To mark my first blogoversary, I asked my lovely sister in Italy, Wanda, to write a guest post for me. I am hugely inspired by my family and since we are scattered all around the globe (Italy, US and here in the UK) food somehow always connects us. Whether it’s seeing photos of celebrations and sharing what we have eaten and cooked, to reminiscing about happy times spent together round the table as a big family, savouring the delights of my mother’s Polish kitchen food has the ability to bring us closer together, no matter where we are.
Wanda has overcome huge obstacles and challenges since moving with her husband and family to Italy, but the move has also created so many new opportunities for them all. My nephew (her son) who is only seventeen has just graduated from an EU funded catering college, gaining a diploma and has already taken up his first placement as a junior chef in a two Michelin starred restaurant. I love hearing about all his culinary adventures as much as I love hearing what Wanda has made, or how much pasta her mother-in-law has made and what she served it with. It has been amazing to watch my niece and nephew grow up as Italians, immersing themselves into the culture of another country and I am so proud of them all.
Wanda’s post and recipe below is one example of how food (once again) infiltrated our weekend telephone catch up! The other week, Wanda said that she had eaten the most amazing meal and had asked her mother-in-law for her secret recipe for Polpette (Italian meatballs) which she makes in three stages. As soon as she had all the details, she explained them to me over the phone and I set about making them myself, helped by my own little boy who loves being with me in the kitchen and sending photos (the ones within this post) as I went along. Since the process is something of a labour of love, I suggested that Wanda could explain the it in her very first guest post. I hope you enjoy the recipe and story, and give Wanda a very warm welcome here. You won’t find a more authentic Italian family recipe in any cookery book! You will need to pop to the buther’s to make the best meat stock you can but these will be the best meatballs and pasta you’ve ever tried!
Note: I have made this recipe once (see photos) but I was short on time and didn’t get to the butchers, so I made a chicken stock only to the method below for the ‘brodo’ and finely minced/chopped the chicken for the meatballs, adding the sausage meat. Since the meatballs are made with mashed potato they are quite soft in texture, a little bit like fish cakes. Next time, I will do it properly to get the best possible flavour.
A Guest Post By My Sister,Wanda Fabbri
I have been following my sister’s Fabulicious Food blog for a year now. I can’t wait to read the updates. I love her traditional and interesting recipes and her photographs inspire me to create dishes based on her varied recipes.
Like Ren, I spend a good part of my time reading, researching and cooking delicious recipes for my husband and two children. I am inspired by my mother’s homecooking and the Polish food of our upbringing, British food which I miss so dearly and, of course, now by Italian food. I am also very lucky because my Italian mother-in-law Carmela, has been a chef for over 50 years. My husband is a wonderful cook, and my son recently graduated from Chef school here in Italy, so I am neither short of ideas or enthusiasm to cook the best dish I can.
I often ask Carmela what makes a good chef and she simply replies “passion”. She has devoted her whole life to making all types of fresh pasta often cooking dishes that have been lost over time . Although she retired from her professional kitchen, she still spends hours patiently cooking for all her family and grand-children. She has a special gift of producing exceptionally tasty sauces usually tomato or mushroom based.
My favourite of her dishes are her meatballs and I finally asked her how she made them. She gladly shared her recipe with me and her secret seems to lie in the both flavour and texture. This can only be achieved by following the complete recipe starting form the broth or in Italian “Brodo di Carne”. So this recipe is in 3 parts comprising of broth, meatballs and a tomato sauce.
1. Broth/Stock “Brodo di Carne”
Prep Time: 30 minutes, Cooking Time: 3 hours, Total Time: 3 hours, 30 minutes
The best broth is made with a combination of meats and fowl. It can also enrich sauces, stews and used as a base for risotto as well as being a base for more complex soups. Broth with tortellini or cappelletti is a standard first course at festive dinners in Northern Italy. For maximum flavour, the meat and vegetables should begin cooking in cold water. This way the meat juices are released into the broth rather than becoming sealed in immediate intense heat.
3 litres (5 pints) of cold water
1kg (2 Ib) 2 pounds of beef chuck, short plate, short ribs, or brisket
750g (1 1/2 1b) mixed fresh uncooked veal and beef shin and marrow bones
Half a chicken or capon
1 large stick of celery
3 small carrots, scraped
Hand full of fresh parsley
1 medium sized onion, quartered
A tomato (optional)
3 to 5 pepper corns, 2 dry bay leaves
A clove (optional; it reduces sweetness in poultry-rich broths)
Salt to taste
1 Wash the chicken, remove any excess fat but keep the skin on, and trim excess fat off the beef. Select a good size pan so all the meat fits comfortably in it . Put in all the ingredients except the salt and cover with approximately 3 litres of water or until all the meat is covered. Cover the pan and bring to boil.
2. Reduce the heat to low-medium heat, remove any scum that has formed to make a clear broth. Do not allow it to boil vigourously or the stock will become cloudy. Cover partially, and simmer the broth for 3 hours until all the meat is tender and vegetables are soft and the broth is full-bodied and tasty. Keep checking and occasionally stirring the broth as it is cooking.
3. Retrieve the larger pieces of meat and chicken and set aside. Strain the broth through a fine sieve into a bowl. Add salt to taste only if using immediately otherwise cover and refrigerate for up to 4 days or freeze in small batches for up to 6 months.
Use the meat (bollito) and chicken and use this as a base for the meat balls.
2. Meatballs (Polpette)
Prep time 20 minutes, Cooking time 15 minutes
Meat and chicken from the broth, see above.
4 good quality sausages
1/2 cup of bread crumbs
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese
1-2 cups mashed potato, or around 1Ib of potatoes
1 tsp mustard
1/4 clove of garlic, finely grated
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup of water
4 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
1. Chop or finely cut all the meat and chicken pieces or use a manual mincer. Transfer the mixture into a large bowl . Take the skins off the sausages and mix the sausage meat into the meat mixture together with all the ingredients. Don’t add all the water at one time. The mixture should be moist but not so that the mixture falls apart.
2. Shape into small sized meatballs. I usually make 2 different sizes to use in different sauces.
3. Coat lightly in bread crumbs and fry gently in small batches, in extra virgin olive oil turing frequently for about 10-15 minutes if using them in a sauce,and longer if you want to eat them without a sauce. Place the cooked meatballs on separate trays. The meatballs are also ideal with rice and a side plate of vegetables. The finished meatballs should have a soft texture when cut into two. I made around 36 small meatballs in all.
3. Tomato sauce
Prep time 10 minutes, Cooking time 35 minutes
1kg (2 Ib) canned plum tomatoes in juice
75ml ( 2 1/2 fl oz ) extra-virgin olive oil
2 large cloves of garlic bruised
1 onion, finely chopped
1 small carrot finely chopped
1 tbsp of chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
1/2 tsp salt
4 large fresh basil leaves, chopped or alternatively a sprinkle of peperoncino for a spicier flavour.
1/4 litre stock from the broth
4 tbsp of cold water
1. Put the tomatoes into a food mill or push through a sieve, scooping out any excess seeds.
2. Warm the olive oil and garlic together in a pan. Heat gently until the garlic is light golden brown 1-2 minutes. Add the onion, carrot and parsley and sauté until soft but not coloured, around 10 minutes.
3. Add the tomatoes salt, and basil. Simmer for about 20 minutes until a thick sauce appears and the olive oil comes to the surface. Add the stock , stir and reduce the sauce for a further 10 minutes
4. Add 4 tbsp of water and add the previously made meatballs , re-heat in the sauce for 10 minutes or until hot and serve with pasta of your choice.
Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
The sauce should cover about 1/3 of the meat balls and the rest you can refrigerate or put in the freezer. When using the meatballs from the freezer on another day de-frost and put in a hot oven on a small tray for 30 minutes , add a small cup of water or cook as before in a tomato sauce.
A word from Wanda:
The culinary world is so vast. Exceptional chefs displaying ambition and passion along side those who are just learning the technical skills to become masters in the living art of cooking, or those who simply delight in cooking at home for family and friends. Whatever your experience these three recipes hold a place in any world kitchen.