Proper Polpetti

Polpetti (meatballs)

This is one of those dishes which can be served up any time of the year.  In summer, it can be the one thing you don’t cook on the barbecue, but piled up in a huge cauldron of simmering salsa, it will look spectacular to your guests.  Winter time begs for this kind of delicious and nutritious fayre, and polpetti atop and amidst a mountain of spaghetti always makes me think of that scene in Disney’s “Lady and the Tramp”.

So once again, Salsa is needed, here.  This would be the one reason why you would go to the trouble of making a huge vat of it.  The pan of Salsa needs to be deep, and the Salsa should come up half way or three quarters of the way, no more.  You are going to plop the polpetti in there and let the whole thing ruminate and chatter, so you need to have enough Salsa and a deep enough pan to let that conversation happen.  If you see the Salsa cowering before the invading meatballs, don’t worry, just add boiling water until the pan looks less ferociously Mount Etna-esque.

There is never any seasonal lack of these ingredients so Sicilians cook it all through the year.  Unless my daughter has friends over for tea, where half of the pleasure for them is making the biggest mess possible from slurping up slickly salsa-covered spaghetti strings, I have rice with this dish, the way we used to, as children.  There is something so satisfying about finishing off the polpetti and being left with the bottom of the plate covered with Salsa and rice, picking up a soup spoon and scooping up beaded white grains and sweet sauce.  Outstanding.

Salsa, 800g or so (see recipe page..) with peas.

For the meatballs;

500 g lean mince, steak or lamb

5 tbsp parmeggiano

One onion

5 tbsp parsley

1 egg

2 tbsp milk

6 tbsp breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper

Oil for frying

Chop up the onion into the smallest pieces possible.  This is, of course, the moment when you wonder if you’ve put mascara on this morning, and if you have, you know you will soon be weeping black tears, resembling more of an Emo clown than a competent cook.  Dark tears notwithstanding, chop as well as you can, and make sure the oil is hot before tipping the onion into the pan to fry.  Use the pan you will need for making the sauce.  When they are transparent, take them half out, and

put them on a dish.  I usually take the pan off the heat at this point, because I intend to use the remaining onion to make the sauce.

Break up the mince in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.  When it is in small pieces,  put in the breadcrumbs, parsley, parmeggiano, salt and pepper.  Note on breadcrumbs: I often blitz stale-ish bread in the food processor and tip it into a bag to go in the freezer.  Fresh breadcrumbs are of course the best choice, but you can use frozen or bought, or leave it out altogether, if you wish.

If it is the summer, you may have your own herbs growing in the garden or on your window sill.  I have an abundance of all kinds of oregano and thyme, so I cut off as much as I dare, and blithely chop them up (look away, look away, Michel Roux!) using a mezza luna – the lazy cook’s way.  I’m hugely in favour of any method to make things go quicker , but I do take a moment to strip the leaves from the oregano, if not the thyme.  If you are one of those people who successfully grow parsley all year round (I fail in this), then strip of a handful of that.  Otherwise, feel free to use dry herbs.

Add in the onions, stir everything up but not too vigorously.  Think of making large circles around the edges of your bowl with a wooden spoon in a lazy manner.  Put in the milk and the beaten egg.  Cover with a towel or clingfilm for an hour or even overnight.

Put on a pan and cover it thickly with oil.  I use a small skillet, about 18 inches diameter, like an omelette pan, to brown the meatballs in.  This is just to avoid hot oil splashing me as I turn and roll the meat.  I use two wooden spoons for this, and put in about five at a time.

So, have your salsa bubbling or reheating close by. Roll the meatball mixture with your hands until they are the size of the centre of your palm (Sicilian meatballs are larger than Swedish ones.  Make of that what you will).  In my own spaghetti-splashed copy of Nigella’s  wonderful  “How To Eat”, she recommends you enlist help of children to roll the meatballs, your own or strays, it matters not.  My own and four strays from a sleepover last night are alas up at the Folly eating a picnic, the sort to make you roll your eyes, so much refined sugar and processed food is involved.  Nevermind, it rests with me to use my own less dainty hands to do the job.  Although the meatballs look beautiful and uniformly round sitting on the chopping board, as they hit the pan they defiantly mould themselves into pyramids and patty shapes with conical heads.  I’m afraid there’s nothing to be done with them, and no-one will notice once they have been simmered in the sauce.

There’s a knack to turning the polpetti in the pan.  You need two spoons and a bit of courage.  You can’t be too refined or too hesitant, but neither can you bully them into browning evenly all over.  It is a matter of pushing them to the side of the pan to flip them gently, once you think one side is brown.  At this point, given their less than spherical shapes, they may have up to five sides.  Once again, not to worry, soon enough they will reach their hot red sauce destination.

They can often split, if you haven’t put breadcrumbs in, or not enough of them, at least.  My miniature Dachshund, Phoebe, knows well I have a propensity to be more than a little slap dash about my cooking, and she waits patiently at the door.  Her vigil is rewarded when a lone  polpetto falls apart, and becomes a snack for her.  Before you get too gooey eyed over her, let me tell you that she can eat twice her body weight in polpettiand has done so on one occasion when I had been, for once, super organised, and made some one morning for my weekend guests to have after a

Saturday filled with sight seeing.  Husband had “misunderstood” my instructions (not listened), and fed the entire pan to the hound.  If you haven’t got a dog, take the opportunity to taste test them.

Have five or so ready for the oil when it gets hot and put them in taking care because that amount of oil may splash.  When you have turned them and they have browned, use a deep spoon to put them gently into the pan of Salsa.  Don’t worry if you think they are pink inside, they will be cooked through in the sauce.  Leave them in there for about an hour on a very low heat. Move them around now and again, reaching the bottom of the pan with your wooden spoon, so that they don’t stick to badly to the bottom of the pan, whilst accepting that you will have to soak and scrub the pan later.

I often hear my brother-in-law, Rob’s,  exhortation , “Don’t cook the spoon, Rob.”  It is very helpful in reminding me to remove the spoon from time to time, and I hope this helps you remember to do the same.

As a footnote, I have just done a batch of these and left them bubbling merrily to write this.  It’s not the best day for it, being a rare 25 degrees out there.  I chose not to put peas in, leaving the dish simpler than I would if I cooked it in deep winter.  If you have a carrot lingering at the back of the fridge, feel free to chop it up small and put that in.  It adds to the sweetness.   I make no other changes except to say the wilted spinach in the fridge looks like it could have one last outing.  I will heat it in a small pan until it shrinks, chop it up and fling it in.

Advertisements
Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: