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Recipe Trialling: Meatballs, and Rice & Cheese

Submitted by Vettoria di Gio... on November 26, 2011 - 10:41pm

By Lady Caterine de Vantier

These are two dishes from Messisbugo that I recently tested as I would like to serve them both at the Canterbury Faire feast which I am cooking next year.

I have translated both the recipes from a facsimile of his work; my translation for the meatball dish is here, and the one for rice & cheese is here.


Traditionally tomacelle/tomaselle are made from pork liver. However, this is somewhat less palateable to the modern feast diner. Fortunately, the occasional recipe crops up which uses other meats instead - this is one of them. Messisbugo gives three options for what type of meat to use for these meatballs: veal, wether, or pork. It's interesting that he has included a red meat with the two lighter options. Veal of course is mentioned first as it is one of the most popular options in 16th century Italian cuisine. However, I chose to use pork as it was more readily available to me.

I used 600g of loin, with no fat on it. Rather than beating it with knives (or getting a kitchen hand - which I didn't have - to do this) I blended it in the food processor. To this I added 100g of beef fat, as that was what I had on hand. Probably when I make this again though I will use lard instead. I added this into the mixture while it was in the food processor, and then further mixed it by hand to ensure it was evenly mixed through. I added three egg yolks, a tablespoonful of cinnamon, a teaspoon of pepper, and a pinch of cloves. I added in a half cup of grated hard cheese, which was a combination of Parmesan and a block of tasty cheese. I didn't want to use a soft cheese for this as it might incline the meatballs to be sloppy and fall apart. I made sure that everything was evenly mixed by working it through my hands thoroughly before forming it into meatballs.

Messisbugo says to make these "big or small as you would". I chose to make mine roughly six centimetres in diameter. Other meatball recipes I have tried have specified the size that the meatballs should be: these are on par with those. This volume of mixture made just over 20 meatballs. I didn't have anything to wrap them in, and rather than cooking them on a spit I lightly pan fried them before putting them to cook in the oven. I put in enough orange juice to halfway cover them, and sprinkled the top with cinnamon and sugar.

My recipe testers really enjoyed these meatballs. The orange juice helped to make sure that they were succulent, moist, and rich, and the flavour complimented the pork well. They worked fantastically well with the rice and cheese dish, which is what I had hoped.

Rice & Cheese

I thought this sounded like a tasty, if somewhat rich, dish, and had thought that it would probably compliment the meatballs quite nicely. It was definitely the hit of the night when I tested it, with everyone loving it and plotting what could be done with any leftovers (this mostly involved forming it into balls and deep frying it - I could feel my arteries hardening just thinking about it).

I ended up making a similar volume to Messisbugo's original recipe. I had a 500g bag of arborio rice, and used it all as I wanted to find out how far it would go. Rather than using a fatty meat broth, I chose to use a vegetable broth with the addition of some butter, to make the dish vegetarian friendly. I thought adding butter was probably a bit redundant, given the amount of cheese that was going to be added - but, given the Italian tendency to put as much extra fat in a dish as possible I put some in anyway. I ended up using about 1.5 litres of broth to cook the rice in.

I used grated Parmesan and block tasty cheese, as Messisbugo specifies that hard cheese should be used. The recipe uses twice as much cheese as rice, which is a lot of cheese. Although it calls for egg yolks, for this trial I used egg whites as I had a lot of these left from other recipes. I think that using yolks instead would only serve to make the dish a more vibrant yellow, which would be quite visually appealing. I used about a gram of saffron, just over a teaspoon of pepper, a tablespoon of sugar and some cinnamon, although probably not as much sugar as the recipe called for. I think that next time I make it I would add the right amount of sugar as although it would sweeten it, it would also help strengthen the other flavours as there is no salt in the recipe - this was one thing that my testers noticed was missing from the dish.

Half of this amount is enough for a really decent side serving for eight people, although as it was left out over the course of the evening people helped themselves to seconds and thirds, and the remainder was eagerly stored for later consumption. As part of a feast, where people are only eating a little bit, I would be inclined to make about a third of the amount for eight people.