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How to make fried ricotta cheese and courgette balls

These crispy golden polpette di zucchine, or courgette and ricotta balls, are a great way to eat your greens, as food writer Silvana Lanzetta shows us.

How to make fried ricotta cheese and courgette balls
Photo: DepositPhotos

It’s often hard to convince children to eat their veggies: anything green in colour is looked at very suspiciously. But dinner time doesn’t need to be a nightmare. Sometimes, especially with children, but often also with adults, all boils down on how you present the “hated” vegetables.

In Italy we prepare some vegetables so that they look like polpette (a polpetta can describe any food – usually meat – that has been ground/minced/grated, mixed with eggs and other ingredients, and shaped into a ball).

TRY ALSO:

Easy and quick to make, courgette (zucchini) and ricotta balls are delicious, with a delicate taste that will please everybody. My 22-month-old son absolutely loves them.

Courgette and ricotta balls are also ideal for lunch boxes and picnics, as they delicious either warm or cold.

Ingredients:

  • One kilogram of courgettes
  • 100 grams of ricotta cheese

  • 100 grams of grated Parmesan (or Grana Padano)

  • 50 grams of grated pecorino cheese

  • One large egg + one yolk

  • A few tbsp. of breadcrumbs

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Sunflower oil for cooking

 

Photo: Depositphotos

 

Method:

To prepare the polpette di zucchine, or courgette and ricotta balls, start by thoroughly washing and drying the courgettes. Grate them on the coarser surface of your cheese grater (the largest holes).

1. Salt the grated courgettes and put them in a fine-meshed sieve, over a large bowl. Make sure the sieve is balanced securely over the edge of the bowl (it doesn’t have to touch the bottom of the bowl), then put a little plate over the courgettes and something to weigh it down: it will act as a press to squeeze the water out of the vegetables. Leave it for at least one hour.

2. Once the hour has passed, rinse the courgettes then press them with the back of a spoon to squeeze more water out. Then put them in a clean muslin cloth (you want one specifically for food straining), wrap them tight and squeeze again: you want the courgettes to lose as much water as possible.

3. Tip the vegetables in a clean bowl, and add the ricotta, the grated cheese (if you don’t have or can’t find pecorino romano, just use parmesan), the eggs and some pepper. Be very conservative with salt, as the cheese will add quite a lot of flavour to your dish.

4. Mix the ingredients well, and if the mixture is a little too runny, add some breadcrumbs to thicken it up.

5. With a spoon, take enough mixture to make small balls, about the size of golf ball, then roll them in the breadcrumbs. If you wish to make a much crunchier coating, you can roll them quickly in a lightly whisked egg, before covering them with breadcrumbs.

6. The courgette balls can be fried or baked: to bake them, preheat the oven at 200˚C/gas mark 6 (fan oven 180˚C), and bake for 30 minutes, or until they take a nice golden colour. Otherwise, fry them for a few minutes each side in boiling vegetable oil.

Tip:

If you prefer to bake the balls, remember that the oven will dry them ut more: to avoid making them too dry, either don’t add too much breadcrumb to the mixture, or put a small heat-proof bowl filled with water in the oven with them.


Silvana Lanzetta. Photo: Private

Silvana Lanzetta was born into a family of pasta makers from Naples and spent 17 years as a part-time apprentice in her grandmother’s pasta factory. She specializes in making pasta entirely by hand and runs regular classes and workshops in London.

Find out more at her website, Pastartist.com, including this recipe and others.

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FOOD & DRINK

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

Michelin-starred food has its merits but it doesn't fit with the Italian tradition of cuisine, argues Silvia Marchetti and some frustrated Italian chefs. There's nothing better than a plate of steaming lasagne, she says.

OPINION: Michelin-starred cuisine is just not suited to Italy

I’ve never been a great fan of sophisticated dishes, twisted recipes and extravagant concoctions that leave you wondering what is it you’re actually eating. T-bone steak with melted dark chocolate as topping, burrata cheese with apples, spaghetti with blueberry sauce aren’t my thing.

Hence, I never eat at Michelin-starred restaurants, and it’s not because of the exorbitant bill – paying €200 for a salad simply because it was grown in the private garden of a chef which he personally sprinkles with mountain water each morning, is a bit over the top.

I just don’t think such fancy food has anything to do with the real Italian tradition.

The ‘nouvelle cuisine’, as the name suggests, was invented in France by chef Paul Bocuse. And it’s ‘nouvelle’ – new – not anchored to past traditions.

The philosophy of serving small morsels of chic food on humongous plates as if they were works of art is the exact opposite of what Italian culinary tradition is all about.

We love to indulge in platefuls of pasta or gnocchi (and often go for a second round), and there are normally three courses (first, second, side dish, dessert and/or coffee), never a 9 or 12-course menu as served at Michelin establishments (unless, perhaps, it’s a wedding).

Too many bites of too many foods messes with flavours and numbs palates, and at the end of a long meal during which you’ve tasted so many creative twists you can hardly remember one, I always leave still feeling hungry and unsatisfied. 

So back home, I often prepare myself a dishful of spaghetti because Michelin pasta servings often consist in just one fork portion artistically curled and laid on the dish. In fact, in my view Michelin starred cuisine feeds more the eye than the stomach.

The way plates are composed, with so much attention to detail, colour, and their visual impact, seems as if they’re made to show-off how great a chef is, than as succulent meals to devour. I used to look at my dish flabbergasted, trying to make out what those de-constructed ingredients were and are now meant to be, and then perplexed,

I look at the chef, and feel as if I’m talking to an eclectic painter who has created a ‘masterpiece’ with my dinner. I’m not saying Michelin starred food is not good, there are some great chefs in Italy who have heightened a revisited Italian cuisine to the Olympus of food, but I just don’t like it nor understand it.

There’s nothing greater than seeing a plate of steaming lasagne being brought to the table and knowing beforehand that my taste buds will also recognise it as such, and enjoy it, rather than finding out it’s actually a sweet pudding instead.

More than once, after a 4-hour Michelin meal with a 20-minute presentation of each dish by the chef, the elaborate food tasted has given me a few digestion problems which lasted all night long.

Michelin-starred food has started to raise eyebrows in Italy among traditional chefs, and is now the focus of a controversy on whether it embodies the authentic Italian culinary experience. 

A Milanese born and bred, Cesare Battisti is the owner of restaurant Ratanà, considered the ‘temple’ of the real risotto alla Milanese.

He has launched a crusade to defend traditional Milanese recipes from what he deems the extravagance and “contamination” of Michelin-starred cuisine. “Michelin-starred experiments are mere culinary pornography. Those chefs see their own ego reflected in their dishes. Their cooking is a narcissistic, snob act meant to confuse, intimidate and disorientate eaters”. 

Arrigo Cipriani, food expert and owner of historical trattoria Harry’s Bar in Venice, says Michelin-starred cuisine is destroying Italy’s real food tradition, the one served inside the many trattorias and historical osterias scattered across the boot where old recipes, and cooking techniques, survive.

“Tasting menus are made so that clients are forced to eat what the chef wants, and reflect the narcissistic nature of such chefs. Italian Michelin-starred cuisine is just a bad copy cat of the French one”, says Cipriani.

I believe we should leave French-style cuisine to the French, who are great at this, and stick to how our grannies cook and have taught us to prepare simple, abundant dishes. At least, you’ll never feel hungry after dinner.

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