My relatives say that in Sicily even dogs eat pasta every day. And they do.
This is one of those dishes that doubles up as a first course and second course – use the sauce to dress the pasta (first course) and then slice the polpettone and eat it as the second course. Simple!
This meatloaf has the same 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 very Sicilian).
Most Sicilians cannot contemplate a main meal that does not begin with un primo – a first course. Whether eating at home or in a restaurant, Sicilians always start with some form of pasta. It is often the principal and obligatory highlight of the meal. Sometimes Sicilians may consider a soup (minestra or brodo) or a risotto as an alternative, but generally soup is more common in the evenings – and even this is likely to contain pasta.
In the north of Italy, a primo is just as important, but the selection of primi will also include more soups, risotti (for those who do not know, this is the plural of risotto), gnocchi (not only those made with potato) and polenta.
The peas are optional and they can be added about 20minutes before the dish is cooked. Pasta shape of your choice – I like rigatoni for this dish.
minced beef, 800g
hard boiled eggs, 2-3
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, cut very finely
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
red wine, 1 cup (optional)
passata, 1 bottle (or tomato paste and water or tinned tomato)
garlic, 1-2 large cloves, chopped finely
basil fresh leaves (and/or oregano)
onion, 1 cut very finely
ham, 4 slices, thinly sliced
pecorino cheese, 3-4 thinly sliced and broken up into pieces
peas, to taste
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 older Sicilians probably would have used a marble slab).
Place ham slices lengthwise and in the centre of the mince.
Peel the hard boiled eggs and you may wish, (if you remember to do it) to 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 and will make it easier to slide into the pan. 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 (carefully).
Add the wine, allow it to evaporate a little, add the passata, a little water, herbs and more seasoning.
Braise over low heat for about 35- 45 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.
Add peas if you wish about 2o minutes beforehand.
And there is nothing worse than a watery sauce. (Take out the meatloaf, reduce the sauce, add the meatloaf to the reduced sauce again to warm!)
For a different photo of Polpettone see: POLPETTONE (in Sicilian purpittuni – a meat loaf on platter by Giacomo Alessi of Caltagirone)