We live in a time where nearly one third of the food the Western world purchases on a weekly basis, is discarded without ever nearing the plate.
Mounds of costly industrially washed and packaged salad are thrown away by the ton. Loaves of bread harden to rocky, unyielding firmness, forgotten in brown paper bags. Not to mention the precious pesticide-free produce bought at organic farmer’s markets: chucked away, blemished and unused. Gallons of milk go sour on a global scale in bachelor refrigerators worldwide.
The waste factor is disconcerting. When carelessly over-shopping for our meals, we are sometimes oblivious of the fact that there are countries where staple foods and water are luxury items.
Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
Still Life with a Basket of Fruit, 1601
When I was living alone in my tiny studio apartment before my son was born, I used to recklessly buy fruit by the crate. Oranges, bananas, apples, grapes, plums, kiwi, papaya, mangoes and pineapples; I would gracefully assemble them in large colorful bowls, and watch them rot. In this age of waste and wicked dietary consumerism, wisdom and wallet prescribe we make an approach towards growing our own produce, forage what Nature provides locally and start recycling leftover foods.
Meatballs are the preeminent meat recycle. Whatever meat is left over can work for polpette, even fish! So yesterday’s roast, leftover beef stew, half a chicken, pork chops, veal cutlets…anything goes. I mince different kinds of meat together, cooked and/or raw, throwing in a few slices of salumi too, to add flavor. This recipe is calculated for an average leftover amount of meat equal to 400 gr (2 cups, or 14 oz). But you can obviously tweak the proportions to your own taste.
400 g (14 oz) ground meat
1 slice of rustic bread, crust removed
1 glass of whole milk
50 g (1/4 cup) Parmigiano, grated
100 g (1/2 cup) mortadella
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 fresh basil leaves
Salt and pepper
Soak the bread in the milk. Mince the meats in the blender or a food chopper with the eggs, the Parmigiano, garlic, mortadella and the basil, seasoning with salt and freshly milled pepper to taste.
Wring the excess milk out of the bread and add it to the mixture. This is my favorite part: Ravel's Bolero is playing in the background as you transfer the meat mix into a large bowl and begin kneading with your hands, adding all the love and sensual feelings possibly imaginable. Blow kisses and smile as you do this, it adds character to your food. And it turns meatballs into an alluring seductive dish. Shape the polpette into billiard ball-size orbs and coat with breadcrumbs, and flatten them slightly into patties.
While sipping on a chilled glass of lager, heat a good amount of vegetable oil in a large pan and fry the meatballs for 5 minutes, constantly turning to avoid uneven cooking. Cool them on a paper towel and season with more salt if necessary.
Serve with sautéed peas, lavish amounts of mashed potatoes, crusty bread on the side, and wearing nothing but your apron and chef's hat.