Day 72: Polpetta

Day 72: Polpetta

inspired by Polpo

Yesterday Italy opened it’s borders to visitors.

Venice is now back open for business.

According to an article in The Guardian hotels are reopening, restaurants and bars are seeing increases in numbers and even theatres will reopen from the 15th June.

This all seems a world away from where we are right now.

Apparently hoteliers in Venice have already has enquiries about bookings. Mainly because this is a chance like no other. A chance to see Venice without the tourists.

Venice has become the centre of a debate about over-tourism.

Everyone has seen the pictures of the crystal clear waterways, now the tourists, or more importantly the water taxis that ferry them about, have gone.

On a busy day 120,000 tourists will visit Venice, a lot of them day-trippers. Less than 60,000 people actually live there. Driven out by high prices and a city impossible to move in.

I wouldn’t want to live in a place that where tourists outnumbered locals. And I consider myself fairly tolerant to tourists considering I grew up near Stratford-upon-Avon and now live in London.

With the hoards arriving on cruise ships not returning any time soon people are using this opportunity to explore Venice in a quieter way. Hotels are offering reduced rates to entice back business, meaning people will likely stay for a few days, rather than hop on and off a boat or a coach for a few hours.

I’ve seen Venice that way. Years ago as part of a school trip where a coach load of teenage girls were ferried from one Italian city to the next on a whirlwind nine day tour. Sounds like hell on earth doesn’t it? All I can say is at thirteen I had the best time.

I’m just not entirely sure I saw much of Italy in the process.

We begin in Venice. I remember buying a slice of pizza from a cafe by St Mark’s Square. Looking back, I barely remember the square. I remember the pizza, which at the time I thought was amazing. Actually thinking about it now it was a really terrible slice of pizza, but my thirteen year-old self was happy enough with it.

In fact the food on our Italian trip was pretty dreadful. When we could go out at lunchtime for slices of (not great) pizza and sandwiches that was OK.

But I remember dinner after dinner of disappointing food in hotels that mainly catered for coach parties.

At that age I had no idea about how Italian food was served, with pasta as a first course followed by meat, or fish, with vegetables.

I was horrified when every night I got presented with a tiny bowl of pasta (which was good) only then to be given a plate consisting of salad and a piece of hard cheese.

I was a vegetarian back then. So whilst all my friends would be eating a piece of meat covered in sauce (which didn’t look great either to be honest) the Italian hotel chefs thought a good substitution would be a piece of cheese. Why, I thought miserably, could I not just have another bowl of pasta?

A bigger one this time please….

I’ve longed to go back to Venice properly. To stay there for at least a few days, out of peak season, and properly explore. More importantly, I want to eat there. Because I believe one of the best ways to get to know a place is to eat its food.

Plus I’m nearly always hungry.

Even though I’ve been back to Italy several times since my school coach tour, Venice has remained on the list of places I must go.

But hopefully not too long until I can go to Polpo. Russell Norman’s chain of Venetian style restaurants began in Soho over 10 years ago. This was before anyone knew what a Negroni or an Aperol Spritz was. Before small plates and no reservations at restaurants were the norm.

However this got me thinking. Can small, sharing plates really be the future of food when we have to live, and eat, in a pandemic? Sure I can share food with Aidan, as anyone could with people in their own household.

But when we reach the point that we can meet small groups of friends and family in restaurants again, I doubt it will as common practice to all share food from the same plates. Perhaps we will see a renaissance of the three course dinner. No sharing allowed.

For now anyway I can make some Polpetta, which is just the Italian word for meatballs, and dream of Venice.

Polpo make their meatballs with a mix of beef and pork. I have neither.

I have veal.

Now that it’s June, and we went into lockdown in March, that I really need to finish eating the meat I have in my freezer.

The chef at Aidan’s pub very kindly did a meat order for staff before it closed so we all had some food for the freezer in the days when going to a supermarket was a pointless exercise in staring at bare shelves.

I asked for some mince, maybe a few sausages and a bit of beef shin if that wasn’t too much trouble.

2 kilos of beef mince, a kilo of veal mince, a huge piece of beef shin and 36 sausages came home with Aidan the next day. Oh, and a chicken. Mustn’t forget the chicken.

So everything got portioned up and frozen. For the past few months we’ve been working our way through our very own meaty stockpile.

Today all that is left is a small parcel of veal mince defrosting in the fridge.

If you had told me that, firstly, we would manage to eat all of this, and secondly that we would still be in lockdown when we had, I would have laughed.

How times have changed.

I wouldn’t usually cook meatballs, but then I wouldn’t normally have veal mince in the freezer either.

This is another dinner of leftover odds and ends.

I made a ratatouille the other night. The leftovers get blitzed in a food processor to make a sort of Mediterranean vegetable sauce. I mixed in a tin of plum tomatoes and some extra garlic and let it bubble away.

For the meatballs I fried some onion and garlic in a pan with fennel seeds and cayenne pepper. After this mix had cooled it was added to the veal mince with some breadcrumbs (from my stale bread), an egg white (leftover from something I needed just the yolk for, I honestly can’t remember what) and some herbs.

Using wet hands I shaped them into balls and put them in the fridge to chill.

I fry them in olive oil until brown and then pop them into the sauce to finish cooking.

So now I have my meatballs, or polpetta I should say, as a sharing plate today, and more tomorrow that I will have with pasta.

A proper sized portion though. With no hard cheese and salad to follow.

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