Polpette al sugo (meatballs in sauce)

Polpette al sugo

… or maybe you have (if you’re Sicilian).  Polpette al sugo is a recipe from our friend Erminia, the great classic Sicilian cook we know who lives in Messina.  You can say that the English translation is “meatballs in tomato sauce,” but that’s like saying that crêpes are pancakes.  This recipe takes the simplest ingredients — ground beef, dinner rolls, tomatoes, onions — and turns them into light, fluffy wonders that melt into a delicately flavored sauce, and then into your mouth. 

The biggest thing that’s different about this recipe from traditional meatballs is that let you let the dish sit for two hours after it’s done cooking.  Simple, yes?  And in general, the recipe is quite simple, except for a few details — you must press all the water out of the soaked dinner rolls before you add them to the meatball mix, and you must handle the meatballs with great care when browning them and adding them to the sauce, or they will fall apart.

More about Messina and its food soon, although there is a sad caveat — since Messina is on, of course, the Strait of Messina, these lucky Sicilians have some of the best seafood in the world, they say because the waters run so deep.  So much of their cooking is based on their fabulous fish, such as the pesce spada (swordfish), and most places in America don’t have access to that quality of fish.  In other words, you’ve gotta go there and try it for yourself.

Note:  as is typical for Italian recipes, only some quantities are specified, so have fun and add ingredients such as the cheeses and parsley to your own taste.

Polpette al Sugo (Meatballs in Sauce)

6 servings

Olive oil as needed
1 sliced onion
a little red wine
Two 30 oz cans tomato sauce
6 Roma tomatoes, chopped
1 lb lean ground beef
8 oz. soft dinner rolls
2 cloves minced garlic
3/4 cup or more chopped Italian parsley
Grated pecorino romano and parmesan cheese
3 eggs

Cover the dinner rolls in water in a large bowl and leave to soak.

In a large pot, saute onion in 1/4 cup olive oil until soft, then add the tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and wine.  Simmer lightly covered for 15 minutes over low heat.

Squeeze out all the water from the dinner rolls.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl and mix with parsley, garlic, the grated cheeses, and pepper and salt to taste.  Add the bread rolls and eggs and knead well.  Using wet hands, make oval meatballs (3 inches long).  Heat 1/2 inch of olive oil on medium high heat in a large saute pan.  Dip the meatballs in flour and saute the meatballs in olive oil until golden, turning very carefully to keep them intact. When finished, drain the meatballs and set aside.

Add the meatballs very gently to the tomato sauce, and simmer lightly covered for 20 to 30 minutes.  Check one meatball to see if they’re cooked through.  When finished, turn off the heat and leave the pot on the burner, lightly covered, for 2 hours.  Warm when ready to eat.