Last weekend, my sister-in-law, Kate, was chopping parsley at a friend’s kitchen table, a place we both know well. The parsley was from my mum’s garden, a huge bunch that seemed even greener against the white table. There were lots of people about, adults and children, either doing things in the kitchen or tearing around shrieking. So the table, which is right in the middle of a relatively small kitchen, was getting bashed – I imagine her chair was, too. All the movement made Kate seem even calmer as she pulled the leaves from the long stems, pausing every so often to pick up her gin and tonic, which made the ice cubes clink, or to eat a salt-and -vinegar crisp. After chopping the parsley and shoving it into a mountain, she peeled and diced some tomatoes. Steps and movements, good timing; it was almost as is she was doing some sort of dance, a waltz box step in a church hall: slow, quick-quick; 1-2-3, 1-2-3.
I thought this while drinking a large gin and tonic the night after a party. Also because Rebecca May Johnson’s essay is still on my mind. The one in which she describes making the same recipe many times, moves repeated like a dance, which had me calculating what I have made many times, going over the series of steps and movements required to make tomato sauce, roast chicken, a cheese sandwich or a yoghurt pot cake. My own good and bad timings; my own good and bad kitchen dancing.
The steps, movements and timings this week are for polpette – meat- (or not-meat-) balls, which come in many varieties – meat, fish, bread, any vegetables.
At the white table, Kate was making tabbouleh, which is also great with polpette; as is hot pitta, too. But you could also boil a kilo of waxy potatoes, drain, peel and halve, then toss in olive oil and lemon juice.
It is clear now – whether or not we are natural born dancers – why kitchen dancing can come so easily. Having made a sauce, shaped polpette or taken the steps required to make a cheese-and-pickle sandwich, we are halfway there and well warmed up long before pressing “play”.
Pork, lemon and fennel polpette, cooked two ways
Prep 20 min
Rest 1 hr
Cook 15-20 min
100g crustless white bread
100ml milk, or water
600g minced pork, with good fat content
75g grated parmesan
1 egg, lightly beaten
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
¼ tsp fennel seeds, pounded finely
Dry white wine
Bay leaves (optional)
Rip the bread into small pieces, soak in the milk for 15 minutes, then squeeze out the excess liquid. Return the bread to the bowl and add the mince, cheese, egg, lemon zest, fennel seeds, salt and a few grinds of black pepper.
Mix everything with your hands, then, with wet hands, shape into golf-ball-sized polpette and leave to rest for an hour.
In a frying pan, heat a little olive oil, add the balls and fry until they have lost all pink and are lightly browned (but not dark). Add a glass of white wine and a tablespoon of lemon juice, then leave to simmer, turning the balls occasionally, until they are cooked through and you are left with just a little thick sauce.
To bake them in bay leaves, heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5. Cradle each ball with a leaf (or two), secure with a toothpick, then arrange in an oven dish. Bake for 20 minutes, until the balls are cooked through and the exposed edges are golden brown.