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Simple Magic in Abruzzo

Passport & Plate - Pallotte cac'e ove

Italy | Friday, 28 February 2014 | 5 photos


Ingredients
I have tasted and tested countless versions of these rustic bread, egg and cheese balls from Abruzzo. However, this recipe, inspired by my friend Lida, the owner of an agriturismo near my family's home in Salle as well as one of the best self-taught cooks I've ever met, are simply the best.

For the pallotte mixture: 6 cups (350 g) day-old Italian bread, torn into tiny pieces (or pulsed in the food processor); 1 ½ cups (375 ml) milk; 2 eggs, lightly beaten; 1 teaspoon of salt and several grindings of fresh black pepper; 1 cup (approx. 110 g) grated Pecorino cheese; 2 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley; 1 teaspoon minced rosemary; 1 clove of garlic, minced; IF NEEDED, fine unseasoned breadcrumbs

For frying the pallotte: ½ cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

For simmering the pallotte: 4 cups Basic Homemade Tomato Sauce (see below)

For the Basic Homemade Tomato Sauce: 2 (28-ounce) cans peeled whole tomatoes, passed through a food mill or pulsed in a food processor until smooth (or approx 2 liters tomato puree - passata di pomodoro); 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil; 1 large onion, finely diced; 4 cloves garlic, minced; a branch of whole fresh basil leaves; sea salt, to taste

 

How to prepare this recipe
FOR THE PALLOTTE: Place the torn bread in a wide bowl, pour the milk over it & mix well, until the bread is well-moistened by the milk (the bread shouldn’t be too wet or you’ll end up with a spongy texture). Let the bread & milk mixture sit for about an hour, until the milk is completely absorbed. Add the remaining ingredients & mix together until evenly incorporated. Try to form a spoonful of the mixture into a 2-inch ball - if it won’t hold together, add some breadcrumbs, a spoonful at a time, until it’s a consistency that holds. Form the remainder of the mixture into balls & set aside on a tray until you’re ready to fry them. (It helps to dab your hands with a bit of olive oil from time to time to keep them from getting too sticky.) Heat the tomato sauce in a wide sauce pan that can accommodate the pallotte, more or less, in a single layer, until it reaches a steady simmer. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a wide skillet until shimmering & gently fry the pallotte for 2-3 minutes per side, until a golden crust forms, a batch at a time. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels & continue to fry the remainder of the pallotte in the same manner. Gently transfer the fried balls to the pot of sauce & simmer at a slow, steady pace for about 30 min, stirring occasionally so they don’t stick to the bottom. Serve immediately or reheat prior to serving - they’re even better the next day.
FOR THE SAUCE: In a large saucepan, sauté the onion in 2 tbsp olive oil over medium-low heat until soft & golden, about 6-8 min. Add the minced garlic & sauté for about a minute, until fragrant. Add the reserved tomatoes & their juices & the basil, raise the heat & bring to a boil. Lower the heat & simmer gently for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the remaining spoon of olive oil & a teaspoon pinch salt & simmer for 10 more minutes. Season to taste. Any unused sauce may be stored in a vacuum-tight container in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

 

The story behind this recipe
My father was born in Salle, a village tucked in the mountains of the Parco Nazionale della Majella in rural Abruzzo. He immigrated to New York in 1966, part of a devastating exodus of most of Salle’s inhabitants following WWII. Although my dad’s childhood was one of poverty and hardship, his stories are laced with tender nostalgia and enduring devotion. Salle was magical to me when I visited as a child. A city kid, it was the only place on earth I could walk down the street without my mom’s firm grip on my hand. A sleepy town of 300 inhabitants, time seems to have stood still in Salle. Old women dressed in black are the village watchmen, demanding the identity of those unknown to them. The town has one general store and the locals rely on trucks peddling their wares for fresh bread and produce. With scraped knees and a face sticky from gelato, I used to run through the wide, open piazza with reckless abandon. My favorite food during those carefree summers was a traditional dish called pallotte cac’e ove, essentially, meatballs without the meat. An example of the genius of la cucina povera, this peasant dish was invented by a people for whom meat was once a luxury they could seldom afford. They transformed what little they had – day-old, leftover bread, eggs from their chickens, cheese from their sheep and herbs from their gardens - into savory polpette that are first fried in olive oil and then slowly simmered in homemade tomato sauce. To me, that dish is synonymous with Salle itself - a few pure and simple ingredients that amount to perfection. Salle has now become my children’s summer playground. They play nascondino in piazza late into the night and proudly walk to the bar unaccompanied for their daily gelato. They take part in the annual spaghetti-eating contest and of course, greedily gobble up their mom’s favorite pallotte cac’e ove.

About majellahomecooking

My recipe is inspired by my dad's native village of Salle in the Parco Nazionale della Majella in Abruzzo

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