Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Meatballs with porcini

This is another recipe from Maxine Clark’s “Flavours of Tuscany”, as always slightly altered. My kids had rejected the porcini option on my pizzas and had also avoided them in the rabbit stew, but I was determined to smuggle them in somehow and meatballs seemed the ideal vehicle.

250g each of minced pork and beef (500g in total)
a handful of dried porcini, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, and finely chopped
1 egg
4 tablespoons of breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon of salt

250 ml of passata (sieved tomato)
1 glass of red wine
fresh basil


  1. Mix all the ingredients thoroughly in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  2. Remove bowl from fridge, shape the mixture into small balls, and fry in batches until browned all over.
  3. Meanwhile, heat the wine to boiling and simmer for a few minutes to remove the alcohol. Then add the passata and a little salt.
  4. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce, cover and cook over a low heat for another 10 minutes (there should be enough sauce to coat the meatballs, but not much more).
  5. Before serving, spring with a handful of finely chopped basil leaves.

War memorials
I’ve always been intrigued by war memorials in Scotland, with their long lists of the local dead in the First World War, and their somewhat shorter lists for the Second World War. In small villages in the highlands and islands, where levels of recruitment to Scottish infantry regiments were high, the numbers of dead in the First World War must have represented a huge proportion of the active male population, and it is hard to read through the names and not think of the families which were decimated as a result.

In Italy, commemorating the two world wars of the 20th century has been more difficult. The First World War, at least in Italy’s collective political consciousness, was a war which Italy lost, despite technically ending up on the winning side. The war was never particularly popular with the Italian people, and her war dead of approximately 1 million brought only minimal territorial gains along the border with the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The First World War memorials in Bagni di Lucca date from the Fascist period, who were pretty quick off the mark. This one, with the simple legend “Ponte a Serraglio. To her sons who fell for the Fatherland” was erected in 1923, only a year after Mussolini seized power.

Bagni di Lucca does not appear to have any ‘official’ memorials to Italy’s dead in the Second World War, although there must surely have been significant numbers, given Italy’s involvement in the North African, Eastern and Balkan theatres. The nearest thing is a statue of a local carabiniere who was executed by the Germans. He had offered himself up to the occupying forces when they had threatened to carry out mass reprisals for a partisan operation. However, this is celebrated as an act of individual heroism, with an emphasis on the carabiniere’s innocence of the act to which he confessed.

More controversial are plaques like the following, which commemorates the imprisonment, torture and murder of 13 local partisans by the Nazi-Fascists (a term which stresses the complicity of Italian Fascism with the crimes committed in German-occupied Italy.)

This plaque is fixed on the wall of an interesting building on Via Serraglio, and can just be seen directly above the car in the photo below. The plaque on the left commemorates a now-forgotten “English writer and animal lover” who apparently stayed in the building for a few months back in 1905.

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