There is only one thing that Calabrian people, can’t miss at Carnival. No, I’m not referring to Chiacchiere; I’m talking about Le Polpette al sugo, aka Proppetti: meatballs cooked in a simple tomato sauce. You can eat them from Candlemas to Fat Tuesday. Sometime, we literally do.
If you are thinking… but everybody knows how to make meatballs… well, you are wrong! Your mother, your grandmother, or your neighbor make Polpette, better than you (they are saying).
One thing is certain: everyone has their own method. Sometimes it’s just the process that changes. Other times the way of cooking changes. There are people that mix the minced meat, half pork and half beef; other that want a particular cut of meat. Someone wants the meat minced twice, and other prefer only one time. There are those who want only beef, and those who want only pork. It can cause many arguments.
On Candlemas Day I was in the butcher, as are many other ladies from my town. I swear that I’ve never been more sympathetic to my butcher than on that day. He tried, with a lot of patience, to meet the needs of all of us, calmly and silently. It was so crazy.
Just to complicate his life more, my request was: I would like some minced meat for Polpette, 1/4 pork and 3/4 beef. The Pork must be lean. I do not have preferences on the cut, but the beef must be half chuck and half thick rib, with a little fat. And…minced twice, please.
I felt a little observed, because before my Polpette meat request, there was another one: a tripe, a brisket, a heart, a beef tongue, and an oxtail. Carnival days were preceded by very intensive cooking weeks. Compulsive cooking, I would even dare to say. But now, Lent is beginning, and I promise, I will eat only pasta with tuna, beans, vegetables and salads. Who knows, maybe at the end, the scales will give me some happy news.
While I was giving my long and detailed order, a lady, who I had never seen (one of those who always knows everything better then you do), suggested to me that meat for meatballs has to be minced only once, and it should be only made of pork. I listened to her, but I ignored her suggestions. I make my Polpette as I want!
Each one of us, has their own beliefs.
I love Italian salami, from North to South, but I don’t like much pork. Which means that I use pork very little in my cuisine. I need pork in Polpette, because it gives the mixture a soft consistency, without making it heavy.
Here is my recipe For Polpette di Carnevale al Sugo di Pomodoro
1 kilo twice minced meat 1/4 pork, 3/4 beef
400 grams soft breadcrumbs
a bunch of parsley
100 grams grated parmesan cheese
100 grams pecorino cheese
1 pinch of Nutmeg
salt and pepper
a clove of Garlic
Minced Peeled Tomatoes
Let’s start with the Tomato Sauce.
In a large saucepan (better if you use a Terracotta pot) fry the chopped onion in a little olive oil, then pour the tomato sauce. Peeled Tomatoes give a fresher flavor to the sauce. Let them cook slightly. Stirring occasionally.
In a large bowl, place the minced meat, the bread crumbs, the grated cheeses, the parsley finely chopped, pinch of nutmeg, salt and black pepper. Mix them up with your hands. Add the eggs and mix again, until they are absorbed by the meat. Cut the garlic clove in half, remove the central bud. Make a little hollow in the Polpette mixture and place the two halves of the garlic. Let the mixture rest for 10 minutes, then remove the garlic and continue to mix well with your hands.
Are you asking why am I doing this strange thing? Because I like the garlic’s smell, but I hate when it ends up under the teeth. By doing so, the garlic scent will released into the meat without bad surprises.
Now, if you feel that the mixture seems too dry, you have two options: add a drop of milk, or (as my beloved grandmother did) put two or three tablespoons of the tomato sauce in the mixture. Never add more eggs
. It will seem softened at the time, but it will harden after being cooked. (Grandma’s Tricks).
You can form your meatballs according to the size you prefer. Before dipping them in the saucepan with the tomato sauce, make sure it is not too dense. If it is, add a little
Let them cook for about 20 minutes. Taste and add other seasoning if necessary.
There are many ways to make Polpette. I myself, never do it the same way twice.
You can cook them in the oven, dip them in the Italian Sunday
Ragù, or if you have enough patience, you can make a lot of Polpettine for your Sunday Lasagne.
My grandmother Rosa, does the Best Polpette di Carnevale of the world. If she decides to have Polpette for lunch, she starts preparing the mixture early in the morning. Her secret is the slowness. She always coddles the food she cooks.
Nonna puts a lot of garlic in her Polpette. But, if she knows that I’m coming for lunch, she makes them without. She is the best grandma in the world.
The real Polpette
Master was Zia Mena, Nonna’s sister. Even if the garlic she put in the mixture was able to turn zombies and vampires away from you, you ate her polpette with gusto. She told you: Try! and it was not an invitation. You couldn’t say: sorry zia I won’t.
Like Nonna, Zia also started early in the morning.
Maybe this is the real secret of Grandmothers’ Cooking. Patience. Slowness. The need to give the food the time of thankfulness and respect.
I agree with the tradition, but I also like playing with food. Like that time I prepared meatballs but not the sauce. I took a saucepan, a little olive oil, sage and some slices of speck. I fried them for a short time, then I added some cherry tomatoes and my little meatballs. The sauce was ready at the same time as Pappardelle were. What a wonderful speedy lunch. Less than half an hour of preparation.
The same Polpette
mixture can be used for making meatloaf ,or as a filling for whatever you want.
I agree with the tradition, but I also like playing with food. Like that time I prepared meatballs but not the sauce. So I took a saucepan, a little olive oil, sage and some slices of speck. I made them slightly fry, I added some cherry tomatoes and my little meatballs. The sauce was ready at the same time as Pappardelle was. What a wonderful speedy lunch. Less then half an hour of preparation.
The same Polpette’s mixture can be used for the meatloaf or as a common filling for whatever you want.
Cucina Conversations about Carnevale:
Rosemarie – on Turinmamma – Fagioli Grassi akas Tofeja Canavese
Flavia – on Flaviasflavors – Frijole Veneziane
Lisa – on Italiankiwi – Crostoli di Nutella
Daniela – on La Dani gourmet – Bomboloni
Francesca – on Pancakes and Biscotti – Castagnole
Carmen – on The Heirloom Chronicles – Baccalà Fritto con Peperoni Cruschi