I am in a serious rush and running behind at the same time. In the month of September, if I’m not spending my days preserving the season’s overabundance of tomatoes entire crates at a time, I get the distinct sensation that I am missing something important. Every minute counts and I cannot decide if I should be writing about how to preserve summer figs or spend my afternoons making melanzane alla parmigiana with eggplants from the garden. What on earth this has to do with my recipe for spinach polpette has a kind of logic that I can easily explain.
Spinach polpette are a classic of mine. Friends send me messages asking me to bring them along to parties. After tasting these slightly out of the ordinary and intensely green appetizers, guests at my cooking lessons inevitably agree that my polpette are an immediate and absolute favorite.
This creation is so much a part of my personal food signature, that I have actually forgotten to publish the recipe. Suffice it to say, I am stopping what I am up to before this summer day is over to get this story into print. I just might be publishing more of this kind of kitchen essential in the next few weeks — using tomatoes and eggplants and figs before they disappear from the season’s horizon.
This recipe was first inspired by my fascination for Venice and the Venetian kitchen — one of my places for treasured memories.
- 250 grams of fresh wild spinach
- 50 grams pistachio nuts
- 25 grams almonds
- 50 grams of raisins
- the leaves of five sprigs of mint
- the leaves of ten sprigs of fresh basil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 50 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- sea salt and black pepper
Toast the pistachio and almonds in a pan on medium heat a few minutes until nicely toasted. Peel the garlic with a sharp knife. Crush it into a paste with a pinch of sea salt in a pestle and mortar or with a food processor. Add the toasted pistachios and almonds, grinding each separately into a fine flour-like texture. Put the nuts and garlic into a mixing bowl.
Wash the spinach in cold water several times to rid it of all traces of sand. Meanwhile, fill up a pan with water and bring to a boil. Put the washed spinach in a bowl and pour the boiling water over it. Allow the spinach to steep four minutes and drain it in a colander. Once the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze it in both hands to rid it of excess liquid. Chop it coarsely with a sharp knife and add it to the ever-increasing variety of prepared ingredients.
Soak the raisins ten minutes in hot water. Drain the raisins and grind them into a nice sticky paste with a pestle and mortar, or simply chop them fine with a sharp knife. Add the raisins to the mixing bowl and move on to the preparation of the fresh herbs. Tear the basil and mint leaves from their stems. Mix the herbs with extra virgin olive oil into a fine, bright green paste with the equipment of your choice. Pour every last bit of mint-basil olive oil over the spinach-raisin-nut mixture by scraping the herbal oil completely clean from its work surface with a spatula.
Mix all the carefully prepared ingredients with your hands until everything just barely sticks.
Taste the polpette for the right balance between sweet, salt and savory. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper if so desired or needed. I often like to add just a touch of extra fresh mint.
Roll a tablespoon of the spinach mixture into small balls by gently rolling it in the palm of your hands.Put the polpette on a platter covered with parchment paper or and serve them at room temperature with a glass of Pinot Grigio.
This recipe makes a lovely vegetable side dish for grilled white fish or oven-baked ocean-caught shrimp. Stir the ingredients of the polpette through a simple white risotto and dream of Venice. Use it as a stuffing for fresh ravioli or enjoy it simply tossed through pasta. Whatever you choose to do with this recipe, do not be tempted to mix all the ingredients together at once. Preparing them separately is an essential part of the flavor story — each ingredient is then recognizably a contrast to the other.
The residential areas of Venice are filled with trattorie and food bars called bacari, where handmade appetizers are served on white porcelain plates displayed on heirloom wooden cabinets. Venetians and tourists alike stand at the bar and help themselves to delicious cicchetti. Local wines are served in “ombre” a specially shaped miniature wine glass that when filled, just barely keeps two sips of Merlot or Pinot Grigio.
The Venetian kitchen utilizes spices like saffron and exotic flavors like ginger to flavor its risotto and fish dishes. Parsley, mint and basil add freshness to foods mixed with both sweet and savory elements. Venice is famous for “polpette” , made from meat, fish or vegetables. My polpette recipe is an invention turned Venetian by combining spinach with something sweet and something savory.