For someone who spends a lot of time in France, I eat an awful lot of Italian food. Even when I’m in France, I’m cooking/eating/researching/dreaming about Italian food. I’ve tried to analyze why—is it the sinuous pleasure of that final drizzle of extra virgin olive oil? Is Parmagiano Reggiano addictive?—but really who has the time for analysis when the carbonara’s calling? Sizzle up some pork fat, I’m hungry.
I never tire of eating my favorite Italian dishes, so I was thrilled to bits when I received a copy of Elizabeth Minchilli’s new book Eating Rome. I first met Elizabeth in 2011, when my Italian publisher invited me to Rome; we were fellow panelists on several book talks. She was so friendly and warm, so generous about helping to translate in a pinch—so knowledgeable about Roman food—that I immediately purchased her Eat Italy app on iTunes because I wanted to spend the rest of my visit stuffing my face at all her favorite trattorie. Now, she’s published this marvelous volume, a cookbook and guidebook rolled into one, sandwiched together with her personal anecdotes and cheerful advice. If you are planning a trip to Rome, this must-have book will lead you to Elizabeth’s favorite markets, restaurants, cafés, gelato shops, and more. If, like me, you are simply dreaming of planning a trip to Rome, this book is a must-have for her fantastic recipes.
Since receiving the book two weeks ago, I have already made Elizabeth’s carbonara (fantastic), minestrone (fantastic), pasta al forno (fantastic), and cacio e pepe (once I figured out the secret—sublime). “We’ve been eating a lot of rigatoni,” said my husband. “Honey, it’s Elizabeth’s favorite pasta,” I said. I mean, Elizabeth has become my new idol. Guess what? She also hates making fresh pasta. She also loves artichokes—so much that she devotes an entire chapter to them, with recipes. She also struggled with feeding her kids—if, by kid, you actually mean “dog.” Elizabeth has two daughters who eat everything. Her pup’s actually the picky eater of the family.
Because my life’s passion is poking my nose into home kitchens and asking relentless questions about family recipes, I quickly gravitated towards the chapter entitled “Cooking like Mama.” The mama in question is Elizabeth’s mother-in-law, a fantastic cook who lives in Puglia (which sounds like food-lover’s paradise). Like the Italian granny of my dreams, Nonna Minchilli has her own recipe for meatballs, and after reading about her secret ingredient, I had to try them. What can I say? Like everything other recipe in this book, they were spectacular.
Elizabeth Minchilli’s Italian mother-in-law’s meatballs
Adapted from Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli
*Note: Olive oil plays a bigger role in Italian cuisine than I originally suspected. “It’s not just a vehicle for softening the garlic or onion in a dish,” says Elizabeth. “But is one of the main ingredients that give body and texture, not to mention taste.” Here, it’s the secret ingredient that emulsifies the savory mixture.
1/2 lb ground pork
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground turkey
1/2 cup grated onion (I just grated half an onion for as long as I could stand it, before it disintegrated and I felt like I needed a chemical burn eye flush)
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, minched
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pepper, to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (plus more for frying the meatballs)
1 28-oz can whole, peeled tomatoes
In a large bowl, combine the pork, beef, turkey, onion, bread crumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, egg and 1/4 cup olive oil. Form the mixture into meatballs, about the size of unshelled walnuts.
In a large skillet with high sides, heat 2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the meatballs to the skillet, about 8 at a time—don’t overcrowd them. Brown them, using a spoon or chef’s tongs to turn the meatballs until they are golden all over. Remove from the pan, and repeat with the rest of the meatballs, adding more oil if necessary.
Add the tomatoes to the skillet and scrape up any bits of browned meat. Bring the sauce to a simmer and return the meatballs (and any juices) to the skillet. Cover with the lid halfway and simmer until the tomatoes have softened and broken up and the liquid has slightly reduced, about 30 minutes.