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!)
The Sicilians from the southeastern corner of Sicily, especially from Ragusa, eat a lot of pork. One of their signature dishes is ravioli di ricotta al sugo di maiale. These are ravioli stuffed with slightly sweetened ricotta and dressed in a strongly flavoured, slow cooked, tomato ragù (ragout) made with pork meat, which includes some pork skins.
Another dish my relatives in Ragusa make are causuneddi, which is aSicilian word with no Italian or English translation. Causuneddi are gnocchi-shaped pasta cooked with what Sicilians call broccoli which are, in fact, young kohlrabi complete with leaves. Strips of pork skin are added for flavour. My aunt Niluzza is a champion at making both of these.
Pork sausages are added to sugo (a meat tomato sauce used to dress pasta), eaten fried or grilled. I have included a photo taken when I was last in Ragusa of a length of coiled pork sausage being cooked on a rustic grill – the Sicilian version of a BBQ – in fact, an Italian BBQ. No fancy BBQs for Italians. The length of sausage has no links and it can also be cooked in a frypan. Done this way the sausage is poached in a little water, without a lid. When the water evaporates the coiled sausage begins to brown in its own fat.
This is another version of braciole di maiale, except that these are stuffed.
The braciole are farcite or imbottite (word for ‘stuffed’) mainly with a mixture of pork liver and pork sausages. You would have to ask your butcher to supply you with double pork chops with a slit in between them (as if you were cutting them into two chops) and then you can go home and stuff them.
My younger relatives (daughters of my cousins) would not dream of making them at home, they have a favourite butcher and he madethese braciole for them. It was a different story for their mothers.
pork braciole, (chops) 6 double
minced pork, 100g
pork liver, 100g, chopped finely
sausages, 100g, pork preferably made with fennel
pork salame, 100g, cut into very small pieces
fennel seeds, ½ teaspoon, crushed
white or red wine, 1 ½ cups
water or stock, 1 ½ cups
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
salt, and freshly ground pepper, to taste
onion, 1, chopped
Mix liver, sausages (without skins) minced pork, salame, pepper, fennel seeds and a little red wine.
Stuff each double chop with some of this mixture.
Close the chops by sewing the edges.
Softened the onion in the oil, add the chops and sprinkle with the wine and water (or broth). Braise the chops (with lid) for about 30- 40 mins over low heat until cooked. You may need to add more water/wine – do not let them dry out.
Please do not copy material from this site without requesting permission. To do so is not only a breach of copyright – it is also bad manners.
Unfortunately the camera did not capture the image I wanted to use – I needed a video camera to record the action. The piglets’ mother seemed very gentle-natured and was allowing the piglets to climb all over her. The piglets were frolicking, leaping into the air, chasing one another, tripping each other over. I had never imagined that piglets were as playful as puppies or a litter of kittens.
These photos were taken in the North Island of New Zealand, on the way to Napier. They were not the only pigs we saw in pastures, foraging freely with plenty of space. We returned to take a photo of other pigs close to Greytown but unfortunately it started to rain and the pigs retired to their ‘kennel’ to shelter from the rain and cold.
The photo below was taken in Mondello, close to Palermo in Sicily.
Sadly, when my thoughts turned to food, I did think that the pigs would be supreme in taste and tenderness; as cute as these piglets are, I know that eventually they will have to face the butcher’s knife. Quality meat is achieved through keeping pigs in a stress free environment, able to graze their whole lives and free to roam. The care and quality of life that appears evident for these pigs points to a more humane end than what is apparent for the live cattle or sheep that are being sent to brutal and cruel slaughters in some other countries.
Last time I ate these braciole (Italian spelling) I was in Ragusa at the country house of one of my relatives – these are the equivalent of Australian holiday or beach houses or weekenders. At that time I can remember us discussing “il suino nero dei Nebrodi,” the Sicilian Black Swine from Sicily’s Nebrodi Mountains in northeastern Sicily, which are very similar in appearance to wild boars: they are small and black and bristly. My partner and I had just returned from Monreale (near Palermo) where we ate some salame (photo) made from Nebrodi swine which still graze and forage in wooded areas. On that particular visit to Sicily I was very interested in Carlo Petrini and the Slow Food Movement and the Nebrobi pig is listed in the Ark of Taste, an international catalogue of heritage foods in danger of extinction.
The recipe for cooking the pork chops is easy, but when made with proper pig, the chops are very tasty.
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.
A braciola generally is a cutlet in Italian, but in the south of Italy (and In Sicily) a braciola is also a slice of fish or meat usually rolled around a stuffing. The smaller in size bracioli (Sicilian and plural)are sometimesreferred to as braciulini and braciulittini. The most common cooking method is to braise them in a tomato salsa.
Some of you may be more familiar with the Sicilian, large, stuffed, beef roll called farsumagru (falsomagro, in Italian meaning false lean and probably a corruption of farce maigre in French]. Farsumagru is really a large braciola cooked in a tomato salsa and presented sliced.
In the rest of Italy slices of meat or fish rolled around a filling are more commonly known as involtini – made with veal and stuffed with cheese, ham and sage and then fried in a little butter or oil and deglazed with a little white wine. You may know them as saltimbocca or salti in bocca (literally – jump in the mouth). Sometimes involtini are called ucelletti or ucellini andboth words mean little birds in Italian (as a child growing up in Trieste, it was common to eat real little birds on polenta!) .
It is fascinating how words are adapted from one nation to another – in French, rolled beef with a stuffing are also known as birds: oiseax sans têtes (headless birds).
The English (and hence Australians who inherited a predominately an English cuisine) called them olives, or beef olives (to differentiate them from olives from a tree). These were usually stuffed with herbs, a little onion and breadcrumbs as indeed Lynette, my Anglo-Adelaide-Australian sister-in-law remembers her mother making.
Food historian and food writer Janet Clarkson (The Old Foodie) says:
The name seems to be an example of folk etymology – the process by which a word is adapted to another use because of some confusion of pronunciation and meaning. In old manuscripts the same dish is called alowes (or aloes or some other attempt at interpreting a word phonetically) – which comes from the French for small birds (alouette is a lark). After some time in England the word became heard as olives, which are also small, round, and stuffed – and there you have it. The idea also explains why they are also called ‘beef birds’ or oiseaux sans têtes (headless birds).
To confuse the matter even further, small flat pieces of meat (or fish) rolled around a filling are also called paupiettes (poupiettes, polpettes etc) – derived from the Italian polpa for flesh, or turbans, which is self-explanatory.
It would appear that thin slices of pounded veal or beefsteaks rolled around a stuffing are part of many cuisines. For example the Germans have rouladen, the Maltese have braġjoli, and the Argentinians prepare matambre arrollado.
What you see in the photos are one version of braciole, (plural form of braciola). These little parcels are made with what is called ‘veal’ in Australia, but as you can see the meat is a darker red than what is called veal in Italy (animal is still milk fed and pale in colour). In Australia I have also heard it called ‘yearling’ – not a calf and not quite fully-grown to be called ‘beef.’
There are many regional variations to stuff braciole, the two most common are hard-boiled eggs, sausage mince or preserved meats and the other is a mixture of breadcrumbs mixed with herbs, grated cheese and raw eggs. In Messina (north east coast of Sicily) pine nuts and currants are often included in the bread mixture. I like to add grated lemon peel to this version.
These braciole in the photos have a fairly common stuffing of ham, cheese and hard-boiled egg and they and braised in a simple tomato sauce.
The photos were taken in Lynette’s kitchen; we used the tomato sauce to dress the pasta and presented the braciole as a main course (with salad). The parcels may not appear to be wrapped as beautifully as they could have been; we had eleven for lunch on Sunday and after stuffing artichokes we prepared the eleven braciole in a big hurry. Each should look like a mini torpedo with one row of string along the longest part first and the trussed laterally. But this did not matter, they tasted good and the filling was secure. Cut the string and remove it before you bring it to the table; surprisingly they do not fall apart.
Veal or beef (topside, flank) trimmed and pounded thinly – 1 per person.
1 slice of either: prosciutto cotto (cooked ham), mortadella, or thin salame.
1 hard-boiled egg (whole)
1-2 cheese slices: (caciocavallo would be used in some parts of Sicily), pecorino or provola.
Extra virgin olive oil, dry red wine, tomato passata, oregano or basil, salt and black pepper.
Pound the steaks to about 5mm thick.
Place one slice of prosciutto cotto over each steak, follow with cheese and lastly with the egg. Roll up to enclose the filling and secure with string (some use toothpicks).
Place the olive oil in a large frypan and over medium-high heat sauté the rolls for 3-4 minutes, turning them, until lightly browned on all sides. Remove them from the pan.
Add wine to hot pan and evaporate for a few minutes.
Add the passata, bring to the boil and add braciole. Reduce heat and cook gently for about 30-40 minutes.