Sunday Lunch, Puglia Style
When we’re in California, we sometimes always think about favorite meals in Puglia, especially those forever Sunday lunches that seem to stretch right up to the threshold of dinnertime. There’s something about a leisurely, collaborative morning in the kitchen, surrounded by the people you love most, that puts a frame around the weekend, closing a chapter before starting a new one again on Monday. So last Sunday, we gathered up friends and family for a Pugliafornia-style Sunday, preparing some of our Pugliese favorites as we put finishing touches on our Pascarosa tour schedule in Puglia this fall.
Our October 1-7, 2017 trip takes us to the epicenter of Puglia’s grape-growing zones, with a particular emphasis on terroir and the relationship between Puglia’s authentic, traditional cuisine and its wines. Through chefs, winemakers, butchers, cheese makers, bakers, fishing families and farmers, we’ll dive deeply into Puglia’s culinary scene. And we’ll stay in restored manor homes that resemble small castles, one in the middle of a vineyard, the other with views of the Adriatic Sea. We’ll explore Pugliese grape varietals, D.O.C. regions and characteristics and food and wine pairing up and down the boot of Italy. Our hands-on experiences, from handmade pasta making with local grandmothers to a tutorial in organic after-dinner liqueurs made from foraged herbs and flowers, will be led by locals who are passionate about their traditions and can’t wait to share them.
Since she’s co-leading our October 2017 wine-focused tour, Sommelier Alyssa Twelker joined us in the kitchen and behind the camera. Alyssa is a culinary school graduate and wine director at Soif in Santa Cruz, California. She’s also a photographer and blogger, so we took advantage of her many talents as we chopped, stirred, fried, boiled, photographed and served our Sunday feast. And since we’ve planned the October trip to examine the ways Pugliese food and wine complement one another, we engaged in some practical experimentation. Do try this at home.
Food and Wine writer Anya von Bremzen calls her weekend adventure in Puglia “ . . . one of the best gastronomic experiences of my life.” We agree wholeheartedly. If you have even the slightest interest in joining us, learn more about the trip’s itinerary and how to sign up. And in the meantime, why not plan your own Sunday lunch with family and friends? Start with polpette (meatballs), Puglia’s iconic addition to Italy’s all-day feast, then build the rest of menu with whatever is seasonal. We served our polpette with a classic tomato sauce, including orecchiette (naturally) as the first course. The polpette stole the show as the second course, not counting the many meatballs that somehow disappeared between the kitchen and service in the dining room. We rounded things out with another Pugliese classic, fave e cicoria (recipe here), zucchini fritti and a salad of bitter winter greens. And there was a lot of deep, dark Pugliese wine. Because Puglia.
Polpette della Nonna—Grandmother’s Meatballs
½ lb. ground pork
½ lb. ground chuck
2 eggs, beaten
1 garlic clove, finely grated
4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
½ cup fine breadcrumbs (made in a blender or food processor from several slices of Italian bread)
½ cup finely grated parmigiano
½ cup finely grated pecorino romano
Dash of white wine
Kosher or sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra virgin olive oil
Tomato sauce, to serve (recipe here; make the sauce up until the point this recipe directs you to add the olives, capers and tuna; set aside)
Add all ingredients except the extra virgin olive oil to a mixing bowl. Using your hands and a very light touch, combine the meat, eggs, parsley, fresh breadcrumbs, cheeses, white wine, salt and pepper. Be careful not to mix too vigorously—the meatballs will be tough if they are overmixed.
Pour the olive oil into a saucepan to a depth of 1 inch. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. If you are uncertain about the meatballs’ seasoning, test a small amount of the meat mixture in the olive oil by forming a tiny meatball. Once this test meatball is fried, taste it and adjust seasoning in the rest of the meat mixture accordingly. Then, with wet hands, form the mixture into meatballs no larger than a small walnut.
If you are not accustomed to deep frying, use a candy/deep-fry thermometer that can read temperatures up to 400-450 degrees and wait until the temperature reaches 325°F. Without a thermometer, check the temperature by tossing in a ¼-inch crumb of soft bread. If it rises to the surface surrounded by lots of bubbles, the oil is sufficiently hot. If the crumb sinks in the oil with just a couple of little bubbles, wait a little bit before trying again.
Line a sheet pan with paper towels and position it close to the saucepan with the hot olive oil. Using a slotted spoon, lower meatballs into the saucepan, making sure there is ample room around each meatball. Fry the meatballs until they are golden brown on all sides. Since they will finish cooking in the tomato sauce, there is no need to ensure that they are cooked all the way through. Remove the meatballs with the slotted spoon, placing them on the paper-towel-lined sheet pan. Repeat until all of the meat mixture is used.
Place the golden brown meatballs into the simmering tomato sauce. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, gently stirring the sauce to cover the meatballs. Serve the tomato sauce with pasta (in Puglia, only ear-shaped orecchiette or strascinate will do) as a first course, then serve the meatballs on their own gently napped with the remaining tomato sauce as the second course, perhaps accompanied by sautéed greens or a salad of bitter greens.