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These are meatballs like no others. Rich with spices, cheese, peppery salami, nuts and candied fruit, there is clearly Arab ancestry in this dish. This particular recipe comes from Puglia, the heel of the boot, though you will find similar versions throughout Southern Italy.
These meatballs are unabashedly Catholic. A celebration dish, they’re traditionally served on occasions like Christmas, Easter and the Feast of St. Joseph, that day in the middle of Lent when people are allowed to take a break from their fasting and have a bit of fun. Believe us, the sexiness of this dish would certainly loosen things up.
Cook to Cook: Although candied citron is the traditional choice here, the quality of what we can find this side of the Atlantic leaves a lot to be desired. Unless you have a source for top-tier imported citron, you’re better off using homemade candied lemon peel instead.
Wine: Pair with a young, fresh red with vivid fruit, such as the Puglia wines, Salice Salentino, Primitivo or a Salento Rosso or serve a Tempranillo-based Ribera del Duero from Spain, or a New World Pinot Noir.
- 2 large garlic cloves
- 2 ounces hot capricola salami or pepperoni salami
- 4 to 5 boned and skinned chicken thighs (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch dice
- 1/2 of a 10-ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry, or 1 pound fresh spinach, cooked, cooled and squeezed dry
- 1/2 medium onion, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 2/3 cup (3 ounces) grated Fontinella or Asiago cheese
- 1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted and chopped medium-fine
- Scant 1/3 cup (2.25 ounces) candied lemon peel, minced very fine
- 1 large egg
- Good tasting extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 large fresh basil leaves, torn
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 cup Master Broth or canned chicken broth
1. Make the meatballs: Using a food processor or a knife, mince together the garlic and the capricola or pepperoni into small pieces. Add the chicken thighs, spinach, onion, salt, pepper and cinnamon. Chop them very fine (but don’t puree). Turn everything into a bowl, blend in the bread crumbs, vinegar, cheese, almonds, lemon peel, and the egg; blend well.
2. Check the seasonings by sautéing a little patty of the mixture over medium high heat until it is firm. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Shape the rest of the meat into 2-inch balls.
3. Cook the meatballs: Film the olive oil over the bottom of a 12-inch, straight-sided sauté pan. Set over medium high heat. Add the meatballs (keep them from touching), turning down the heat to medium. Brown them on all sides, turning gently with a spatula. Be gentle; the meatballs are very fragile.
4. Tip the pan, spoon off most of the fat and pour in the wine. Simmer until thick and syrupy. Blend in the basil, sugar, vinegar, and broth. Cover and simmer very gently for 15 minutes, or until the meatballs’ centers have reached 170ºF. on an instant-reading thermometer.
5. When done, gently lift the meatballs into a shallow bowl. Boil down the pan juices, stirring with wooden spatula, until thick and rich tasting. Nestle the meatballs on a bed of tart salad greens, pour over the warmed pan juices and serve hot or warm.