A Spring Secret Revealed

Polpette di Asparagi - a micro-regional specialty from my mom's town of Caltabellotta, Sicily

Polpette di Asparagi – a micro-regional specialty from my mom’s town of Caltabellotta, Sicily

There are certain recipes that I’m simply unwilling to share  – my family’s large-batch jarred tomato sauce (my mother would kill me and besides, anyone crazy enough to do all that work in the late-summer heat has their own way of making sauce); family heirloom recipes for pizzelle (Nonna Irma’s waffle cookies from Abruzzo) and pasticciotti (Nani’s Sicilian jam or custard-filled pastries); my crostata di pignoli e miele and sticky balsamic ribs (best-sellers for my catering business – my clients might not call me for them anymore!); and my caponata and zuppa di farro e fagioli (I’m saving these for my cookbook one day!).   I think my reasons for withholding these personal treasures are pretty legitimate, but there are a few recipes of which I am unreasonably protective, among them, my mother’s polpette di asparagi.   The thought of others preparing these asparagus fritters honestly unsettles me a bit.  There is nothing magical or transformative about them, but they are unique and unexpected.   A specialty of my mother’s hometown of Caltabellotta, Sicily, where they’re made with the bountiful wild asparagus that grows in nearby meadows, most people who’ve tasted them tell us they’ve never had anything like it.  Asparagus, eggs and breadcrumbs formed into patties, then  pan-fried and simmered in tomato sauce, these incredibly moist polpette are yet another example of the simple genius of Southern Italy’s cucina povera.  So in the spirit of Easter and in celebration of spring finally peeking through, I’m sharing with you (albeit with some hesitation) one of my most treasured and beloved family recipes.  Buon appetito!

Polpette di Asparagi

Recipe by Majella Home Cooking ©

Makes approx. 16 polpette

  • 2 cups of thin asparagus (tough ends trimmed) cut into ¼ inch pieces
  • 1½ cups breadcrumbs seasoned with a clove of minced garlic and a handful of fresh herbs of your choice (i.e., basil, parsley, mint)
  • 6 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 teaspoons of salt and several grindings of freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for pan-frying
  • 3 cups of homemade tomato sauce (I obviously use the aforementioned jarred sauce that we make every August)

Bring  the tomato sauce to a gentle boil in a wide pot or deep sauté pan and maintain it at a low simmer.  In a large bowl, combine the asparagus, breadcrumbs, eggs, salt and pepper until you have a wet mixture that is firm enough to stay together when you form the polpette.   Heat 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat until shimmering.   Scoop up two tablespoons of the asparagus mixture into your hand and form an oval, slightly flattened patty.  If the patty is too soft and won’t hold together, add another tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs to the mixture; if it feels too dense, add a few drops of milk.  (You may want to fry your first polpetta before forming the others to make sure it holds.)  Without overcrowding, add the patties to the shimmering oil and fry for about 2-3 minutes on each side (they should be nicely browned).  Carefully remove each polpetta from the oil with a spatula and transfer them into the simmering tomato sauce.  Repeat with the remaining mixture until all of the patties are in the sauce.  Allow to simmer for 15 minutes, turn off the heat and allow the polpette to “rest” for a few minutes prior to serving.  The polpette are just as good (if not better) the following day.  Buon appetito!

Note: My mother and grandmother always made these polpette with these few simple ingredients.  However, I imagine that the addition of chopped scallions or chives and grated Parmigiano would be delicious as well.

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9 thoughts on “A Spring Secret Revealed

  1. theamateurcamera April 2, 2013 at 5:06 pm Reply

    Sounds delicious, can’t wait to try this!

  2. Majella Home Cooking April 2, 2013 at 6:35 pm Reply

    They’re really rustic and homey but so special. Make sure to use top-notch tomato sauce and let me know how they turn out. Ciao!

  3. Gloria Murray April 2, 2013 at 9:18 pm Reply

    I really love your pizelles. They are so delicious!

    Sent from my iPad

    • Majella Home Cooking April 2, 2013 at 9:29 pm Reply

      Thanks, Gloria! I wish that you were closer so that I could prepare all sorts of things for you!

  4. Adri April 3, 2013 at 10:44 am Reply

    These sound wonderful. I have never heard of this dish, and I love new things. I can only imagine how wonderful they are with wild asparagus. Thanks!

    • Majella Home Cooking April 3, 2013 at 4:33 pm Reply

      Thanks, Adri. They’re really so simple and tasty and embody la cucina povera. When I made them with my mom, she said, “non c’era ne carne ne formaggio … solo il pane dal giorno primo e quello che cresceva d’intorno” (there was neither near nor cheese, only yesterday’s bread and whatever was growing around us). I hope you enjoy them as much as my family does!

  5. ciaochowlinda April 3, 2013 at 4:10 pm Reply

    That was so generous of you to share, knowing how special these are to your family. They look delicious and I’d love to try them now that fresh asparagus is so abundant.

    • Majella Home Cooking April 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm Reply

      Thanks, Linda. It was funny but I really did feel unreasonably protective of this very simple recipe (and my mother did comment to me earlier today, “so I see you gave the polpette recipe away” – it sounded disapproving to me!). I hope you’ll try them!

  6. Cosmo May 10, 2013 at 3:18 pm Reply

    mamma mia che buoneeeeee

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