm while you get on with your sauce. This would also be a good time to preheat your oven to 200C and boil a kettle of water.
Grab yourself a fennel bulb and slice off the tubes. Remove the outer layer and chop the fennel into small chunks or as small as you can go. Add this to a big pot with some chilli oil and salt, flick the heat on and cook gently to soften it. If you don’t have chilli oil, finely chop up a red chilli and add it to the fennel (remove the seeds if you want a softer burn). Once softened, halve a bunch of cherry tomatoes (a big handful) and add to a pan with a small pinch of salt and pepper.
Keep the tomatoes and fennel cooking on a medium heat. stirring as you go so the tomatoes can get smooshed up. Once the tomatoes start to soften and start pumping all of their juiciness into the pan of fennel, add half a cup of vegetable stock (or water if you’re stuck). Bring it all to a bit of a bubble before dropping it to a light simmer and clamping on a lid. You want this to simmer for 10 minutes. Now, slip your polpettes (the meatballs, if you haven’t clung on to my attempt to be posh) into the oven to cook.
After 10 minutes of polpette baking and sauce simmering time, pour your boiled water from the kettle (remember?) into another big pan, add a big handful of salt and a pasta of your choice. I like spaghetti with polpettes (meatballs – fine!) but you could go with whatever shape you like but remember shapes take different lengths of time to cook.
With spaghetti, we’re talking roughly 9 minutes. After the pasta’s cooking time, take a little bit of the water out with a mug and drain the pasta. Quickly chuck the pasta back in the empty pan and drizzle over a little olive oil to stop the pasta sticking together. Put this to one side.
This is where I tend to toss my sauce in a blender and blitz it to a silky, slithery sauce but if you can’t be bothered, just do nothing and go for a chunky sauce. It’ll still taste amazing and I’m not there to judge you – nor would I for a chunky sauce actually. Either way, blitzed or not, add a tiny splash of the reserved pasta cooking water and stir it. The starch in the water will help the sauce cling to the pasta.
SIDE NOTE – when I originally reread this post, I forgot the A at the end of pasta in that last sentence. So it read ‘help the sauce cling to the past’ and I gave a fully bellied laugh at sauce not being able to let go of history. I’m done.
Put the pan of drained pasta back on a very low heat and pour over as much of the Tomato & Fennel sauce as you need. Grind over a little black pepper and toss everything together. By this point, the polpettes will be gorgeous and brown so remove them from the oven and drop as many as you need amongst the pasta (don’t burn yourself… that’s my disclaimer, don’t blame me).
Rip over a few leaves of basil and serve.
The process is an absolutely breeze, takes no more than an hour start to finish and, while not authentically a meatball, gives you that homely, comforting feeling of old school spaghetti and meatballs with a fennel spiked tomato sauce.
All the goodness. It’s exactly what you need in the aftermath of a blizzard.
For Part 1 of my SUPERMARKET VEGETARIAN series, click here.