“The story of Alice Delcourt and her restaurant Erba Brusca is a fairytale about a nomadic princess who found her home in a hidden garden surrounded by a big metropolitan city.”
-Massimo Bottura, Bread Is Gold
Most normal mortals consider the output of chefs to be unreasonably complex and time-consuming for everyday life. So Massimo Bottura’s tome takes an unusual turn, albeit a timely one. If you have read my post on Food And Drink Trends 2018, or if you are just abreast of things, you will know that food waste is a hot topic. Bread is Gold incorporates the attempts of 45 eminent chefs to turn everyday ingredients into inspiring dishes that are delicious, economical, and, yes, really, easy to make.
Well, I’ve tried quite a few, with mixed results, but this one was a truly raving success.
It was submitted by Alice Delcourt. Born in France with a French father and English mother (and restaurateur grandmother), she was brought up in the USA. Having discovered a passion for cooking, she moved to London and worked for a while at the River Café before moving on to Italy where she met Danilo Ingannamorte. They decided to set up Erba Brusca in Milan (named after the wild sorrel growing by the nearby canal). Their relationship blossomed from business to romantic and the couple now have twin boys.
The restaurant has a thirty-mile sourcing policy – see also The Pig – and Erba Brusca also has its own kitchen garden. In the introduction to her recipe she comments, “salvaged food becomes a matter of respect: respect for the product, respect for the environment, respect for the world”.
The dish broadly described below is the main course in a menu beginning with minestrone and ending with apple-cinnamon cake, all courses being designed to use up the contents of the fridge and anything else lying around (old Parmesan rinds, for example, add flavour to the soup).
I think the genius idea here is the inclusion of prunes in the meatballs, but I’ve rather daringly (I am NOT a professional chef of her standing) made some amendments to the recipe. I have my own, tried, tested and loved, method with couscous. I use that but substitute the traditional almonds for toasted hazelnuts here – I don’t know why, but they seem to work better.
I’ve also added a stem of tomatoes on the vine for each person which I think really is the pièce de résistance – they add cheerful bursts of flavour, texture and colour. They bring the whole plate alive.
This is what I did.
Recipe for golden couscous, sour cream, meatballs, and a magnificent medley of nuts and seeds
Serves about 6
- 200g/7 oz stale bread
- 300 ml/1¼ cups milk
- 150g/5 oz pitted prunes
- 1 kg/ 2 lbs 4 oz beef mince
- ½ tsp ground cumin
- zest of a lemon – you can use the juice of half the lemon to make the sour cream
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed with 2 tsps smoked salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 eggs
- generous grinds of pepper
- 2 tsps fennel seeds
- 2 tbsps chopped hazelnuts
- 3 generous tablespoons of mixed seeds
- 6 lengths of baby tomatoes on the vine
- Golden couscous (go here for the method) – make three times the amount, omitting the almonds
- 300 ml/1¼ cups sour cream (or you can make it yourself, a bit better in my view, by whisking double cream together with the juice of half a lemon – return to fridge before serving)
- Tear up the bread into large pieces and put it in a medium mixing bowl. Pour over the milk, and leave to soak.
- Preheat the oven to 210°C.
- Line a baking tray with silicone paper.
- Chop the prunes.
- In a large mixing bowl mix the mince, the prunes, the cumin, the lemon zest, the garlic and salt, the olive oil, the eggs, and the pepper.
- In a small frying pan dry fry the fennel seeds, remove to a pestle and mortar, crush and add to the rest of the ingredients. In the same frying pan dry fry the hazelnuts and the mixed seeds.
- Take the bread pieces out of the milk, and squeeze out excess liquid. Tear into the mince mixture, mix in well.
- Form the mixture into meatballs, place onto the baking tray together with the tomatoes, still on their vine, and put in the oven for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile make the golden couscous.
- To serve, put a bed of couscous onto each plate, place three or four meatballs on top, sprinkle over the nut-seed mix, drizzle over the sour cream, place a tomato vine to the side, and serve, together with the rest of the sour cream.
For other meatball recipes on Saucy Dressings, follow this link.