If there are two words that unleash terror in any Italian over the age of 70, say, they would be “corrente” (draught, an air current) followed very closely by “umido” meaning damp. They are invested with quasi supernatural powers in being able to wield untold harm on the poor soul who happens to be caught in a draught or having to deal with the consequences of humidity in the air. It must be a response, carried down from generation to generation, to the vagaries of meteorological inclemency that would indeed have made an awful impact when houses were freezing cold and medicine and hygiene were not what they are today. The fact remains that little and not so little children are still bundled up today in woolly hats and scarves and gloves and what have you as if having to brave the bitter cold of a Siberian winter even when the temperature is quite mild in terms of cold, only because it happens to be November. November is winter …. thus cold … thus out come the thermal underwear and all other wintry accoutrements of attire. And when I venture to enquire how other people manage to deal with the cold less heavily clad and manage to survive an English winter, say, the answer will be a scoffing “Oh but they are used to the cold there, of course!”. There you go …
When it comes to cooking, however, the expression ‘in umido’ takes on a completely different and re-assuring connotation and basically means ‘stewing’ foods, be they meat or vegetables. Since stewing, as we know, requires a liquid to poach the food in, that accounts for the word ‘damp’ – ‘umido’. In umido, also, nearly always means that a tomato sauce is never far away. Meatballs that are cooked in umido, thus, are meatballs that are cooked or slathered in a tomato sauce.
The ingredients for these meatballs were: 100g of mortadella, 250g of pork, and 250g of veal (you could also use beef if you prefer) all of which need to be minced/ground and blended together with 1 beaten egg, salt and pepper and a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg. Add to this mixture: 50g of grated parmesan cheese, a little bit of stale bread soaked in milk, and minced parsley. The shaped meatballs need to be coated in flour before being fried in olive oil. For the umido sauce, you will need 1 clove of garlic, a little bit of olive oil, a tin of plum tomatoes plus about 300g of tomato sauce (passata).
The ingredients ….
Remove the crust from the bread if it’s too hard, and warm up some milk in a small saucepan. Most of the milk is going to be thrown away, so waste-not-want-not you try to use as little of it as possible.
Here are the meatballs. Now it’s time to prepare the sauce. Please note their size. The suffix “ette” means that the noun in question is a) plural b) feminine and, most of all, c) small. Polpette are not hamburgers … they are much smaller, almost bite size.
Then add the passata tomato sauce and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Cooking time will vary somewhat and you have to be the judge of when the sauce is ready. Don’t forget to add salt and a little pinch of sugar, if required and, let’s face it, it nearly always is. While the sauce is cooking away, you can get on with cooking the meatballs.
Fry the meatballs in small batches and use two spoons to turn them over on the other side mid-way through cooking them. This way you will avoid the risk of ‘puncturing’ the meatball, which would of course allow the cooking oil, again, to penetrate the meat. Remove the cooked meatballs and set them on some kitchen paper to remove any excess oiliness. You will be surprised at how little there will be ….
I put the still-hot meatballs onto a serving plate and used a ladle to pour the still-hot tomato sauce all over. Freshly chopped parsley could be added as a final touch … but I had run out would you believe!!! So I added some sage leaves around the dish ….