Leek and Lemon Lamb Polpette

I usually add breadcrumbs soaked in milk or cream to meatballs to soften the mixture. In these strange times, when breadcrumbs are a luxury, I’m using cous cous instead. It’s an old trick that results in light and succulent meatballs, these ones smaller than usual hence the Italian name. The mix is lemon zest, thyme, a hint of bicarbonate of soda – this makes the mixture sticky and negates the need for egg yolk – with scraps of soft leek and masses of chives. They are quickly fried to get crusty edges. I happened to have leftover leek and potato soup, just enough to liquidize to make an unexpected sauce for the polpette and it worked brilliantly. Here, though, the recipe is complete and doesn’t rely on leftovers. Helpfully, the recipe breaks down into various stages that ‘hold’ the preparations; you’ll see what I mean when you read through the instructions – something you must always do!

Serves 4

Prep: 30 min

Cook: 30 min

200g trimmed leek

40g butter

100g potato

200ml water

1 small lemon

50g cous cous

500g minced lamb

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp chopped thyme

2 tbsp finely snipped chives

2 tbsp vegetable oil

Quarter the trimmed leeks lengthways and holding the pieces together, slice across to make small scraps. Agitate in cold water and drain. Melt 25g butter in a lidded wide-based pan and stir in half the leeks. Add a generous pinch salt, adjust the heat so the leeks sweat rather than brown, giving an occasional stir. It should take 5-8 minutes to be soft and sloppy. Microplane grate half the lemon zest over the top. Tip the contents of the pan onto a plate to cool. Meanwhile, add remaining leek, peeled, diced and rinsed potato to the pan with a generous pinch salt and 200ml water. Simmer until tender then liquidize with the remaining butter adding extra water if it seems very thick. Season to taste with salt and lemon. Return to the pan. Place the cous cous in a cup and cover with 80ml boiling water. Leave to hydrate (about 10 minutes). Spread the mince out in a mixing bowl. Dust the surface with bicarb and add chopped thyme and cooled leek (on a plate). Scratch the surface of the cous cous with a fork to liberate the grains and scatter it over the mince followed by the chives. Season with salt and pepper. Use wet hands to mix and mulch, making sticky ‘dough’. Chill in a plastic bag or carry on with the recipe, pinching off sufficient mix to form into balls about the size of a cherry tomato, rolling between your hands and setting aside on a plate. Cover with clingfilm to firm, then heat the oil in a trusted (ie, non stick) frying pan and brown the polpette in uncrowded batches, making crusty edges and almost completely cooking them. Rest on a fold of kitchen paper to drain. When ready to finish the dish, heat the leek and potato sauce and when simmering, add meatballs. Warm through just before serving with spaghetti, linguine or whatever pasta you like.