Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Meatless Meatballs from Cibus Abruzzo

So in January of 2012, I got an email about a deal to go to a cooking school in Abruzzo.  Later that day my friend M landed in the ER.  I was sitting with her waiting for her test results and told her about this email.  We had traveled very well together a couple times and were talking about how great it would be to go to Italy together.  So we got on the phone to the travel agency and learned that there were a couple of slots open in October, which we grabbed, and a few months later, we were on our way to Abruzzo.  This turned out to be a truly magical trip - so magical that I went back this past May.

One doesn't typically think of Italy as an "all-inclusive" holiday destination - but with this program it truly is.  Abruzzo Cibus (www.abruzzzocibus.com) is a first rate operation run by the adorable Massimo Criscio and his charming sister Cristina.  They are supported by Chef Dino, Chef Cheryle and lots of wonderful, hospitable and gracious drivers, sous chefs, waiters, artists, translators - you name it - they will do it for you.  This is how it works:  for the "friend's discount" of 1,500 Euro, a driver will meet you at the Rome airport mid-day on Sunday, and drive you and 21 of your soon to be best friends approximately 3.5 hours by van to the hill town of Carunchio (there is a brief stop at an Autopista for bathrooms / snacks.)  Once there, you will be shown to your room in the restored Palazzo Tour D'Eau after being greeted with some welcoming snacks and aperativs.

During the next five days, until Saturday morning rolls around much too quickly, you are alternately in the kitchen cooking, very hands on, or in assorted vans / cars, driving around Abruzzo, visiting various food producers / purveyors and eating.  There is variability depending upon the season; for instance, when I visited in October the olives were just being harvested and we visited an olive oil press, but in May we visited a field looking for (and finding!) fresh truffles.  My previous visits to Italy had been limited to Tuscany which is very beautiful - but I've really fallen in love with Abruzzo and enjoy the sense of finding a place that is sort of off the beaten path.  If you have the time and the resources I urge you to  visit Cristina, Massimo and the folks at The Palazzo - you will thank me.

Keep reading for directions on how to make Massimo's favorite childhood dish, "meatless meatballs",

The Fabulous Massimo greeting guests upon arrival at the Palazzo

 One of the first appetizers we made - meat wrapped around cheese and arugula

 Chef Dino - not only does he teach, he also prepares all of the wonderful meals int he Palazzo
 The Trabocco or "fishing House" on stilts in the Adriatic Sea - one of the more magical experiences
 Gorgeous dahlias at a local florist
 Palazzo's signature dish during the welcome dinner.  No, you can't have the recipe!
 Artichokes before trimming and stuffing
 Artichokes after trimming and stuffing; before braising
 Stuffed mussels; part of lunch on the Trabocco
 mixed fried seafood; also part of lunch on the Trabocco
 truffles found during the truffle hunt and artfully displayed by The Davide
 some of the local Carunchio sausages sampled during dinner at the butcher shop.  
 Beautifully prepared pizza toppings for our farewell pizza dinner
 Freshly picked olives; September
View of the Adriatic through a plant-topped archway

(Cheese and Egg Dumplings in Tomato / Pepper Sauce)
Serves 12 As a Main Course

For Meatless Meatballs:
  • 14 Eggs
  • 2 16-ounce loaves Italian bread - ground / grated / shredded into crumbs
  • 18 ounces parmesan / pecorino cheese or mixture
  • chopped parsley or basil or mixture, to taste
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 head of garlic, cloves peeled and chopped fine
  • 1 Quart of Olive oil for sauté

Mix the above ingredients together in a bowl until fully blended.  It's ok to grind bread and cheese and garlic in food processor but not necessary; this recipe can be done totally by hand if food processor is not available.
 ^^^ Breadcrumbs
^^^Cheese added to Crumbs
^^^Garlic, Herbs, Eggs added to cheese and Breadcrumbs -
 Form by hand into compact ovals or rounds.  (I set mine out on a parchment lined cookie sheet.)
 ^^^Olive oil heated over medium-high heat for sauté
Saute' the rounds in batches preheated olive oil over medium high heat until nicely browned.  Remove to paper towels to drain until all rounds are browned.  Drain olive oil from pan. 

For Sauce:
  • Olive Oil for Saute'
  • 2 Medium Yellow Onions, sliced
  • 4 Medium red/yellow bell peppers, sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 28-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes in sauce (undrained)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh rosemary

 ^^^sliced vegetables
 in pan with herbs and oil
In the olive oil, saute the onion, garlic and bell pepper until soft.  Add the tomatoes, breaking up with spoon.  Add salt and pepper, bay, rosemary.  Simmer 3/4 hour until oil shows on top of the sauce.  If sauce looks dry, add some water and bring to a boil.    

 Drop the browned dumplings into the sauce.  Cook and turn gently.  They are finished when they are "spongy."

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