Pork and fennel meatballs with agretti

Serves 4-6
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Meatballs make such great sharing food. You can make these with pork or beef or even veal, and if you can't get hold of agretti (or monk's beard) – which is a succulent, salty variety of marsh grass – then just serve the meatballs as they are.

A handful or so of agretti, trimmed of roots and washed
1-2tbsp vegetable or corn oil for frying

For the sauce

2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good knob of butter
tbsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
400ml beef stock

For the meatballs

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tsp fennel seeds crushed
1tbsp olive oil
350g minced pork
4-5tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, make the sauce. Gently cook the shallots and garlic in the butter for a couple of minutes until they are soft, stir in the flour and tomato purée, and then slowly add the red wine and beef stock, stirring to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs. Gently cook the onion, garlic and fennel seeds in the olive oil for a couple of minutes until soft, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix the onion mixture with the minced pork and breadcrumbs and season well. Mould into about 10 pence-sized balls, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly flour the meatballs and brown them evenly in the oil; you'll need to do this in a few batches. Drain on kitchen paper; add them to the sauce and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, topping up with water if the sauce is getting dry.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the agretti for 20 seconds and drain. Serve the meatballs on a warmed serving dish scattered with the agretti.