I asked my butcher to mince some very lean beef for me – I was going to have it as steak tartare. I did not get around to using it and made a polpettone (a large meat ball/ loaf, called a purpittuni in Sicilian).
In previous posts I have written about polpette (meatballs) and braciole (meat rolled around a stuffing), and although making a polpettone is very similar to these recipes it gives me an opportunity to get a photo – visuals are helpful when cooking a recipe.
In this polpettone, I have placed some stuffing in the centre, as one would do when making a farsumagru (a large, thinly pounded steak of young beef, rolled around a stuffing) and this time I have used a few slices of cooked ham, small bits of pecorino and hard-boiled eggs. In Italy, cooked ham is called prosciutto and what we call prosciutto in Australia is known as prosciutto crudo (raw ham).
The older, Sicilian recipes rarely include wine in cooking (vinegar, yes) so the wine is optional.
I need to mention the platter. It is one of Giacomo Alessi’s ceramiche (ceramics, just I case you have not guessed).
I bought my very first in Caltagirone, Sicily’s most important centre for ceramics and where Alessi’s pottery is based. He has since established other outlets; I bought the one in the photo in Erice (central Sicily) last year and I purchased another in Palermo.
I love his ceramics, especially the ones with the bright green border; these are based on traditional and very old designs.
I am attracted to his use of strong colours, the ornamentation and images he uses, so evocative of the past. All my cousins and their offspring have the very old, original platters scattered around their homes (not Alessi’s, but he has reproduced and revived the old designs). They had belonged to Rosa, my paternal grandmother (Ragusa), but unfortunately when they were distributed within the family I was out of sight and out of mind. Apparently, one of the many uses for these platters was to dry conserva (rich tomato paste), which was placed to dry in the hot, Sicilian sun.
minced beef, 800g
hard boiled eggs, 3
fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices good quality sourdough white bread, crusts removed)
grated pecorino cheese, a small handful
salt and pepper
parsley, 1-2 tablespoons, sliced finely
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
red wine, 1 cup (optional)
passata, 1bottle ( or tomato paste and water or tinned tomato)
garlic, 1-2 large cloves, whole
basil, fresh leaves
onion, 1 cut very finely
ham, 4 slices, thinly sliced
pecorino cheese, 3-4 thinly sliced and broken up into pieces
Cook the onion in a little hot extra virgin olive oil, add a little salt and let cool.
Mix the cooled onion into the minced meat, add garlic, grated cheese, raw eggs, bread, parsley, salt and pepper together. Using your hands, mix all ingredients until they are well combined – they should feel sticky.
Spread the meat on a piece of baking paper (the old ones probably would have used a marble slab).
Place ham slices lengthwise and in the centre of the mince.
Peel the hard boiled eggs and cut off a little of the white at both ends so that when you line the eggs up they will fit into one another and form a continuous line – this is done so that when you slice the polpettone each serving will have some egg.
Shape the polpettone into a long oval shape enveloping all of the stuffing. The paper will prevent the meat from sticking. Wet hands will also help to shape it. Make sure that there is sufficient meat around the eggs – this is the frail part of the polpettone. If it is going to crack during cooking this will be it.
Heat some extra virgin olive oil and seal the meat from all sides.
Add the wine, allow it to evaporate a little, add the passata, a little water, basil and more seasoning.
Braise over low heat for about 30- 40 minutes. To prevent breakage, turn the polpettone only once during cooking. If necessary, add more water during cooking. It should kept moist while it cooks and you can always evaporate the juice at the end, if you wish to intensify the flavour.