Polpettone sandwich on challah. Matan Choufan

A Jewish Family's Meatloaf Recipe, Passed Down From Generation to Generation

From meat and chicken to cauliflower florets, pot-roasting produces memorable results.

My Madeleine cookie is a meatball. When Marcel Proust bit into a Madeleine, it stirred up many feelings and memories; the same thing happens to me when I prepare the following recipes. Flavors can be passed from generation to generation, too. When my mother tells me about her early childhood in Tunis, or about growing up later in Paris, when she was sent off to school with a sandwich of challah generously spread with mayonnaise and mustard and a slice of meatball called polpettone, I can practically taste it. And when she talks about the piping hot fries she would buy on the street in the freezing winter months, wrapped in newspaper and served with Dijon mustard, I can practically feel the pungent vapors opening my sinuses.

For many years, we mistakenly called the polpettone “klops,” like the well-known Eastern European dish of meat stuffed with egg. There is a clear similarity between the two, so the error can be forgiven, but my grandmother learned to make polpettone from her Italian neighbors in Tunis. There are numerous versions of this dish in different countries, thanks to Italian immigrants. Some fill the meatballs with vegetables in addition to the egg. Others fill them with mozzarella and serve it with tomato sauce.

In my mother’s version of the dish, which she learned from my grandmother, the meat is steamed without adding liquid – it cooks in just a little bit of oil and its own juices. My mother used the same method and almost the same seasoning for her famous poulet roti (“roast chicken” in French). As a child, I would wait impatiently for the end of the meal, when I could sneak into the kitchen and find her ready with a slice of challah soaked in the scrumptious juices from the pot.

Matan Choufan

Polpettone

There are two theories about how this dish got its name. Polpetta is Italian for meatball, and thus polpettone is a giant meatball. Others think the name comes from polpa, meaning the soft vegetables and meat.

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

½ kilo ground beef

3 tbsp bread crumbs

4 garlic cloves, peeled

and crushed

1 egg white

pinch of salt and ground

black pepper

1 scant tsp grated nutmeg

2 hard-boiled eggs

2 tbsp canola oil

3 peeled garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

Set aside the hard-boiled eggs. Place beef and the other ingredients in a bowl and knead well for at least five minutes. Peel the eggs. Divide the meat mixture in half. (It’s a good idea to set aside a ping pong ball-sized bit of the mixture in case the meatball starts to come apart while cooking.) Flatten the meat mixture with the palm of your hand. Place the egg on it and roll it up. Close the edges well and form into a small, cylindrical loaf. Repeat the process with the other half of the meat and the second egg.

Heat oil in a pot over a medium flame. When hot, put in the meat loaves. Brown them well on all sides, turning them very gently so they won’t fall apart. If cracks appear, fill them with the extra meat that was set aside. Another way to repair loaves that start to come apart is to add two or three tablespoons of water.

When the meat is brown, add the garlic cloves and bay leaves, lower heat, cover, and simmer for half an hour.

Serving suggestion: Make challah sandwiches with slices of polpettone. Spread the challah with mayonnaise and/or Dijon mustard.

Matan Choufan

Poulet roti (Pot-roasted chicken)

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

2 tbsp canola oil

8 chicken drumsticks or

4 whole chicken legs with

thighs

5 peeled garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

4 potatoes

pinch of salt and ground

black (or white) pepper

Heat the oil in a wide saucepan. When hot, add the chicken, skin side down. Brown on one side and then turn over and brown on the other side. The oil may splatter a bit at this point, so keep the lid partially on as protection. Peel and dice the potatoes, then add them to the pot together with the garlic and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper, cover and lower the fire. Simmer for half an hour or until the potatoes have softened.

Matan Choufan

Pot-roasted cauliflower 

I use the same technique to cook cauliflower florets. It’s very simple, and the result is wonderfully tasty.

Ingredients (serves 2-4):

1 medium cauliflower

2 tbsp coarse salt

3 tbsp canola oil

3 peeled garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

pinch of salt and

black pepper

1/3 cup water

Break the cauliflower into florets and soak for a few minutes in a large bowl of water mixed with some coarse salt. Drain and rinse the florets well and place on paper towels or a kitchen towel to dry. Heat the oil in a wide saucepan and add the cauliflower florets. Brown well, then season with salt and pepper, add the garlic, bay leaves and water. Lower heat, cover the pot and simmer for half an hour (or until the water has evaporated and the cauliflower is as tender as you like it). Shake the pan occasionally while it simmers to keep the cauliflower from sticking. For cauliflower that is more browned and crispy, continue sautéing for 5-10 minutes after the water has evaporated.

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