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Sicilian Lemon Leaf Meatballs

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Another dish with Eleonora in her kitchen near the Etna in Sicily - gorgeous veal meatballs wrapped in lemon-tree leaves and grilled.

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As my 10th and last article this month, here is a little recipe I shot last summer at Eleonora Consoli's house, the Sicilian cookery diva. Eleonora lives in a traditional Mediterrenean house and shuts every blind during the day so that the freshness stays inside and the sun stays outside. That makes for a cool but dim kitchen. Since I never use flash, the pictures have this subjective, blurred motion quality. I hope you like them anyway.

Polpette alla foglia di limone
400gr ground veal
100gr breadcrumbs
100gr grated Parmesan or caciocavallo
1 egg
Salt and pepper
Lemon or fresh bay leaves
Olive oil

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We start by making our meatballs. Place the ground veal in a large bowl and salt.

Add breadcrumbs and break an egg into the bowl (lead picture) I make my own breadcrumbs from our local durum wheat semolina bread which I dry and place in the mixer. You just can't buy proper breadcrumbs nowadays, explains Eleonora. Grate the cheese into the meat.

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A little pepper ...

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... and mix with your hands.

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We'll be using lemon-tree leaves to wrap our meatballs. It is very important to be totally confident in the man who sells you the leaves, explains Eleonora, the best being of course to take them from your own tree. A couple years ago there were several death around here because a farmer had sold lemon leaves as fit for consumption but in fact he had sprayed them with pesticide. Hear, hear.

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Take an apricot-sized piece of meat, roll it between your palms to make it a smooth ball, then wrap in a lemon leave.

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join the leave with itself on the other side and fix with a toothpick. Paint the leaves and meatballs with olive oil using a kitchen brush.

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Place on a piece of baking paper on a tray. If you run out of lemon leaves just leave the meatball whole. Place in the oven until cooked through.

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That's it. A most delicious and original summer treat, very light and delicately flavored by the lemon leaves.

You too can cook with Eleonora in her kitchen near Taormina, Sicily. I'm told she speaks very good English and French too.

Eleonora Consoli [haylayawNAWnawrah KONsawlee]
Via Contemare 9
95029 - Viagrande Catania
Tel/Fax +39-095-7890116 or +39-095-7899091


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If you do this recipe at home please let me know how it worked for you by submitting a comment or send me a picture if you can. Thanks!


So are the lemon leaves removed before eating them, or are they kept on the meatballs?
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
Shreela, yes you are not really meant to eat the leaves, they are used mostly for flavoring, for keeping the meat moist and for kicks than for eating.
  • #3
  • Comment by cookery
FX, you know I love you, but you are notorious for omitting cooking times and temperatures when it comes to using the oven.........
  • #4
  • Comment by AlexFalk
This looks delicious. It somehow seems less Italian and more Indian, or Southeast Asian.
I know that Vietnamese and Thai food often contains Kaffir Lime leaves.
If I can find a lemon tree that would be willing to donate a dozen or so leaves, I may be having this for dinner tomorrow night.
  • #5
  • Comment by Stefan
What a nice dish. I would love to cook it, but the only lemon tree in my neighbourhood is the one in the botanical garden and I wouldn't dare to steal leaves there since if every Italian food lover in town would steal a single one the tree would die soon.

  • #6
  • Comment by Fred
Since the lime leaf is bitter, it makes sense not to eat it. The fragrant is a different matter though.
like AlexFalk noted, we Vietnamese have a similar dish but a different leaf is wrapped around ground pork in a spring-roll manner then deep fried. Delicious but not for the diet conscious.
I think it should be easy to find lime leaves in China towns or Southeast Asian markets because they are quite a cooking staple.
  • #7
  • Comment by Paul Mckenna
This is an opportunity for an entrepreneur to sell lemon leaves which  we rehydrate  and then use as above.

  • #8
  • Comment by Paul McKenna
Coincidence or synchronicity ? I saw an advert for a dwarf lemon tree that grows in a pot and is hardy enough for English weather at least.

  • #9
  • Answered by fx
Cookery, Mrs Consoli explained me extensively that in Italian cookery cooking times, quantities and temperatures are usually left rather imprecise. When her book was translated into Japanese, the Japanese publisher pressured her for precise quantities for things like a a bunch of parsley, and it ended up with half a pound parsley instead of a couple twigs.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
Alex, Sicilian recipes are some of the most culturally diverse in Europe, and there might be a far eastern influence here. Or just some mama who noticed that lemon tree leaves smelled nice and decided to use them!
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
Stefan, you are very civic-sensed, it would sound like a fun project to poach some lemon leaves from the botanical garden for a proper sicilian dish! You can often find some leaves on supermarket lemons.
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
Paul, lemon trees grow fine in England provided you can keep them frost-free and sunlit during the winter. An orangerie is what you need!
  • #13
  • Comment by Joseph Weir
One question:  are the lemon leaves edible?  I should think they would be rather tough.  
  • #14
  • Comment by HazelStone
Word to the wise, "kaffir" is a very serious racial slur in some parts of the world. So those who wish to be completely circumspect do not call lime leaves from SE Asia "kaffir" limes. A better substitute is "Asian Lime."

Just thought you'd want to know. I was shocked when I found out recently.
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
Joseph, the lemon leaves are not so edible in my opinion, very tough and bitter.
  • #16
  • Comment by Rose-Marie de Paris
Dear FX,
I actually ordered these polpette in a restaurant in Taormina last September and they were quite delicious.  (And, yes, guys, very Sicilian... Sicily is famous for its wonderful citrus fruit.)  I'd like to make this dish for a dinner party I'm giving next week.  I'll try to bribe my neighborhood "primeur" for some lemon leaves...  But can you PLEASE give me some vague guidance on cooking time and temperture!  
Since veal is fairly delicate, I'm guessing maybe 180C in my convection (chaleur tournant) oven.  But for the cooking time, I'm a little lost...  15 minutes?  30 minutes??  I'd certainly hate to overcook these delicate little bundles!
With many thanks...
P.S. I'm thinking that I'll finish this springtime Italian meal with your almond granita, which I've made on several occassions to rave reviews and truly adore!)
  • FX's answer→ Which restaurant do you like in Taormina? I was not able to find one I really liked, but there must be fine places in such a gorgeous resort! For the lemon leaves unless you can be 150% certain that no pesticide were used, I would not do this in Paris, or you'll ingest half the periodic table of the elements in one polpette. I don't remember the cooking time but you could remove them from the oven every 10 minutes to taste for doneness. The almond granita is to die for - make sure you serve it in a Parisian brioche!

  • #18
  • Comment by sandy
I have inherited a lime tree in a pot. I have no idea what type of lime tree it is. Can I use the leaves in my recipe?
  • #19
  • Comment by Paul  Jerome
I have been trying to reach the www.cucinadelsole.it web page to no avail. I have attempted to use both Firefox as well as IExplorer with the same results..the site is "read" and then the blank page is "done".
Could you suggest a reason why or a way around it. I do get to other (dot).it web sites. Cold her site be blocked ?
  • #20
  • Comment by susie
I just returned from a visit to Italy and had this dish in a restaurant in Taormina.  I regret that I don't remember the name of the place, but I do remember the meatballs!  I live in California and am fortunate to have a lovely lemon tree in my yard, so I tried to make them last night.  The recipe I was using said to use bread soaked in milk instead of bread crumbs and to cook them "gently" on a grill.  It was fairly easy to tell when they were done.  They were quite yummy.  In Taormina they were served on pasta and what I can't remember is what kind of sauce was on it.  I made a basic tomato gravy, and while it was good enough, it wasn't the same.  I wish I knew the name of the restaurant!  I could at least look it up online and possibly read the desription on the menu.  My daughter thinks it was just  an olive oil type of thing. Darn, just can't remember!

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