I first had this polpettone during lunch at a vineyard on the slopes of Mt. Etna, near the eastern coast of Sicily. It was so good and so different from the meatloaf I had grown up with, that I begged them for the recipe. Over the years I’ve varied the ingredients based on what was available, but always enjoyed the final product. If you prepare the polpettone with the lighter meats, I would pair this dish with a nice Falanghina white wine from nearby Campania. If you opt for the beef and/or sausage polpettone, try it with a full-bodied Sicilian Nero d’Avola.
1 Cup bread crumbs, soaked for 15 minutes in milk to cover
1 Pound ground turkey, veal, beef or sausage…or a combination.
1 ½ Tablespoons butter, melted
¼ Cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1 Hard-boiled egg
1 ½ Tablespoons of pine nuts
1/3 Cup shelled unsalted pistachios, blanched, peeled, and lightly toasted
1/3 Cup raisins, soaked in warm water until plump
5 Thin slices of pancetta, about 1½ ounces (thin sliced bacon will suffice)
1 Tablespoon cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 Cup dry white wine
1) Squeeze the bread crumbs tightly in your hands to remove excess milk. Mix with the meat, melted butter, and raw eggs, 2 tablespoons of the parmesan, and salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly with your hands.
2) Lay out a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface and form a rectangle about 10×12 inches with the meat mixture, the shorter end toward you. If you want to make the meat very even, you can lay a second sheet of parchment over it and use a rolling pin to even it out, then remove the top sheet. Or you can relax, have some more wine, and just use your fingers and a spatula to even it out. Either way.
3) Cut the hard-boiled egg into quarters and lay them on the shorter end 2 inches from the border. Sprinkle the pine nuts, pistachios, and raisins, drained and dried, evenly over the meat, leaving a 1 inch border all around. Sprinkle on the remaining parmesan. Lay the slices of pancetta over the top, trimming to fit if necessary. Grind black pepper over the pancetta.
4) Now would be a good time to preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5) Starting with a short end, carefully roll up the loaf to about 11x 3 inches. My method for this step is to use the parchment paper to roll it, peeling back the paper as you form a cylinder. I use a spatula to help with this tricky task, to make sure the meat doesn’t stick, and to work the meat on the ends to seal them. Place a buttered ovenproof dish with low sides nearby, take a deep breath to steady yourself, then a sip of wine for courage, and attempt the crux move of the entire assembly…transferring the loaf to the baking dish.
6) I like to use the paper to roll the loaf into the dish, making sure the seam is down. As the loaf is rolling and I spot the seam, I use the spatula to seal it up. I find that using some colorful Italian expletives can help the process. If you don’t speak Italian, just make something up in a corny accent, no one will know the difference. Be sure to wave your arms around, too. It adds to the effect. Once you have the loaf in the baking dish, center it and dot with the cold butter. Bake for 40 minutes, uncovered, basting occasionally. Pour the wine over the loaf and cook 10 minutes longer. Cool (the loaf usually absorbs all its liquid while cooling) for at least 20 minutes.
7) The loaf should be served tepid or at room temperature. It is easier to slice, however, when completely cooled or refrigerator-cold. If you refrigerate the loaf, slice it and then allow it to come to room temperature before serving it.
I hope you enjoy this Sicilian Meatloaf recipe.