Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Take it from the Top!

Spaghetti, Cime di Rapa & Polpettini al Finocchio
Spaghetti, Cime di Rapa & Tiny Fennel Seed Meatballs

Whether you call them "cime di rapa" or turnip tops, if you know what's good for you, you have just got to love them! I love their mildly bitter flavor- especially in combination with pasta and Italian "salsiccia", or sausage, with fennel seed- a classic combination! And it would have been a wonderful meal this evening...

But what do you do, if you don't HAVE Italian salsiccia and you still crave a plate of delicious pasta  like the one I have just described? Do you do without? Do you think I did without? I don't think so! And you don't have to either- not if you have me on your side you don't! 

Exactly... read the description, look at the photos and you will see that there is not a sausage to be seen... I created a similar flavor by making little meatballs, flavored with fennel seeds... and in next to no time my supper was saved!

So, as the meatballs were so tiny and I knew they would cook very quickly, I began by washing and cutting the cime into bite-sized pieces. I then put them into a pot with plenty of boiling, salted water to cook for 10 minutes or so... as I wanted to use the water to boil my spaghetti in once they were done.

Whilst the greens were boiling away, I took a little mixed ground beef and pork- this was only a handful in all, and proceeded to make the meatballs. I added a tablespoon of bread crumbs, a little chopped onion, a little crushed garlic, salt, pepper, paprika powder, a tiny squeeze of tomato paste, fennel seeds and a little chopped parsley, then kneaded them into a firm patty. Literally, this was just the size of a hamburger- but that is all you need to make a wonderful meal for one. People tend to overdo it with the size of their portions when they cook- me included! So let me repeat- one hamburger-sized serving of meat produced 9 little meatballs here! And that's a good thing!

Into a hot frying pan they went, with no extra fat, for 4-5 minutes, constantly stirring until they became nice and brown. At that point, I fished the cime di rapa out of the saucepan with a little of the broth and added it to the meatballs, then popped my spaghetti into the boiling water. I let the greens bubble away with the meatballs and let the juices combine together- lots of good flavor going on there! 5-6 minutes at a low heat, whilst the pasta boiled vigorously... and then I quickly drained the pasta off, retaining some of the water and added that to the frying pan too.

I then seasoned the pasta, meatball and vegetables with grated nutmeg and a good sprinkle of chili flakes and let it simmer together for a further 3-4 minutes, until all of the liquids were absorbed, the pasta was cooked and silky smooth... and I could take the waiting no more!

Time to eat! With a sprinkle of grated salted Ricotta, this made for a wonderful, simple but satisfying supper. Give it a try and enjoy the rustic simplicity... all thanks to those humble turnip tops! Like I said... you have gotta love 'em!


  1. Those little meatballs looks scrumptious, Francesco! And, of course, I love cime di rapa. My father's father was from close to Bari, so I always have this with orecchiette, and flavored with some anchovy, but this looks equally good!

  2. Thanks Frank! You have got to love the flavor of fennel-seed, it is SO typical and distinctive! Some things were just made for each other, like ground meat and fennel :-)

    Btw... Just woke up this morning, flipped on the iPad and up popped your "pasta fazool" post... I think I have to make that old favorite again sometime soon too! Delicious!

    Saluti da Francesco

    1. Funny, that quick-and-dirty post seems to have really struck a nerve with people! Like you said, only a fool don't like pasta fazool... ;=)