October is here!
Many people will tell you that fall is their favorite time of year. In my little world of cooking, I enjoy summer the most, from savoring the sweet strawberries of June to the fat peppers and eggplants of late August. What can compare to fresh beefsteak tomatoes with olive oil and basil or sweet corn slathered in butter and crunchy sea salt?
I guess I’m ready. Tired of barbecue-sauced meats and chicken, I’m ready to head back inside to make some comforting food for those early fall days with a hint of chill in the air.
I turned to the “Silver Spoon Cookbook,” the decades-old bible of Italian cooking. In 2005, this cookbook was translated from Italian into English and offers more than 2,000 recipes drawn from “authentic” Italian cuisine. Interestingly, most of the recipes are simple. You can find multiple choices for anything from cauliflower to eel, including an entire section on “Woodcock and Snipe.” The only glitch is the occasional need to convert some measurements to accommodate differences in Italian and American systems.
“Meatballs in Brandy” takes a different spin on Italian meatballs. Adding a little brandy to the mix gives this dish just a blush of fall flavor and is key to its unique taste. (So, no substituting apple cider here!) The recipe doesn’t call for breadcrumbs, but you can add a little if you are having trouble getting the mixture to stick together. It also calls for a small amount of bechamel sauce.
Now, every serious cook should be able to whip up a good bechamel or “cream” sauce. It’s not difficult. Add a little cheese, and it becomes an Alfredo sauce. But for the very small amount needed here, search for a jarred or refrigerated Alfredo sauce from your supermarket. It’s a good substitute. I’ve increased the amount of fresh parsley from the original recipe because I love the freshness parsley brings to meatballs, and throwing a little extra brandy into the pan won’t hurt either.
Polpette al Brandy
- 1½ lb. ground beef (sirloin or chuck)
- ½ cup cooked ham, chopped
- 2 egg yolks
- 2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup chopped flat leaf parsley
- 3-4 tablespoons bechamel or Alfredo sauce
- All-purpose flour for dusting
- ¼ cup butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon brandy
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Combine the beef, ham, egg yolks, Parmesan, parsley and bechamel or Alfredo sauce in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. (My mother always taught me to make one small meatball first, fry it in a skillet, and, when cooked, test it for salt. I have always followed that advice because Parmesan cheese can vary in saltiness.)
- Shape the mixture into balls and dust lightly with flour. (I love using Wondra flour; it’s light with no clumps!)
- Heat the butter and oil in a large pan (non-stick works well)
- Add the onion and cook over low heat until soft and golden
- Increase the heat to medium high and add the meatballs to the pan. Brown on each side but be careful not to burn. Lower the heat a little to cook the meat through (about 5 more minutes)
- Transfer the meatballs to a platter and keep warm.
- Stir 2-3 tablespoons warm water and the brandy into the skillet and cook for a few minutes until slightly thickened. (There will be a little flour left in the pan.)
- Pour the sauce over the meatballs and serve. Sprinkling a little extra chopped parsley over the top is pretty.
While this meatball dish is simple in preparation, a cook must get a feel for how the meat “feels” when mixing, how the size of an egg makes a difference (large is better than jumbo), how long the meatballs should be browned in the skillet (I have turned some of my meatballs into hockey pucks), and if more cheese should be added to “up” the taste.
Serve these brandied meatballs with garlic mashed potatoes, polenta or creamy rice. And if you get hooked on meatballs that are different than the usual red sauce variety, try the versions with anchovies, potato, lemon (really) or spinach.
Come back to the kitchen for some Italian comfort food from the “Silver Spoon.” But we can skip the recipes for “Woodcock and Snipe.”
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