These crispy, savory, balls, simmering in tomato sauce, are delicious and surprising. They have all the texture and flavor that a meatball-lover would ask for, there's not a bit of meat in them - just eggs, grated cheese, and bread crumbs plus garlic and basil. Ahh the ingenuity of Italian cooks, who have turned the simplest staples of a kitchen into a treat! These make great party hors d'oeuvres when they are fried and crispy, you won't even need any sauce. With the sauce they make a vegetarian main course.
When I was growing up, whenever my mom would make breaded and fried pork chops or chicken, she would always take the leftover breadcrumbs and eggs, mix them up and fry it into a patty. It usually took on the shape of the meat and you would have to check to see if you got the meat or the "foondi" as we would call it. It was my favorite! When I saw this recipe for meatless meatballs made with the same ingredients, I had to try it.
I actually made these twice. The first time I followed the recipe and the meatballs were very dense and very salty from the Pecorino cheese. The second time, I made the mixture to the consistency that we made the "foondi" and the meatballs were light and crispy with enough of the Pecorino to really make them taste "authentic".
Meatless Pecorino Meatballs
8 large eggs
1 cup fine, dry bread crumbs
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1/4 to 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano, grated
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. finely chopped fresh basil
1 plump garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 cup vegetable oil plus 2 Tbsp. unsalted butter (for frying)
Fresh basil for garnish
- Beat the eggs well in a large mixing bowl. Add the bread crumbs, grated cheeses, salt, chopped basil and garlic and mix well. The dough should come together in a soft mass, leaving the sides of the bowl. If it is very sticky, work in more bread crumbs a bit at a time.
Take a heaping Tablespoon and gently roll them into a smooth ball.
Heat oil and butter in a large skillet and gently fry until brown on all sides and cooked through.
Drain on paper towel.
To finish and serve the polpettine with tomato sauce, heat 6 cups of the sauce to a simmer. Drop in the polpettine and return the sauce to a simmer. Cook for about 10 minutes or until heated through. Keep in mind that the longer the meatballs stay in the sauce, the more they will absorb it and become soft, just as delicious, but delicate to handle.
2 35-ounce can peeled italian tomatoes, lightly crushed
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup finely shredded peeled carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
Kosher salt to taste
Peperoncino flakes to taste
Pass the tomatoes through a blender until smooth. Heat the oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and celery, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 10 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and bring to a boil. Season lightly with salt and peperoncino. Once it's boiling, lower the heat to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, about 45 minutes.
Season with salt and peperoncino to taste.