Brodo all'abruzzese is a special occasion meal that needs a bit of extra love. A signature dish hailing from the central Italian region of Abruzzo, it's a construct of petite, Abruzzo-style meatballs, known as 'polpettine in broth'.
Silvia Colloca, host of Cook like an Italian, is adamant that for this recipe, meatballs must be made with a secret method: incorporating bread soaked in milk. This is the "secret to the most amazing meatballs," she says.
Silvia and her mother combine milk-soaked bread with mince, egg, parmesan and parsley, seasoning the mixture with salt, pepper and the widely adored staple spice in Italian cooking — nutmeg.
What difference does milk-soaked bread make to meatballs?
Food writer Emiko Davies echoes a fondness for milk-soaked bread in meatballs. She says, "I have made hundreds of meatballs with and without milk-soaked bread when I was recipe testing for my book Tortellini at Midnight."
Bread soaked in milk not only adds moisture to meatballs, but it ensures they "aren't too dense", according to Davies. It also adds to their "spring".
Should you use bread or breadcrumbs?
It really depends on what you're trying to achieve in terms of juiciness and texture.
Davies says, "Any bread will do and Italians often use one of these three options in meatball fillings: dry, fine breadcrumbs; fresh breadcrumbs that are homemade with slightly stale fresh bread, broken up or whizzed up in a food processor, or milk-soaked bread."
Davies continues, "You have different levels of juiciness and different effects with each. Dry breadcrumbs will help even out a filling that might be too wet to be successfully rolled into balls. For example, this could be if there is too much egg versus meat in the filling. But I find that the fresh breadcrumbs give a very 'bouncy', almost fluffy filling, as does the milk-soaked bread."
If you opt for bread, Davies suggests going with white sandwich bread and cutting the crusts off, or the inside of a crusty loaf. Soak the bread in milk for about 10 minutes and squeeze out the excess before incorporating it into the rest of the meatball mixture. Too easy.
How to make your meatballs even juicier.
Consider what kind of meat goes into your meatballs, and potentially use a blend of meats.
"People seem to like using really lean meat, but a little bit of fat goes a long way in making juicy meatballs!" says Davies, who usually uses a 2:1 ratio of beef and pork.
She suggests asking the butcher for a fattier cut of meat, like pork neck, and whizzing it up at home using a food processor. "Or simply throw in one or two good quality, gluten-free pork sausages to the filling — remove the casing and just use the sausage meat."