My father is from a tiny village nestled in the rugged mountains of Abruzzo. Growing up, he was quite poor and meat was a luxury his family could seldom afford. This recipe is a prime example of “la cucina povera” in Abruzzo and was borne from the necessity of the region’s poor peasants to improvise with what little they had. “Pallotte cac’e ove” are “polpette” made from bread, eggs and cheese and then simmered in tomato sauce, and may actually be better than their richer, meatier cousin. Both a reminder of and a tribute to Abruzzo’s arduous past, this dish is served as an antipasto in “trattorie tipiche” and “agriturismi” throughout the region.
Pallotte Cac’e Ove
Serves 4-6 as an appetizer
A loaf of day-old Italian bread, torn into one-inch pieces
1 cup of whole milk
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ teaspoon of salt and several grindings of fresh black pepper
1 cup of grated Pecorino (preferably from Abruzzo but good quality Pecorino Romano is a fine substitute)
1 tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary
1 small clove of garlic, minced
½ cup of more of fine unseasoned breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
3 cups of homemade tomato sauce
Place the torn bread in a wide bowl, pour the milk over it and mix well, until the bread is covered by the milk (add a bit more milk if it seems dry, but not so much that the bread is floating!). Allow the bread and milk mixture to sit for several hours, until the bread is completely saturated and the milk is no longer visible. Add the eggs, salt, pepper, cheese, parsley, rosemary, garlic and ½ cup of breadcrumbs and mix together with your hands until the ingredients are incorporated. Try to form a bit of the mixture into a 2-inch ball – if it won’t stay together, add additional breadcrumbs, one tablespoon at a time, until it’s a consistency that will allow the “pallotte” to stay together. Form the remainder of the mixture into balls and set aside on a tray until you’re ready to fry them. Heat the tomato sauce in a large pot until it reaches a slow, steady simmer. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a wide sauté pan until shimmering and add the “pallotte,” one batch at a time. Fry for about 2 minutes per side, until they are golden in color. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels and continue to fry the remainder of the “pallotte” in the same manner until they’re all done. Gently transfer the fried “pallotte” to the pot of tomato sauce and allow them to simmer at a slow, steady pace for about half hour, stirring occasionally to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom. Serve immediately or reheat prior to serving (they will keep for several hours and are actually very good the next day.) Buon appetito!