MEATBALLS WITH A RUSTIC ITALIAN FLAIR
Lately I am strangely attracted to meatballs. This is probably the weirdest-creepiest introduction to a food post you will ever read, but there it is, I said it and I am not ashamed!
The eater in me thinks it might be because of the combination of the caramelized exterior with a soft interior or maybe it's the sauce which, if you are lucky, is left over after you finish the dish and that you can mop up with some crusty bread.
The cook in me thinks it might be all the hands on action. I like to touch ingredients with my hands and in this case there is just no way of not getting dirty in the kitchen. You need to start by mixing the mince with the rest of the ingredients, and ok, you could be less drastic than I amand start with a spoon, but if you want all the ingredients to really mix and mingle, the flavours to sing together and the texture to be just right, you need to get your hands in there and start the massage operation.
The massage is followed by a bit of mindless repetitive action, in the form of making the little rounds of meat and placing them in line on a flat surface, as in a production factory. I think this is actually half cooking half craft, so if you like play doh, you will love this part. I usually give in and sit down for this part. Company, which is not usually welcome in the case of stressful stovetop cooking is more than welcome here. If you have a friend with an interesting love life, call him/her and give them free rein with their stories. Just beware: making small balls of meat, of dough, or anything of the kind is not as easy as it seems. You start (and succeed) making dainty little balls, but if you are not careful, you might end up placing meatballs the size of tennis balls on the board where you have carefully been aligning all the pretty small meatballs, so take care and don't switch off completely.
Getting back to today's recipe, and these meatballs in particular, these "polpette" are really easy to make (once you have the army of little balls all lined up on your wooden board). Instead of making a tomato sauce in a separate pan, as you would do for the traditional italian meatballs that go over spaghetti, the sauce magically appears in the same pan as the meatballs. Once formed, the balls get rolled in some breadcrumbs, fried in a little olive oil made fragrant with a clove of garlic, and once they are golden and browned on the outside, a good glug of white wine is added to the pan, to be reduced, mixed with the oil and the breadcrumbs, just in time to form the lovely sauce.
We served them with a plain white rice (one of Elena's specialties) and a salad. Have some bread nearby in case you have some sauce left.
The idea for making these "polpette in bianco" comes from a gem of a blog I discovered a few months ago. Rachel (the author) has the rare ability to make you want to skip all the million colour and ingredient recipes you can find elsewhere on the internet, and devote yourself to a simple rustic dish. It might be lentils with pasta (really? - yes, really), pasta cacio e pepe o any other traditional Italian dish. Anyone able to make me want to make such an apparently drab and "brown" dish as lentils with pasta, has won my heart. If you throw in the fact that Rachel is an English expat living in Testaccio, Rome, and that she writes beautifully, I'm completely won over.
Rachel herself adapted this recipe from Eleanora, a friend of hers whose grandmother used to whip up batches of these polpette. As Rachel does, I did not remove any oil from the pan before adding the wine, but then again, I don't measure olive oil precisely, so I might have added less than Eleanora once did. If you find there is too much, just remove it with a piece of kitchen paper, or by tilting the pan, but never wash the pan as some flavor from the meatballs will have stuck to the bottom and by adding the wine later, you will incorporate it to the sauce.
• 250 g ground beef
• 350 g ground pork
• 75 g fine, dry breadcrumbs plus more for rolling
• 75 g finely grated parmesan
• a heaped tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
• 2 eggs
• salt and black pepper
• 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
• 2 cloves of garlic
• 200 ml white wine – you may need a little more.
1. Knead together the meat, breadcrumbs, parmesan, parsley, eggs, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Work the mixture, kneading and then squeezing the ingredients together into a soft, consistent mass.
2. Pour more breadcrumbs on a plate. Take walnut sized balls of meat mixture and then roll them firmly between your palms into a small, neat balls. Roll the balls in breadcrumbs and sit them on a clean wooden board.
3. Warm the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Add the peeled, gently crushed but still intact garlic to the pan and fry gently until it is golden and fragrant which should take a minute or so. Remove the garlic and then add the meatballs. Fry the meatballs, increasing the heat a little, moving them with a fork and spoon until they are brown on all sides. This will take about 6 minutes.
4. Add the wine – which will sizzle vigorously – and a good pinch of salt. Continue to cook the meatballs, nudging them around with a wooden spoon. As the wine reduces into a thickish gravy, scape it down from the sides of the pan and keep the meatballs moving so they cook evenly. You may need to add more wine, After about 5 mins taste a meatball to see how it is cooking. You may need to cook a little longer, you may not. Adjust seasoning if necessary and stir again.
5. Once cooked, turn the meatballs onto a warm platter, scrape over the gravy from the pan and sprinkle over a little more finely chopped parsley.