Baccala Meatballs: Polpette di Musillo
- 2 pounds dried salt cod (baccala), soaked for 48 hours in cold water, changing water at least twice daily
- 1 tablespoon plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 slices soft, white sandwich bread
- 1 cup nocino (green walnut liqueur)
- 1 cup black Gaeta olives, pitted
- 1/3 cup salt-packed capers, rinsed
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 bunch fresh oregano, leaves finely chopped to yield 1/8 cup
- 3 large eggs
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 (16-ounce) can whole peeled plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained and crushed by hand
Rinse the soaked baccala and pat dry with a kitchen towel.
Lightly oil a 10-inch metal baking pan.
In a shallow bowl or pan, lay the bread slices flat. Pour the nocino over the bread and let stand, so that the liquor soaks into and softens the bread.
Roughly chop the baccala into chunks, about 1/4-inch each. Place these chunks in a medium-sized braising pot. Add the half the olives and half the capers. Add the soaked bread, pouring in any of the excess nocino, and use either your hands or a wooden spoon to blend all the ingredients, breaking up the bread. Mix until the meatball mixture is homogenous. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and a generous pinch of oregano. Mix again until well combined. Add the eggs and mix until completely homogenous.
Using your hands, form 12 evenly sized, meatballs from the mixture, each slightly larger in diameter than a golf ball, but smaller than a tennis ball. Using your palm, squash each meatball so that they resemble thick coins in shape. This shape will help them hold up during the cooking process.
In a 12 to 14-inch saucepan, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium-high until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of 6 at a time, add the meatballs and cook until brown on all sides, about 6 minutes each batch. Set the browned meatballs aside.
In a 14-inch saucepan over medium-high heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil until hot but not smoking. Add the sliced garlic and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, the remaining olives, capers and oregano. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and let simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the meatballs and simmer until they are warm throughout. Serve immediately.
Recipe courtesy Mario Batali