One of my favourite things to do when I’m back in Australia is cook with my grandmother. She’s our family’s Mecca when it comes to all things kitchen. She was born in a small town in Calabria and was orphaned at a young age. She proved her worth by cooking for the uncle who took her in.
Rather than be bitter, the experience taught her to value every little thing. I have never met a sunnier or kinder person. So even though she tires really easily these days (she’s 76), she still found the time to show me how to make one of our family favourites.
Polpette di salami are a Calabrian take on meatballs. Instead of mince, we use bread and salami. Our salami was made by my grandfather. It’s spicy and gets its deep red colour from the tomato paste. You can use any salami you like – chorizo would work really well.
Like most peasant Italian recipes, the ingredients don’t cost the earth. The bread filled you up and the tiny bit of meat added flavour and a hint of luxury. My grandmother was overjoyed to share this recipe and even styled the shoot with her favourite tablecloth and dishes!
Two-day-old bread sounds really specific, but it’s tied to both tradition and practicality. Obviously, fresh bread was a luxury and would never be used in such a dish. My grandmother speak fondly of the afternoons when she would eat fresh bread sprinkled with sugar as a child. That was as close as she ever got to a treat. At the same time, two-day-old bread is a lot drier and binds better, so your meatballs don’t fall apart in the pot. You could use breadcrumbs if you don’t have a loaf on hand.
As you can see, my grandmother is a stickler when it comes to rolling these. She re-rolled all of mine because they weren’t tight enough! You have to squeeze the mixture in the palm of your hard really well before you start rolling. Moisten your hands with a little water. This helps to stop the mixture sticking to your hands and gives the meatballs a nicer shape.
Because these meatballs aren’t cooked in an unctuous tomato sauce, the broth is super important. Traditionally these were boiled in plain water, but my nonna has always added passata di pomodoro – that is, a few tablespoons of homemade tomato salsa – for extra flavour. Like any Italian dish, flavour is developed over time, but don’t simmer these meatballs. You have to keep the broth at a rolling boil or the meatballs tend to fall apart.
These are perfect for a wintry dinner dish when you need something quick, but deliciously filling. The meatballs are soft and pack a cheesy punch that works perfectly with the smoky salami. Serve your polpette with a glass of heady red wine. My grandparents make their own. It’s the only thing of theirs I won’t rave about. It tastes like vinegar and they drink it with lemonade!
Have a gorgeous weekend xx