On this day we remember in order not to forget the sacrifice of all those who died for Freedom. Memory helps us to connect with our past, with our story, with the story we want to continue telling our children and on which we want to sow the seeds of our future. I remember Liberation Day has always been a big deal for me as a child growing up in the 70‘s, hearing tragic stories from those who had been in the Resistance, reading haunting, yet compelling memoires of those who witnessed the making of history first hand.
Family food is in a way like words, indelibly linked to the story which it tells through ingredients, flavours and smells; linked to the memories that are rekindled through sounds and people gathering around a table. Food rooted in a people's remote past, yet still alive and dynamically changing to accommodate new tastes. Someone said food is culture which is alive, not fixed in a moment in time like a fading Polaroid; and I thought that to be that, recipes must exchange hands. This is why today I felt like making a trip down memory lane and decided to share the recipe of my nonna's polpette, or meat balls with peas and tomato sauce. A recipe which I do not have but which I recreate through visual memory of her hands moving swiftly mixing the ingredients.
She used to fry polpette outside the house, in the tool shed, a glorified "garage cum scaffolding storage" (my grandad was a builder), which actually never housed a car, but had a gas hob which was put to use any time there was some frying to be done. In the garden there was a well, shared with next door, to water the veggie patch and to keep watermelons cool in the summer. It was rather scary, deep and dark, but when the sun was high in the sky you could peer down and see the green and black oval shape of the biggest watermelon in the world...but this is another story.
Ingredients (enough for 4 people)
50g crumb from old white bread (approximately)
1/2 glass of milk
200g pork mince
200g beef mince
2-3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
salt and black pepper
1 pinch nutmeg
2 tbsp plain flour
white bread crumbs
vegetable oil for frying (I used a mix of lard and vegetable oil...not very light I know)
extravirgin olive oil
200g petit pois (frozen are best, but from a tin would do)
2 cups tomato passata
150g chopped tomatoes
sea salt and black pepper
In a large bowl place the dry bread crumb with just enough milk to soften it. Leave to soak for 5 minutes then check for any dry bits of crumb and add more milk if necessary. Add all the other ingredients to the bowl, season and mix using your hands (this is part of the ritual as far as I am concerned, but a fork would work just as well). The mix should be fairly dry. Add more parmesan or some breadcrumbs if too wet.
Take enough meat to form a flattish ball the size of a large walnut. Repeat until you have finished all the meat. Place the polpette on a large plate covered with plain flour. Have a bowl next to you with egg wash (one or two eggs, mixed with a fork) and another large plate with the breadcrumbs in it. Roll each meat ball in the flour first, then transfer them to the egg wash and finally put them in the breadcrumbs, until well coated. Shallow fry the meat balls in a large pan, a few at a time, until they are a nice brown colour. When ready fish them out of the pan and leave to drain on a some kitchen paper.
Finely chop a shallot and put it in a saucepan with some olive oil. Leave to soften on low heat then add the peas, chopped tomatoes and passata, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for five minutes then add the polpette. Cook for another five minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly. Check the seasoning then serve with mash potatoes, a salad and some nice bread to soak up the sauce.
Apologies for the lack of photo of the finished dish, but before I could put hand to the camera it was all gone.