This dish is typical of cucina povera, or peasant cooking, and shows just how imaginative Italian cooks can actually be. Stale bread, grated cheese, and a few eggs are combined to create tender “meatballs” cooked in sauce.
This meatless dish is so satisfying that you will never miss the meat, and I like to serve this dish with some crusty Italian bread to sop up the tasty sauce. Add a crisp garden salad to complete the meal and you’ll end up with a remarkably inexpensive delicious dish to serve your family. The most important step in creating this dish is to choose the right ingredients. You need true Italian style bread with a good texture, not sliced white bread or bread with a too soft of a crumb. It is best if the bread is a little dry and stale which helps the meatballs hold together although you don’t want to use dry breadcrumbs. The cheese needs to be freshly grated, and any hard grated cheese such as Pecorino Romano, Parmesan, or Grana Padano will work well.
As for the number of eggs needed, that will depend on the type and dryness of the bread you use. Use just enough eggs to make a fairly wet meatball, but one still firm enough to be shaped by hand. If the mixture sticks too much when you are rolling your meatballs, simply wet your hands with water a bit as you roll. These “meatballs” actually reheat exceptionally well the second day and are just as tender and moist. Simply heat leftovers on a low simmer in their sauce.
Deborah Mele 2013
Bread and Cheese "Meatballs"
- 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Small Onion, Peeled and Chopped
- 2 Garlic Cloves, Peeled and Minced
- 1 (26 Ounce Can Good Quality Chopped Tomatoes
- 1/4 Cup Chopped Fresh Basil
- Sea Salt and Pepper
- Red Hot Pepper Flakes (optional)
Bread And Cheese Balls:
- 8.5 Ounces Grated Hard Cheese (see note above)
- 7 Ounces Stale Bread, Crusts Removed
- 1 Garlic Clove, Peeled
- 5 Large Eggs
- 1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley Leaves
- Pinch of Cracked Black Pepper
- Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Cheese
- To make the sauce, heat the oil in a large heavy bottomed saucepan.
- Add the onion, and cook over medium heat until tender, about 4 minutes, then add the garlic and cook another minute or two until fragrant.
- Add the tomatoes and basil, mix well, and season with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, add an additional cup of water to your sauce and mix well.
- While the sauce is simmering start your “meatballs”.
- In a food processor, pulse the bread and garlic until you have created coarse crumbs.
- Add the cheese and parsley and pulse briefly until mixed. Empty the bread mixture into a bowl, and begin to add one egg at a time using as many eggs as needed until you have created a mixture that is still very moist, but is firm enough to handle.
- Using your hands (moisten with water if necessary), form small egg sized balls and drop carefully into the sauce.
- Continue to use up the remaining bread mixture making as many balls as you can.
- Simmer on low heat for 15 minutes, then gently turn the meatballs over.
- Simmer another 10 minutes, adding additional water if the sauce begins to thicken too much.
- To serve, place a large spoonful of sauce in each of 4 bowls, and then add three meatballs on top.
- Offer grated cheese at the table.