Another pitfall is the wild variation in terms of recipes. It could present as either a dry brick smothered in ketchup, or seasoned with Lipton’s onion soup mix or bloated with enough fillers to serve as a cost-effective go-to menu item at the most discerning mess halls, boarding school dining rooms or incarceration facilities.
In Italian, the Polpettone (which translates loosely to “Big Meatball”) carries no such reputation challenge. Usually, it’s the very savory union of two or three types of meat, combined with two or three types of cheese, and often, (FTW) two types of booze.
Then, there’s that little element of surprise. It’s often stuffed with a secret ingredient – hard boiled eggs, mushrooms, cheese, ham, or even chestnuts at Christmastime. I’m going out on a limb to say that this recipe, courtesy of my Aunt Maria, is the awesomest. Before you all start gunning for me, let me remind you that Polpettones, like other art forms, are enjoyed subjectively – like Pollacks or Picassos. Take this one for a spin and then let’s compare notes
1 lb total of ground beef and/or pork and/or veal
1 cup grated parmiggiano reggiano cheese
1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
2 cups fresh or panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup milk
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup of cognac
6 ounces mortadella, minced (or ground up in a food processor)
Chicken broth, optional
Salt and black pepper to taste
Hard boiled Eggs
Sliced Prosciutto and Provolone
Soak the Panko in milk for five minutes and squeeze out any remaining moisture. Combine the ground meat with the eggs, moistened breadcrumbs, cognac, cheeses and mortadella until well incorporated. Divide the meat in half and create a rectangle base of the loaf on the bottom of a glass baking dish. Add the filling of your choice straight down the center of the meat. If you use hard boiled eggs, cut the pointy ends off so that they can cozy up to one another. Cover the bottom layers with the top layer of meat and pinch together to form a seal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate a couple of hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and pour the wine over the meat. If you have an extra dash of cognac or brandy on hand, feel free to add that as well. Bake for about an hour, basting every 15 minutes or so. When done, let the meat cool a half hour, slice and arrange on a serving platter. Cover and keep it warm. Deglaze the bottom of the baking dish, adding extra wine or broth if needed, simmer until the wine is cooked out, strain the sauce and spoon over the meat just before serving.
If you are organized enough to make this the day before, it will taste even better Serves 6-8.