For my first post of 2018, I want to share an Italian meatball recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks of 2017, Two Kitchens: Family recipes from Sicily and Rome by Rachel Roddy. Two Kitchens is Roddy’s second cookbook and, in my opinion, it equals her award-winning Five Quarters: Recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome, which garnered the Guild of Food Writers’ First Book award and the André Simon Food Book award of 2015.
Roddy originally posted the following recipe for Polpette in bianco (Meatballs in white sauce) on her food blog, Rachel Eats. In this recipe in bianco means a white wine sauce. After coating the polpette in fine breadcrumbs, you brown the meatballs in olive oil and then finish them in a bath of vino bianco. The wine reduces into a bright, delicious sauce that pairs with the richness of the polpette. Here’s the complete recipe from Two Kitchens (which, with a tweak or two, mirrors the recipe in Roddy’s blog). The dish serves 6.
250g minced beef
350g minced pork
75g soft fresh breadcrumbs
75g Parmesan, grated
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
fine breadcrumbs, for rolling
6 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
200ml white wine (you may need a little more)
salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Knead together the meat, breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley (reserving a little for later), 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.
Pour [the fine] breadcrumbs on a plate. Take walnut-sized balls of the meat mixture and then roll them firmly between your palms into small, neat balls. Roll the balls in breadcrumbs and sit them on a clean board or plate.
Warm the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan. Crush the garlic cloves with the back of a knife so that they split but remain whole and add then to the pan. Fry gently until golden and fragrant, which should take a minute or so. Remove the garlic and add the meatballs. Fry the meatballs, increasing the heat a little and moving them around until they are brown on all sides. This will take about 6 minutes.
Add the wine, which will sizzle vigorously, and a good pinch of salt. Continue to cook the meatballs, nudging them around. 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 minutes, taste a meatball to see how it is cooking. You may need to cook them a little longer; you may not. Adjust the seasoning if necessary and stir again.
Once cooked, turn the meatballs on to a warm platter, pour over the pan gravy and sprinkle over a little parsley to serve.
People can be funny about their family recipes. They fervently believe that their mother’s or father’s or aunt’s recipe for, say, meatballs, surpass all other versions. (Roddy uses the phrase the “blessed curse of mamma’s meatballs” to illustrate this point.) You might be tempted to pass on Polpette in bianco because how can it possibly compare to mamma’s meatballs? Here’s what you do: mix up a batch of polpette using your preferred ingredients and then use Roddy’s technique of breading, frying and braising. You’ll be happy you did. Since the recipe appeared in Roddy’s blog in 2014, I’ve made the dish a dozen times or more each year and I always use my polpette mixture, which, in all modesty, surpasses mamma’s version.
One last point before we leave polpette: the flavor of meatballs improves when they rest for a couple of hours in the refrigerator before being cooked. Plan ahead and your meatballs will repay your industry with better taste.
I wish more food writers turned out family cookbooks like Two Kitchens and Five Quarters. Roddy compiles recipes that I look forward to making every day of the week. I hope she’s hard at work on a third cookbook.