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Meatless Eggplant “Meatballs”

I’ll be the first to admit that I like a sizzling steak, a juicy pork chop, or a well roasted leg of lamb. I also love vegetables, but don’t think I could ever become a vegetarian voluntarily. But every once in a while, I eat a dish – like this one – that could sway me to the other side. Aside from the health benefits of vegetarian diets (discounting the oil these were fried in), I had further reason to make this dish. We had a bumper crop of eggplants in our garden and it’s a recipe I’ve been wanting to try for a long time.

It’s a traditional dish from Calabria, although plenty of other regions have notable eggplant dishes (caponata from Sicily, for example). Calabria, the region my father’s family is from, was historically one of Italy’s economically poorer regions, so housewives had to be creative with meat so scarce.

This particular recipe is adapted from my friend Domenica Marchetti’s book, “The Glorious Vegetables of Italy,” one of the many authoritative books on Italian cooking that she’s authored.

Start by roasting the eggplant whole, in the oven, until it looks shriveled. It took about an hour and a half to achieve this:

Peel off the skin (it comes off very easily using just your fingers), then scoop out the insides and either use a potato masher or knife and chopping board to mince the flesh finely. Don’t put it in the food processor or it will become too mushy.

Add the rest of the ingredients – bread crumbs, pecorino cheese, eggs, and seasonings. Mix it all together with a spoon by hand.

Roll into balls the size of a golf ball. Make them smaller if you like, and they’d be great cocktail munchies.

Roll them in bread crumbs.

Fry in hot oil until browned.

They’re delicious right out of the frying pan, but they also make a wonderful substitute for real meatballs with spaghetti or bucatini. Drop some in your favorite tomato sauce.

And serve over a heaping bowl of pasta.

Eggplant "Meatballs"
 
Author:
Recipe type: main
Cuisine: Italian
 
Ingredients
  • 1 large eggplant
  • 2 cups fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • ½ teaspoon slat
  • 3-4 ounces grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • breadcrumbs for dredging
  • vegetable oil for frying
Instructions
  1. Prick a large eggplant with the tines of a fork and place the eggplant on a roasting pan.
  2. Set the pan in a preheated 350 degree oven and roast for about one and a half hours, until the skin looks shriveled and the interior is completely cooked through.
  3. Let the eggplant cool, then strip off the skin.
  4. It should peel off easily with your fingers.
  5. Mince the flesh with a large chopping knife, or use a potato masher to mash.
  6. Add all the rest of the ingredients (except the breadcrumbs for dredging and the vegetable oil), and mix everything together.
  7. Roll into balls the size of a golf ball or smaller if you want to serve them as hors d'oevres.
  8. Dredge the balls in the breadcrumbs and fry in sizzling hot oil.
  9. Turn the balls over to brown the other side, then remove and drain on paper towels.
  10. Serve as is, with a sprinking of parmesan or pecorino cheese, OR, transfer the eggplant meatballs to a pot with simmering tomato sauce, and serve over pasta.
 

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Polenta With Spuntature E Salsicce (ribs & Sausages)

Polenta with Spuntature e Salsicce (ribs & sausages)

 Years ago, when I lived in Rome, I’d order polenta with spuntature at a restaurant in my neighborhood of Trastevere. But only in winter. It’s a rare restaurant that features it at other times of year, and if it does, it’s likely to be a place devoid of Romans.

Even though you can certainly make polenta in spring, summer or fall, to me, it’s strictly winter food. And now that winter is in full swing, polenta is on my mind.
I’ve made it a few times this season already, but not with spuntature.
Since I was going to be making a ragù, I thought I’d include some sausages too, and put together some meatballs to enrich the sauce even more.
As long as you’re going to the trouble of cooking something for several hours, you might as well make enough to put in the freezer for a few meals later on, right?
So I pulled out my biggest stainless steel pot to get it going.
While the sauce was simmering away, I fried some meatballs.
I know, frying foods isn’t the best thing for you, and I do broil meatballs occasionally too.
But there’s nothing that brings back memories of my childhood like the scent of meatballs frying in hot oil.
As children, we’d stand by the stove while my mother drained a few on paper towels, eagerly waiting to snare one and take that first bite into a crunchy, meaty ball, with steam still spewing out of it.
After sampling one or two, the rest went into the pot with the sauce.
When the sauce had simmered for a couple of hours, I started on the polenta.
I’ve made polenta with a slow cooker, (using Michelle Scicolone’s recipe below). I’ve made it in the oven in an “almost no-stir” method (America’s Test Kitchen recipe below). I’ve made it with my nifty automatic polenta stirrer (the paiolo).

And I’ve made the instant type polenta too. They’re all good, but to me the best tasting polenta is made the old fashioned way – with good coarse grain cornmeal and by constant stirring for 45 minutes while you stand over the pot.
The polenta transforms to a creaminess that’s just begging for a good sauce to slather on top.
That’s where the ribs and sausage come in.
And they could find no better place to rest – except in your stomach of course.

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Ragù with spuntature e salsicce
(Tomato sauce with ribs and sausage)


printable recipe here

2 1/2 – 3 pounds Italian sausage (hot or sweet)
2-3 lbs. pork spare ribs2 T. olive oil
1 large onion, minced
8 – 10 cloves of garlic, minced
2 carrots, minced
2 stalks of celery, minced
6 – 23 oz. cans imported Italian tomatoes
1 cup dry red wine
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
2 T. dried basil, plus fresh basil, if available
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper

about 3 dozen meatballs (recipe below)

Place the sausage in a pot and cook over medium flame until browned, and some of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausages from the pot and set aside.
Place the ribs in the pot and brown them all around. Remove and set aside.If there’s a lot of fat in the pot remaining from the sausages and ribs, drain most of it, but leave a little for flavor. Add the olive oil to the pot. Finely mince the onion and garlic in a food processor and saute in the olive oil. Do the same with the carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables in the olive oil until softened.
Add the remaining ingredients and put the sausage back into the pot with the sauce. Add the spare ribs.
Add the fried meatballs to the sauce, if desired.
Cook everything together for at least two to three hours on a low flame, stirring periodically.

My mom’s meatball recipe

I sometimes broil these, and they’re good that way, but oh-so-much better when deep-fried. 

2 1-2 – 3 pounds of ground meat (I use a mixture of pork, veal and beef)
about 1/3 of a large loaf of sturdy white Italian bread, preferably a day old
about 1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper

oil for frying 
Trim the crusts off the bread. Put the bread in a low temperature oven for a short while or leave it out for a few hours to dry out. Save the crusts to make bread crumbs for another recipe.
Tear the bread into chunks and place into a bowl with the milk. Let the bread soak for at least 15 minutes or until it has absorbed the milk and softened. Squeeze as much milk as possible from the bread and discard the milk (or give to the cat). Squish the bread pieces with your fingers into a bowl with the ground meats until there are no big lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and blend well with your hands. Shape into round balls. Fry in a heavy pan with ample oil, or if you want to be healthier, place on a baking sheet or broiling pan and broil or bake at high heat (450 – 500), watching carefully so they don’t burn. When they have a nice brown crust, turn them over and brown on the other side. Drain off the grease and add the meatballs to the sauce.

Basic Polenta
1 cup cornmeal
2 cups milk
2 cups water (or use all water and eliminate the milk)
salt, to taste
a couple of pats of butter
grated parmesan cheese, as desired

Pour the cornmeal and the milk and water into a heavy-bottomed pan. Stir over a low to medium high heat for about 30-45 minutes or until the mixture looks creamy. Add salt and taste the polenta. It will taste “raw” if it needs more cooking and may still have some grittiness. In that case, cook longer. If it becomes too thick, add more liquid. When it’s done to your liking, turn off the heat, add a couple of pats of butter and parmesan cheese, as desired.

Slow Cooker Polenta – – Michele Scicolone, “The Italian Slow Cooker” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2010)
Serves 6
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal, preferably stone-ground
1½ teaspoons salt
5 cups water (or half water and half broth)
Additional water, milk, broth or cream, optional
In a large slow cooker, stir together the cornmeal, salt and water. Cover and cook on high for 2 hours. Stir the polenta. If it seems too thick, add a little extra liquid. Cook for 30-60 minutes more, until thick and creamy. Serve hot.
Almost no-stir Polenta
From America’s Test KitchenWhy this recipe works:

If you don’t stir polenta almost constantly, it forms intractable lumps. We wanted creamy, smooth polenta with rich corn flavor, but we wanted to find a way around the fussy process.
The prospect of stirring continuously for an hour made our arms ache, so we set out to find a way to give the water a head start on penetrating the cornmeal (we prefer the soft texture and nutty flavor of degerminated cornmeal in polenta). Our research led us to consider the similarities between cooking dried beans and dried corn. With beans, water has to penetrate the hard outer skin to gelatinize the starch within. In a corn kernel, the water has to penetrate the endosperm. To soften bean skins and speed up cooking, baking soda is sometimes added to the cooking liquid. Sure enough, a pinch was all it took to cut the cooking time in half without affecting the texture or flavor. Baking soda also helped the granules break down and release their starch in a uniform way, so we could virtually eliminate the stirring if we covered the pot and adjusted the heat to low. Parmesan cheese and butter stirred in at the last minute finishes our polenta, which is satisfying and rich.

Coarse-ground degerminated cornmeal such as yellow grits (with grains the size of couscous) works best in this recipe. Avoid instant and quick-cooking products, as well as whole-grain, stone-ground, and  regular cornmeal. Do not omit the baking soda—it reduces the cooking time and makes for a creamier polenta. The polenta should do little more than release wisps of steam. If it bubbles or sputters even slightly after the first 10 minutes, the heat is too high and you may need a flame tamer, available at most kitchen supply stores. Alternatively, fashion your own from a ring of foil. For a main course, serve the polenta with a topping or with a wedge of rich cheese or a meat sauce. Served plain, the polenta makes a great accompaniment to stews and braises.

7 1/2 cups water (I like to use a combination of milk and water – proportions are up to you.)

 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
pinch baking soda
1 1/2 cups coarse-ground cornmeal
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces good-quality Parmesan cheese , grated (about 2 cups), plus extra for serving
ground black pepper

1. Bring water to boil in heavy-bottomed 4-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in salt and baking soda. Slowly pour cornmeal into water in steady stream, while stirring back and forth with wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Bring mixture to boil, stirring constantly, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting and cover.
2. After 5 minutes, whisk polenta to smooth out any lumps that may have formed, about 15 seconds. (Make sure to scrape down sides and bottom of pan.) Cover and continue to cook, without stirring, until grains of polenta are tender but slightly al dente, about 25 minutes longer. (Polenta should be loose and barely hold its shape but will continue to thicken as it cools.)
3. Remove from heat, stir in butter and Parmesan, and season to taste with black pepper. Let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Serve, passing Parmesan separately.
Chicken Meatballs In White Wine Sauce

Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce

 I’m back with another recipe from Katie Parla’s latest book, “Tasting Rome,” and the winner of the cookbook giveaway.

 The lucky winner, chosen by a random number generator on my computer, was Pat, from the blog, Mille Fiori Favoriti. Congratulations, Pat.
For those of you who didn’t win, here’s another great enticement to get the cookbook.
It’s a recipe for chicken meatballs and I can just hear you saying, “But chicken meatballs aren’t Italian.” Well, you’d be right, kind of, but not if you factored in the Libyan Jews who migrated to Rome following the anti-Semitic violence in Tripoli and Benghazi in 1967.
As Katie explains in her book, about 4,500 Libyan Jews live in Rome today, making up about a third of the city’s Jewish community.
Their cuisine highlights the flavors of North Africa, with spices like cinnamon, cumin, caraway, paprika and turmeric.
That’s what intrigued me to try these chicken meatballs in white wine sauce, spiced up with cinnamon, nutmeg and pistachios. Forget the tomato sauce for this one, and pull out a nice bottle of white wine to use in the sauce instead. I made my meatballs about the size of golf balls, and got about 20, rather than 30 to 35 polpette if you make them the size of walnuts, as the recipe states.
I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe too, adding double the amount of pistachios (because I can’t get enough of pistachios). I also removed the shallots from the pan after they were softened, since I was concerned that they might burn if I kept them in while the meatballs were browning. I returned the cooked shallots back to the pan after the meatballs were browned, then added the wine and broth, adding more of those too, so I could have more sauce. I wanted enough sauce to spill over to the farro I served alongside the meatballs, but I think these would be equally delicious with a pasta or rice side too.
Check out my Instagram page here to see more of what I’m cooking up each day. You can also connect with Ciao Chow Linda here on Facebook, here for Pinterest or  here for Twitter.
 
Polpette di Pollo in Bianco
Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce
From “Tasting Rome” by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill
3 slices day-old bread of any kind, crusts removed
1 cup chicken broth or water, plus more for cooking, warmed (I used about 1 1/2 cups)
1 3/4 pounds ground chicken
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more as needed
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3 tablespoons pistachios, chopped (I doubled this)
2 packed tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, minced
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used about 3/4 cup)
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (from 1/2 lemon)
Soak the bread for a few minutes in 1 cup warm chicken broth. When it has softened, squeeze out the excess liquid and place the bread in a large bowl.
Add the ground chicken, eggs, garlic, salt, pepper to taste, cinnamon, nutmeg, pistachios, and half the parsley. Mix thoroughly by hand. Form the mixture into balls roughly the size of walnuts and set aside.
In a large frying pan or cast-iron skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, about five minutes. (At this point, I removed the shallots and browned the meatballs, then put the shallots back in and added the wine and the broth, etc.)
Meanwhile, lightly dust the meatballs all over with flour (a mesh strainer works well for this) and shake off any excess. Add them to the pan and brown all over. Add the wine, scraping up any browned bits from the sides and bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon or heatproof spatula. When the alcohol aroma dissipates, about a minute, add enough broth or water to cover the meatballs about halfway. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, and cook, covered, until a creamy sauce has formed, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season with lemon juice, garnish with the remaining parsley, and serve the meatballs warm or at room temperature with the sauce spooned over.
tip: If the meatball mixture is sticky, wet your hands with warm water before rolling.
Recipe reprinted with permission from Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright (c) 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers,  an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.
Spaghetti And Meatballs

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Forget truffles. Forget fois gras. Forget filet mignon.
This is my husband’s favorite dish hands-down.
When we were first married (back in the mesozoic era) I could never get it right.
Keep in mind I had a mother-in-law from Central Italy and a mother from Northern Italy. The standards were high.
Both of them made spaghetti and meatballs regularly, and both versions were delicious, and very different from each other. Of course they didn’t use recipes. So I kept trying year after year to duplicate either sauce but it always lacked that little something that they couldn’t quite explain.

“It lacks ‘character,’ ” my husband would tell me time after time.

It took me years to develop that character, but there have been no complaints for a couple of decades now.

My sauce is neither like my mother’s (who used sausage and meatballs) nor my mother-in-law’s (who used braciole and meatballs) but a hybrid that has a “character” of its own.
I always use sausage and meatballs, and add some spareribs too if I’m going to serve it over polenta.
Once in a blue moon I make braciole. I always add hot pepper flakes as my mother-in-law did, but my husband always adds more directly over the pasta. His tolerance for heat is greater than mine.

Oh, and we never called it sauce when we were growing up. It was always “gravy” to us — or the Italian word, “ragu”.

There are plenty of times when I make a light, quick-cooking spaghetti sauce. This is not one of those recipes. This is a rich sauce that needs several hours of slow cooking to develop its flavors. I make it in a huge batch as you’ll see from the list of ingredients and freeze it for later meals. When friends or relatives come by for visits, there’s almost always some I can easily defrost for what has now become my fallback meal. You can adapt it for smaller portions, but be careful not to cut the seasonings too much or your sauce might not have “character” either.

Spaghetti Sauce

2 1/2 – 3 pounds Italian sausage (hot or sweet)
2 T. olive oil
1 large onion
8 – 10 cloves of garlic
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
1 large can of tomato sauce (6 pounds, 9 oz.)
1 large can of San Marzano tomatoes (6 pounds, 10 oz.)
(I like a chunkier sauce, so I break up the tomatoes only slightly either by hand or using a food processor)
1 cup dry red wine
1 small can tomato paste
2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 T. dried basil
1/4 tsp. dried red pepper
1 1/2 cups red wine

about 3 dozen meatballs
about 3 pounds pork spare ribs (or beef)

Place the sausage in a pot and cook over medium flame until nearly entirely cooked, and most of the fat has been rendered. Remove the sausages from the pot and set aside.
Drain all the fat from the pot and discard. Add the olive oil to the pot. Finely mince the onion and garlic in a food processor and saute in the olive oil. Do the same with the carrot and celery. Cook the vegetables until softened.
Add the remaining ingredients and put the sausage back into the pot with the sauce. Add the meatballs and spare ribs, if desired.

If using spareribs, cook them before adding to the sauce. If they are long, chop them in half with a cleaver. Place them in a covered saucepan over low to medium heat. You don’t need to add any oil to the pot. Let them cook for an hour and much of the fat will be released. Drain the fat and discard. Add the cooked ribs to the tomato sauce. Cook everything together for at least three to four hours on a low flame, stirring periodically.

Meatballs

I used to deep-fry these until several years ago, when I started broiling them to eliminate a lot of the fat. Nobody ever notices any difference and it’s a lot healthier.

2 1-2 – 3 pounds of ground meat (I use a mixture of pork, veal and beef)
about 1/3 of a large loaf of sturdy white Italian bread, preferably a day old
about 1 cup milk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2/3 cup onion, finely chopped
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 t. salt
1/4 t. black pepper

Trim the crusts off the bread. Dry the bread in the oven and use to make bread crumbs for another recipe.
Tear the bread into chunks and place into a bowl with the milk. Let the bread soak for at least 15 minutes or until it has absorbed the milk and softened. Squeeze as much milk as possible from the bread and discard the milk (or give to the cat). Squish the bread pieces with your fingers into a bowl with the ground meats until there are no big lumps. Add the remaining ingredients and blend well with your hands. Shape into round balls. Place on a baking sheet or broiling pan and broil or bake at high heat (450 – 500), watching carefully so they don’t burn. When they have a nice brown crust, turn them over and brown on the other side. Drain off the grease and add the meatballs to the sauce.