Category: Surf

Polpette di Pesce al Pomodoro . . . Fish “Meatballs” in Tomato Sauce

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A quick update to the previous post: The Old Witches Magic Nut Cake; bake at 350 degrees for 1¼ hour, or until done after a tester comes out clean.

This is not the first time I have been the beneficiary of my neighbor’s generosity when he shares of his catch of the day. I am always presented with pristine fish filets (reference the blog post Cooking in a Pouch, June 12, 2016), and this time was no different. He gave me filets of Tautog or blackfish, a species of fish I had never worked with before. Tautog can be found along the Atlantic coastal region from South Carolina up to Nova Scotia. It is a good fish to work with, because of its nice white, non-oily flesh and a delicate flavor. Looking to make another batch of fish meatballs, after recently preparing some using marlin trim pieces I had in the freezer, I thought why not give the tautog a try, although almost any white fish would work for this dish. Other examples are; baccala, black cod, fluke, grouper, and swordfish, to note a few.

The polpette in this recipe are good, unfussy comfort food, the kind of dish you want to prepare often. With a few minor differences, the preparation is no different than making meatballs with beef, pork, or veal (reference the blog post Meatballs, December 11, 2015).

Bread is a key ingredient in making fish meatballs, similar to how it is used in the actual meatball recipe, by expanding the overall volume and adding texture to the sauce. Additionally, mashing in a small boiled potato or two, or folding in a whipped egg white can also expand the volume or lighten the texture of the finished meatball.

More often than not, these fish meatballs are either fried or pan sautéed to brown them before serving. They are commonly served with a dipping sauce, an aioli for example, accompanied by a salad, or served in a tomato sauce. My preference is to both poach the polpette in the sauce and then serve them with the sauce ladled over, which is how they are featured in the recipe that follows.


Polpette di Pesce al Pomodoro


Ingredients (serves 2 to 4)
1 28 oz can plum tomatoes
3 large garlic cloves, peeled and halved
2 to 3 fennel stalks, halved
3 to 4 anchovy filets
Olive oil
Salt, pepper, red chili flakes to taste

Either crush the tomatoes by hand, which will yield a rough chunky sauce base with some seeds, pulp, and skin, or process the tomatoes using a food mill, which will yield a smooth silky tomato base without the fiber or seeds. Set the tomato base aside.

In a large saucepan with a lid, heat 4 or 5 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the garlic and the fennel stalks and sauté until the garlic gives off its fragrance but does not brown.

Add the anchovy filets, stirring so that they dissolve and disperse into the oil and sprinkle approximately ½ teaspoon of the red chili flakes around, or more if you prefer a spicier sauce.

Pour the prepared tomatoes into the pan and sprinkle with the salt and pepper to season. Lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pan, slowly cooking the sauce until the garlic is very soft. Remove the pan from the heat, discard the fennel stalks, and crush the garlic cloves with a fork then stirring the mash to disperse it within the sauce.

Set the finished sauce aside to be used to poach the polpette and serve the dish.


Fish “Meatballs”

Ingredients (makes 15 to 20 meatballs)
1½ pounds skinless fish filets, (Tautog used in this recipe)
1 cup fine bread crumbs
2 small Yukon Gold potatoes, (optional)
1 large egg
1 large garlic clove, finely minced
Zest from 1 lemon, finely minced (use microplane)
Herb mix, finely minced celery leaf, mint, parsley
Salt and pepper

Fish filets

If using, slice the potatoes in half without peeling, and gently boil until very soft tested with a fork. Drain and cool.

Cut the fish filets up into half-inch-size pieces and place in the work bowl of a food processor.

Cut to process

Pulse several times until the pieces begin to break down and combine into a thick textured mixture, not a smooth paste. Using a rubber spatula, turn out the fish into a large work bowl and if using, place the cooled potatoes in the food processor and run to yield a smoother mash than the fish. Using the spatula, add the potato mash to the fish.

Again, using the rubber spatula, fold the bread crumbs, egg, garlic, zest, and minced herbs into the fish mixture. Sprinkle salt and pepper over and continue to fold the ingredients together until completely combined.

Before forming the mixture into balls, take a teaspoonful and gently sauté on both sides until firm; taste to determine if the seasoning is correct. Adjust as needed.

Cover a sheet pan with either wax or parchment paper. In a baking dish or another work bowl pour in a cup of bread crumbs. Using your hands, take a generous tablespoon size amount of the fish mixture and form a ball just a little larger than golf or ping pong ball size. Roll the formed ball around in the reserved bread crumbs, shake off the excess and place the ball on the sheet pan. Repeat forming the balls until all the fish mixture is used. Set the sheet pan in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour for the polpette to firm up.


At this point the polpette are ready to poach in the sauce or freeze for later use. Set aside the amount you want to cook and place the remainder on a smaller sheet pan or on a platter directly into the freezer overnight. Once frozen, they can be placed in freezer bags for use in future meals by simply thawing in the refrigerator before cooking.

Gently reheat the sauce until it is simmering. Place the polpette in the simmering sauce, turning once or twice for 12 to 15 minutes until cooked through. If the sauce reduces and appears to thicken, add a little water to losen. To serve place 3 to 4 fish meatballs per person in shallow bowls, ladling some of the sauce around and over. Finish the dish with a sprinkle of fresh minced parsley or a mixture of minced herbs of your choice. Another approach is to serve the polpette over pasta.


So the next time you are considering cooking something with fish polpette de pesce al pomodoro, with or without the pasta, is an easy, economical, and tasty way to go. Let me know which fish variety you try in your recipe.

Eat well. Be well.


Food is one way of staying connected to the people who surround us.












What’s That Floating in My Soup?

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With the late-winter surge Mother Nature just served us, it seems as though we are going to have to tough it out another week or so before we really get to warmer spring temperatures. A steaming bowl of hot soup has always been comforting against the cold of winter, and this seemed like just the right time to heat some up.

It is not always practical to cook just for two people so it is not unusual to find extra containers of soup or stock in my freezer. Rummaging around this time, I found extra containers of roasted garlic soup. This soup has the consistency of velvety bisque and was inspired by a recipe I read about years ago and later found in my copy of chef Susan Spicer’s book Crescent City Cooking. Over the years I have prepared this soup many times, adjusting here and there, ending up with the recipe I posted on the blog back in December 2014 in a piece entitled Garlic Is Good for Everything, where I offered a few suggestions on ways to garnish the soup, creating different presentations and flavors. But this time I was looking to do something different and make a heartier meal around the soup. Additionally, I didn’t care to go out to the market again in the cold, so the challenge was to make the meal using what I had on hand.

Inspired by a short piece I read entitled “Gambas a la Plancha” (Shrimp on the Griddle) from a back issue of Saveur magazine, and another about Barbecue Shrimp found in the latest issue of The Local Palate magazine, I knew the bag of Alaskan spot prawns in my freezer were going to be put to good use.

Along with a powdered version of harissa, the spicy condiment enjoyed throughout northern Africa, I decided to garnish the soup with spice-rubbed, shell-on shrimp seared in a hot grill pan. To round out the shrimp preparation, I coated the shrimp with garlic jam before liberally dusting them with the harissa. To finish the dish, I referred to a very old recipe from my archives that I call a hybrid aioli prepared with olive oil-braised fennel, placing a dollop on the shrimp as they are floated in the soup.

To summarize what you would be working with here, the soup recipe as noted can be found in the blog archives, then the harissa, garlic jam, the shrimp, and the fennel aioli are featured in this post.

Harissa is a chili-based condiment used widely in Tunisian, Algerian, and Moroccan cooking to name a few. It can be used as a cooking spice but more generally it’s a finishing condiment at the table, adding a little heat to punctuate dishes such as soups, couscous, and stews. Commercially prepared harissa can be found in specialty food shops that feature oils, olives, preserved lemons, spices, and dried herbs, although it is just as easy to make your own. There are many different recipes to reference in cookbooks and online as there seems to be no one “master” recipe. The mix generally includes one or more types of toasted dried chilies, coriander, cumin, caraway, and salt, ground into a powder. Garlic and olive oil can be incorporated into the mix that results in a paste form of the condiment.

The garlic jam is just what it sounds like—a roasted spread—that I have on hand all the time. It is quite easy to make, and has many uses such as a coating for most anything to be seared, roasted, or grilled; as an ingredient to punctuate a salad dressing; as a sauce for grilled or roasted vegetables; or simply the base for toasted garlic bread.

Using one full head of garlic and a full head of elephant garlic, slice approximately ¼ inch off the top of the head of regular garlic and leave both garlics unpeeled. Place in an ovenproof baking dish, coat with olive oil, cover with foil, and roast in a preheated 325-degree oven for an hour or until very soft when pierced with the point of a knife.

When the garlic is cool enough to handle, peel and cut the root end off the elephant garlic, squeeze the soft garlic from the smaller cut cloves, adding all along with the roasting oil into the work bowl of a food processor. Along with the roasted garlic add a ¼ section of finely minced preserved lemon, finely minced parsley leaves with tender stems, and a pinch each of salt, pepper, and red chili flakes to taste. Process, slowly adding olive oil through the feed tube, as necessary, until a smooth emulsion is formed. The jam can be stored in the refrigerator, in jars, topped by olive oil for many weeks as long as after each use the remainder is again topped off with olive oil. Or it can be frozen indefinitely.


Olive Oil-Braised Fennel Aioli

1 large fennel bulb and stalks, set fronds aside
3 large garlic cloves
1 cup olive oil
Juice from ½ lemon
1 tablespoon dry white wine or white vermouth
1 teaspoon toasted and finely ground fennel seeds
2 egg yolks

Chop the fennel and garlic cloves. Sauté over medium heat in the olive oil until lightly caramelized and very soft.

When cool, place the fennel and all the sauté oil in the work bowl of a food processor along with the lemon juice, wine or vermouth, fennel seeds, egg yolks; salt and pepper to taste.

Process slowly until mixed, then raise the speed and process until a smooth emulsion is formed. Scrape down the sides as necessary to make sure all the fennel gets pureed and then check the seasoning, correcting as needed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Fennel aioli



In this recipe Alaskan spot prawns are used. These large crustaceans are taken from southeastern Alaskan waters, sustainably harvested, flash frozen and shipped.

A pound generally contains an average of 10 prawns or less and, if sourced with the heads intact and a roe sac attached to the females, makes for a more dramatic presentation and flavor. If these Alaskan prawns cannot be found, then colossal shrimp (U8) will work just as well.

8 to 10 Alaskan spot prawns or colossal shrimp
Garlic jam
Harissa powder mix


Once the prawns are thawed in the refrigerator overnight, cut the shell down the length of the back but do not remove the shell.

Run the prawns under cool water, using your thumb to remove any particles or veins under the cut shells. Use paper towels to dry the prawns and place them on a large platter. Coat the prawns with garlic jam and olive oil on both sides. Sprinkle the coated prawns with the harissa powder mix on both sides. Place the platter in the refrigerator until ready to cook.

Seasoned prawns

To replicate the a la plancha cooking approach, heat a cast iron pan or a grill pan over high heat, adding 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the prawns, shells and all (the shells keep the meat moist, and since they are slit it will be easier to remove them when eating). Shake the pan continuously cooking the prawns until the shells begin to char in places, about 3 to 4 minutes before turning the prawns over and searing for another 2 minutes on the second side.

Seared a la plancha

To serve, place 2 or 3 prawns in a large soup dish, ladle the garlic soup around, and top the prawns with a tablespoon of the fennel aioli and a few fennel fronds.


Any extra prawns can be used in a frittata paired with spinach or shredded into a risotto. They certainly won’t go to waste!

Along with the bowl of hot garlic soup, the harissa coating the prawns will raise the temperature of the room a degree or two more helping you ward off this last of the winter cold.

Eat well. Be well.
We can simply treat food as nothing more than fuel or instead enjoy and appreciate its every quality.