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 cafés 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
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
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.

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