12.22.2018

The Boys from Syracuse

Or, more precisely, the Boys from Siracusa.

Pumpkin and onions from Larry's Veggies, goat ricotta from Fiore di Capra
This post continues the narrative of our wonderful trip to Sicily.

On our first night on the stunningly beautiful island of Ortigia (Siracusa), we decided to eat dinner out. This is rare for us, but it felt right.

In mapping our wonderful Airbnb “penthouse” apartment, I discovered a highly-rated little restaurant practically in our back yard - Ristorante Dionisio. We walked by and noted the opening hour of 7:00pm and went home to make reservations.

The Duomo di Siracusa
Sadly, there were no open tables for 7:00. I had a thought. Maybe the system doesn’t allow for same day reservations?

In the meantime, we explored the island. It is achingly beautiful. We both fell in love immediately. We stood in the piazza, slack jawed, turning in circles taking in each segment of the view. You would think we had never seen Baroque architecture before.

The market of Ortigia
After craning our necks for hours looking at what would be our home for the coming week, we returned to the restaurant right at 7:00. We had no problem getting seated. If you know Italy, you also know we were the only ones there at such a ridiculously early hour.

Treasures from the Palazzo Bellomo and the Greek Theatre
We started our meal with the traditional spaghetti alla Siracusana con alici, prezzemolo e mollica tostata - anchovy, parsley, and toasted breadcrumbs. Then, for his secondo, Mark ordered arrosto di vitello con uva, nocciole, e salvia - roasted veal with grapes, hazelnuts, and sage.

I ordered polpette di manzo alle verdure e tuma, con macco di cipolla, patate e zucca - meatballs with vegetables and fresh cheese, with a mash of potato, pumpkin, and caramelized onions.

It’s a good time to remind you that meatballs are never served on or with spaghetti in Italy. Pasta and meat are two separate courses. If you see spaghetti and meatballs as one dish on a menu, find another restaurant!

Castello Maniace
These meatballs were tender, flavorful, and were perfectly balanced with the mash. I savored and studied and started devising my copycat recipe right then and there.

Our week in Ortigia was pretty heavenly, even if I did get a cold. But what a place to be under the weather! We would visit one site each day – a Greek or Roman ruin, medieval castle, baroque church, breezy seaside view, quiet art museum, palazzo - then spend the rest of the day sitting in caf├ęs sipping spritzes, or visiting the local gelaterie, trying as many regional specialties as we could.

The Piazza del Duomo at day and night.
If I was really tired, we would simply find a bench along Foro Emmanuelle II, a tree-lined waterfront promenade overlooking the harbor, watching children playing games in the afternoon sunshine, young couples taking in the sunset, or the fishermen and women of all ages trying their luck. (We never saw a fish on a line...)

Scenes along the Foro Emmanuelle II - a perfect place to sit and relax.
There were just the right number of things to do there, and we loved that Ortigia and Siracusa weren’t overrun with tourists. Yes, there were tourists but, many of them Italian - school groups at the Duomo, weddings in small chapels tucked in the narrow lanes that sloped down to the water, and our neighbors just out for the passeggiata.

We can’t wait to return.

~ David

Polpette di Manzo alle verdure e tuma, con macco di cipolla, patate e zucca

1 small pumpkin, about 1 1/2 pounds
1 large russet potato, about 14 ounces
1 large sweet onion, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
salt
1 teaspoon sugar
4-6 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, minced
2 small carrots, grated
2 stalks celery, grated
1 pound lean ground beef
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400°F. Cut the pumpkin in half from the stem end down. Scoop out the seeds and stringy parts. Line a baking sheet with parchment and place the hollowed out pumpkin halves cut-side down on the parchment. Bake for 30 minutes, or until very soft when pierced with a sharp knife. When soft, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scoop out the flesh and place in a small bowl. This can be done a day or two in advance, and kept refrigerated.

Peel and cut the potato into 2-inch pieces. Place in well-salted water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until very soft - about 15 minutes.

While potato is cooking, heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the diced onions and 2 tablespoons water. Cook, covered, for 5 minutes stirring occasionally and adding more water by the tablespoon if it gets too dry. Add the sugar and stir it throughout the onion. Cook uncovered until well caramelized, adding a tablespoon of water occasionally if getting too brown.

Drain the potato, add the cooked pumpkin and mash with the remaining 2 tablespoon butter. Stir in the caramelized onions and set aside. (If you cook a larger pumpkin, just use an amount close to that of the potato and freeze the rest for another use.

In a small skillet, heat the tablespoon olive oil and cook the shallot, carrot, and celery until softened - about 5-8 minutes. Allow to cool a bit.

In a large bowl, mix the beef, egg yolk, the cheeses, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Add the cooled vegetables, and incorporate fully. Divide the meat mixture into 12 and form large (about 2 inches in diameter) meatballs and set them on parchment-lined sheet. Bake the meatballs for 18-20 minutes.

Reheat the pumpkin-potato-onion mixture and divide among 4 warmed plates. I used oiled ring molds for a pretty effect, but you don’t have to! Place 3 meatballs on each plate beside the mash. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve immediately.

Makes 12 meatballs, serving 4.



34 comments:

  1. What a delicious looking meal David. I love sitting on a bench and enjoying the place I’m visiting. Thanks for sharing your trip and Happy Holidays!

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    1. To us, Gerlinde, nothing is more pleasant than a bench with a view of life. I think that is why we see less when we travel - because we feel we are actually seeing more by sitting still on one place!

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  2. My fella would love this dish, he is a huge fan of Italian food. We both are, we both love Italy so much. I hope you and your loved ones have a very Mery Christmas :D

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    1. Emma - I know you would love the potatoes - I could eat those alone! Merry Christmas to you both! D

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  3. You're making me appreciate Siracusa even more that when we were there. I think by the time we got there we were both burned out from over a year of travel. I really need to return with fresh eyes and renewed energy. It truly is a beautiful place!

    What is it about Sicilian polpette? Whilst I didn't try them in Siracusa, the ones in Ragusa not too far away were divine. Thanks for the recipe!

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    1. It is so sad that you were a but burnt out by the time you got there, John - it really is so very special. It just means you will need to go back, right?

      These were the only polpette di manzo we had, but we had a few with fish that were also wonderful. Maybe a future post?

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  4. Oh Lordie, David, this is unfair a day away from Christmas - both the photos on which I want to spend twice the tine I have and the meataballs which have everything I usually do not put in mine in them and taste good just on reading :) Let us not talk about the bnb !

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    1. Well, the nice thing, Eha, is that this post will be up for a long time, and you can take your time enjoying all the photos for weeks! What do you put in your meatballs? Yes, the apartment was exquisite!

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  5. A wonderful post and beautiful photos, David. Thoroughly enjoyed it. It looks like such a beautiful and romantic place to visit. I especially love the architecture and art. Thanks for sharing your experience. The meatballs look delicious and hearty. Yum! Looking forward to cooking and trying them. The photo of you two is gorgeous! Merry Christmas and best wishes! :) xx

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    1. Ngeun - it is a really romantic place, for sure. There was so much to see and being a small town, it enabled us to do it in a relaxed way over the week. I am glad you like the photo of us. I don't usually do that but I am getting braver! Merry Christmas to you both, as well. xx

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  6. I’ve told you how I feel about cooking, David, but this I must attempt. Thanks for the recipe and the beautiful photos.

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    1. Good to hear from you and know you are still out there savoring the food even if you aren't cooking! This one is pretty easy - I highly recommend it!

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  7. David, as you might know, I'm all about meatballs. Your Polpette di Manzo differ from my Italian meatball recipe in this it uses ricotta. I guess the ricotta serves to keep the meatballs moist as does the milk-soaked bread I use in my recipe. I must give this a try.
    What a fantastic holiday and one I would enjoy. Such amazing photos you guys took. Thanks for sharing and a Big Swedish God Jul!

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    1. I am not surprised, Ron, that you have had a meatball or two! I have heard from several friends about their having had meatballs with cheese in Sicily. Perhaps it is "a thing." The recipe called fro "tuma" - a fresh cheese and the only thing we could think to use was ricotta, and it worked well.

      So glad you liked the photos... so hard to choose from the thousands! God Jul to you both, as well. Let's hope for a better 2019!

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  8. That's a fantastic menu they have at Dioniso... I'd have a hard time choosing! And quite the trendy website, although did you notice they still have their autumn menu up? Someone needs a webmaster, methinks... ;-)

    Seriously, though, Siracusa looks gorgeous. Have to get over to that side of the island next time. And I love the idea of an AirBnB and actually living in a real apartment, shopping for and cooking food... So much nicer than some hotel!

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    1. It was a great menu - and nice staff/chef, and a really warm and inviting space. I look forward to their winter menu, as well.

      We always sue Airbnb anymore - I love being able to cook, and I truly appreciate the privacy we get in a home. And usually at a fraction of the cost of a hotel... We loved the eastern coast of Sicily and now it is my turn to say, we need to get ot the other side - Trapani, Marsala, Erice... I need to retire!!!

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  9. Ricotta in meatballs sounds so delicious! As delicious as Siracusa is gorgeous!

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    1. Thanks, Valentina! We just couldn’t believe the beauty!

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  10. Now I need to go to Siracusa! My son went to Syracuse so I should see it's namesake. Thanks for the pics and recipes! Love your blog! So jealous!

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    1. Thanks for your sweet comment, Robin! You should definitely go to the original - it is a far cry from the one in Upstate New York (I went to school in Rochester - I know!).

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  11. Love the pics so much. The travel bug is biting me hard. Fortunately we go to Mexico next month, but this makes me wonder why we almost always choose Latin American countries when we travel. It's been decades since I've been to Italy. Your meatballs and interesting macco only reinforce those feelings. GREG

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    1. And here we are, Greg, just the opposite - always going to Italy when we are so close to beautiful and intriguing places in Latin and South America. You know, when I was writing up the recipe I was reminded of meatballs you made with ricotta and want to go back and compare notes!

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  12. OMG, I love this post and all the beautiful pictures! Thanks for sharing, David! You've really made me want to go back to Sicily even more! Merry Christmas!

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    1. Thanks, Christina - you told me it would be spectacular, and you were right! I need to go back already!

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  13. Love everything about this post. Your week in Ortigia sounds fabulous, your photos are terrific (love the one of the two of you) and that recipe...I can't wait to make it. I hope both of you are having a wonderful Christmas Day.

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    1. Thanks, Karen - I always worry I have too many photos - but which ones would you cut? So glad you enjoyed them!

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  14. Thank you for sharing beautiful memories !Happy holidays !

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    1. My pleasure - every time I come here to respond ot a post, I just want to go back again!

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  15. David, what a beautifully told account of your wonderful week! Sounds perfect. And your copycat recipe sounds perfect as well.

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    1. Thanks, Jean! Glad you enjoyed a little trip to Siracusa!

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  16. What amazing pics from your wonderful trip to Sicily - you certainly have a good eye for details, colors and moods! I enjoy looking at each and every pic from your trip! And your recipe is most definitely calling my name! The added Ricotta in the meat mixture must make the Italian meatballs tender and juicy. Just perfect!

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    1. The meatballs are really tender, Andrea! And so savory! The trip was pretty magical, I must admit!

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  17. Lovely photos David! My niece is studying in Italy as a high school sophmore--lucky girl! Your dish looks amazing, interesting to see vegetables integrated into the meatballs.

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    1. She is a lucky girl, indeed! Study abroad just wasn't that kind of option when I was young - but I am making uo for list time! :)

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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