The Sciusceddu is a typical dish of the Sicilian city of Messina, made of meatballs poached in broth and baked with a topping of whipped egg and ricotta cheese. This dish is rarely served in restaurants since it is mostly a home-style preparation which is served by tradition on Easter Sunday. If you are from Messina then you have to eat at least one bite of it on Easter. It is mandatory like eating cotechino e lenticchie on New Year’s Eve!
There are two theories about the origin of the name ‘Sciusceddu.’ According to the first, the word derives from the Latin “juscellum” which means ‘soup’, while the second theory maintains that the name comes from the Sicilian word “sciusciare” which means ‘to blow cool air.’
I love this dish because it reminds me of my childhood and the Easter Sundays spent at the dinner table eating the delicious food cooked by my aunt for our extended Sicilian family made of uncles and aunts, cousins, grandparents, great-aunts, and lots of friends.
Sciusceddu is made with mini-meatballs poached in broth, then covered with a ricotta-yolk-eggwhite-Parmigiano mixture and baked until golden brown. In each bite you get a plethora of textures: the hot liquid broth, the soft egg-ricotta mixture with a lasting Parmigiano finish, and the firmness of the meatballs.
It is a joy for the palate!
Now for the recipe, since most of the traditional home-made recipes are usually made by Sicilian mothers and grandmothers who have learned to cook from their own mothers and grandmothers, there is no such a thing as a measured recipe. You just have to taste and adjust quantities to your personal taste. The amounts below are indicative of how I make Sciusceddu.
Ingredients for 6 servings
For the meatballs (36 mini meatballs)
1 lb of meatloaf mix
2 tbs of ricotta cheese
¼ cup parsley, finely minced
1 cup plain bread crumbs
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1/3 cup of Parmigiano, grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 quart unsalted chicken stock (or your favorite type of stock)
For the mixture
6 egg yolks
1 lb of ricotta cheese
1/3 cup Parmigiano, grated
¼ teaspoon of cream of tartar
Put the ingredients for the meatballs in a bowl, except the stock. Mix together with your hands, and chill in the fridge for about 1 hour. Form small meatballs and cook partially for a few minutes in the broth. Set aside. Save the broth.
Beat the egg yolks with salt until they change to light yellow in color. Fold in the ricotta cheese and mix until incorporated. Add Parmigiano and stir for a few seconds. Whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt and the cream of tartar until firm peaks are formed. Fold them very carefully into the mixture.
In a baking dish or in individual ramekins put the cooked meatballs. Pour the broth over the meatballs finishing at the halfway mark. Cover with the mixture and bake at 350°F for about 30 minutes or until it gets golden brown. You can also use the last 3-4 minutes to broil them and give a browned touch to the dish. Serve hot.
Nino Barbalace is a Sicilian-born and Boston-adopted personal chef. He grew up in Sicily where he acquired the passion for cooking from his aunt Gianna who taught him the secrets of the kitchen, who passed on to him her true love for cooking and the idea that a dish is not “just a dish,” rather “food for the soul!” After earning a Master Degree and a PhD in History and Conservation of Historic Heritage and working many years in Italy and in the U.S., Nino sought change wishing to work with food. He left the academic life to dedicate himself full time to cooking. After graduating from The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts Nino started his own company Sicilicity willing to bring to his clients’ homes the sweet-sour-spicy-colorful taste of Sicily!