Cookbooks are an obsession for me, so much so that Casa Levitt has been overtaken with shelves and stacks beyond the domain of my working kitchen. Reassessing their significance results in a reorganizing and prioritizing placement, giving serious thought to overflow and possibly earmarking for garage storage. Over the years I have become more discerning when selecting a new cookbook, giving each purchase some careful thought. When Tasting Rome was released earlier this year, I knew that I must have a copy.
Katie Parla is the ultimate go to when it comes to Roman food, linking the historical origins to the modern day. The book is a treasure on so many levels, but the chapter Cucina Ebraica or Jewish Cuisine is especially well done.
Polpette di Pollo in Bianco or Chicken Meatballs in White Wine Sauce, inspired by the food of the Libyan Jews of which about 4500 currently reside in Rome, brings together the flavors of Northern Africa and traditions of the Roman Ghetto perfectly.
Traditional “meatballs” generally combine meat, bread, flavoring elements, egg and cheese. Day old bread is often soaked in milk to soften it before adding to the mixture. Kosher dietary laws prohibit the mixing of meat and milk, so a clever adaptation to soaking the bread in milk is substituting broth. The absence of cheese is not at all missed, as the spices and pistachios are the star of these polpette.
The recipe is essentially directly from Tasting Rome, with a few additional specifics and modifications. You don’t need to be either Italian or Jewish to prepare Chicken Meatballs in White Wine sauce. Treat yourself and a friend to Katie’s book Tasting Rome to learn more about the culinary culture and traditions of one of the world’s most beloved cities.
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- 3 slices of day old country bread, crusts removed
- 1 cup of chicken broth or water to soak the bread, warmed
- Additional chicken broth or water to simmer the browned polpette, anywhere from ½ cup to 1 cup
- 1¾ pound of ground chicken, I used a combination of dark and white meat
- 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 clove of garlic minced
- 1 tsp of sea salt plus more
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 3 Tbs. unsalted pistachios, chopped
- 2 packed Tbs. fresh Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
- ¼ cup plus 2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 2 medium shallots minced
- ½ cup all purpose flour
- ½ cup dry white wine
- Juice from ½ of a fresh lemon
- Soak the bread for a few minutes in the 1 cup of warmed chicken broth until softened, Once it has softened, squeeze out the excess liquid and place the bread in a large bowl, breaking the bread into small pieces.
- Add the ground chicken, eggs, garlic, salt, freshly ground pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, pistachios, and half of the parsley. Mix thoroughly with your hands until well combined, Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to sit in the refrigerator for several hours.
- Remove the mixture from the refrigerator, line a large sheet pan with parchment and form the mixture into walnut sized shapes, placing them on the parchment lined tray. The polpette benefits from placing in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a large heavy duty frying pan or cast iron skillet over medium heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook until the shallots are softened.
- In the meantime, remove the tray of polpette from the refrigerator and dust with the flour using a fine mesh strainer, turning them to be sure that they are evenly coated with the flour - shaking off any excess flour.
- Carefully add the polpette to the skillet, being sure to evenly brown them. Resist the urge to turn them too frequently and this lengthens the browning process. Once they are brown on all sides, add the wine, scraping up any brown bits from the pan with a spatula. When the aroma of the alcohol dissipates, add enough broth or water to cover the polpette halfway. Bring to a simmer, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the sauce becomes a bit creamy - about 15 minutes.
- When ready to serve season the polpette with the lemon juice and garnish with the remaining parsley. This may be served warm or at room temperature, but I prefer them warm.