I was watching a TV programme about Roman Jewish cuisine back in Spring conducted by Gambero Rosso chef Laura Ravaioli and was intruigued by one recipe for meatballs, called ‘gozzaroddi’ (and other versions of this name) or ‘polpette col sedano’, i.e. meatballs with celery. I jotted down some notes as I watched this particular episode of Ravaioli’s series on Roman Jewish Cuisine and here I am writing about it. The interesting thing was the mixture of chicken and veal for these meatballs – I had never heard of that before. And also, the addition of a little bit of cinnamon which instead is not so unusual in meat stews in Italian cuisine (I myself add a little bit of cinnamon to my oxtail stew, coda alla vaccinara).
INGREDIENTS: 1kg of minced meat (750g of chicken and 250g of veal): the proportion is 3 parts chicken to 1 part veal; 1 egg, cinnamon, 5 tablespoons Italian type breadcrumbs, plenty of celery, plum tomatoes or passata, salt and pepper
Here are the breadcrumbs … you can use stale bread instead if you prefer.
Add enough water to make the breadcrumbs go ‘soggy’ and set aside. Put some water on the boil … Clean a few sticks of celery (let’s say 4?) and trim them of their fibrous exterior. Slice the celery into ‘sticks’. Divide the sticks into two sets – you will need to blanch them in simmering water, one set at a time. Add some salt to the boiling water and ease the first set of celery sticks in. Let them simmer for about one minute.
Use a slotted spoon or whatever to drain the celery and place immediately in a bowl with ice-cold water in it. Set aside. Repeat the procedure with the other set of celery sticks. Do not throw the water away, it will come in handy later on.Once cooled, chop the second set of celery sticks into cubes. Set aside. Place the minced meat, the egg and a good pinch of cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Add the sodden breadcrumbs. Add salt and pepper. Find a nice casserole … dribble in plenty of olive oil. Add a few peppercorns (that’s my addition, I simply love peppercorns). Turn on the heat.
Now add the cubed celery and let it cook for about two minutes – no need to ‘brown’ this celery. Now add the passata and another pinch of salt and one of sugar. At this point, while that sauce is simmering away, we can get on with preparing the meatballs. As I write about the recipe months later, I realise that it could be done the other way around: i.e. prepare the meatballs first, and then the sauce. Whatever. Keep some nice fresh celery leaves for the final touch. The meat has to be very firm to the touch. The mixture needs to be shaped in an elongated sort of way – more meat-‘plums’ than meatballs ! Place the meatballs inside the casserole.
Add a little of the water the celery got cooked in so that the meatballs are completely covered in the cooking liquid. Shake the casserole so that the meatballs aren’t on top of one another. Cover and cook with the lid on for about 15 minutes … Remove the lid, and add a handful of fresh celery leaves as well as the previously simmered celery sticks …
And cook for another 15 minutes or so. Very ‘differen’t … very fresh (on account of the celery) and with that lovely hint of cinnamon. Definitely worth making again.