I know, it’s supposed to be spring. Pah. The daffodils are popping up their sunny yellow heads all over the garden and I hope they’re enjoying the rain because I’m not, hence this rather wintry but very comforting and flavour-packed supper.
The meatballs are what I rather naffly call cheatballs, because they are made with sausage meat: if you can find Italian fennel sausages half the work is done for you. Mine were flavoured with black pepper so I added some lightly ground fennel seeds. Any good meaty sausage will work though.
Also, a 1lb/450g pack of sausages goes a long way, making it an economical meal – I got 26 meatballs out of mine, easily enough to feed four people. As I was cooking for two I used half one night with a tomato sauce, served over pasta, and the rest for this recipe. Vegetarians might like to try a crisp Glamorgan sausage or two on the side, rather than incorporated in the dish, or just skip the sausage element altogether.
It’s a one-pot (but as you’ll see, not a one-pan) dish though a crunchy salad is a welcome addition.
Lentils, Fennel, Meatballs
About 225 g good quality sausage meat
2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
1 dessertspoon fennel seeds, lightly crushed (optional)
170g Puy-style lentils (I used Hodmedod’s)
1 large bulb of fennel, trimmed and quartered, any fronds reserved
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
500ml chicken, veg or ham stock (it should be well seasoned but not overly salty)
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped
Lemon juice, a small spritz
Crème fraîche, to serve (optional but good)
Skin the sausages, put the meat in a bowl and mix through the fennel seeds, if using. Form into walnut-sized balls. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan and brown the meatballs. You don’t need to cook them all the way through, just get some colour on them. Set aside on kitchen paper. Keep the pan handy.
Quarter the fennel bulb, discarding any really tough outer leaves, the fingers at the top (keep the fronds for garnish) and the base. Cut out the core, leaving just enough to hold it together. Put the frying pan back on the heat and quickly sear the fennel on each side. Set it aside, wipe out the pan and keep it nearby.
Chop the onions, celery and carrot and in a medium-sized pan heat another tablespoon of oil. (I know this is a second pan but the lentils need to be submerged to cook and it’s easiest in a deeper saucepan.) Add the veg, sprinkle lightly with salt and fry gently until soft and the onions are translucent and beginning to turn golden.
Rinse the lentils to get rid of any dust and grit, drain well, then add to the pan with the onion mixture. Stir to coat, then tuck in the fennel quarters.
Pour in the stock, bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes or until the lentils and fennel are tender and much of the liquid has cooked off but it’s still a bit soupy. Check and adjust the seasoning.
Now, and you can hate me for this if you like but you’ll thank me in the end, transfer everything back to the frying pan, trying not to break up the fennel quarters. Push the meatballs into the mixture and cook gently until they’re hot and cooked through, about 10 minutes at a simmer.
Stir through a handful of roughly chopped parsley and a squeeze of lemon juice and serve, if you like, with a small dollop of crème fraîche and a scattering of the reserved fennel fronds.
Perfect grub for a day like this.
Worked for us! Thanks, Margaret. Lx
I agree, this sounds perfect for a cold winter day in April!
Thanks, Cindy. xx
Looks tasty 🙂
Thanks very much.
This sounds delightful. I do often add a little sausage meat to my meatballs for extra flavor. I can just imagine what one made of just sausage must be a real flavor bomb. And lentils, of course, are a classic pairing.
Thank you, Frank. It’s a lazy cheat but sometimes you just want (nearly) instant gratification. I am fortunate in having a butcher who makes superb sausages. 🙂
That sounds like a lovely meal. And, lord, yes, I wish it would quit raining!
Thank you, Michelle. The sun is forecast to put in an appearance here soon – can’t be too soon for me!
Bookmarked this for our fleeting winter. Summer just won’t let go……
We are having quite the opposite problem! But the sun has finally come out today …
oh gosh this looks delicious! I just cooked veggie-balls but I kind of wish they were made of sausages eheh
Thank you! Veggie alternatives perfectly possible here … (but I know what you mean).
wonderful… I do a similar dish that my family just adores, so I know it’s a good’un. Thank heavens for daffodils not caring if it’s cold. Hopefully your amazing garden will start coming to life in the next few days if the forcasts are to be believed. Much love xx
Thanks, Lynn. Today the sun is out, it’s warm, and the tulips are unfurling – absolutely beautiful. You should come back for a visit! Lxxx
OOh I’d love to! So loved seeing you. My husband wants to go revisit Cambridge sometime soo, so perhaps we can also do a detour and pop in for the afternoon one weekend? xx
Absolutely! Stay over if you’d like to.
Really? That’s very generous thanks – we’d love to! I’ll have a word with my better half and we’ll sort out a Saturday or Sunday to suit you. How marvellous xxx
Yay! Let me know when suits you. xxx
PS the garden looks particularly pretty in the spring … 🙂
I can imagine it does! xx