6.10.2017

Out on the Streets

The weekly market in Siena.
To me, a city's street food is the soul of its culture. It's honest, authentic, and traditional.

In Tucson, the street food is pretty amazing. While we do have the beloved-if-recently-maligned taco trucks, we also have Sonoran hot dog trucks (a hot dog, wrapped in bacon, served in a unique bun and topped with a slew of condiments), as well as street vendors of red and green chile, fry bread, wildflower honey, and elotes (grilled corn). Not to mention all the food trucks featuring cuisines from around the world, representative of the many people who have made Tucson home.

What is the street food tradition where you live? Do you eat street food when you travel? I am reminded of Anthony Bourdain's quote from Kitchen Confidential when he was asked if he feared getting sick from eating street food: “Your body is not a temple, it's an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”

My friend Paola Bacchia, who writes Italy on My Mind, recently published a book on Italian street food. Actually, the name of her book is just that: Italian Street Food.

It features many recipes with photos that showcase the beauty of Italy's streets and foods. The book is divided not by regions, as one might expect, but is organized around ingredients or cooking method. Within each chapter are all the regional recipes you could ever desire.

Putting this book together was a true labor of love for Paola, and it really shows. When she was finished, she reached out to the culinary community to so some recipe testing.

I am truly honored that she asked me if I would consider testing a few recipes. Naturally, I said yes. One of my assignments was to make olive al'Ascolane. I made them one evening when Italian friends Annamaria and Giuseppe were coming to dinner.

I told them we were having the olives and, already familiar with them, Annamaria asked where I got them. I think she half expected me to say there was a street vendor somewhere in Tucson that made them. I was proud to say I made them.

Venetian bar food - cicchetti - a great way to stave off late afternoon hunger!
I was pleased they liked them, especially when they said they were as good as those from any street vendor in Italy.

A Venetian market.
I recently made another recipe from the book - the Polpette di Pesce Spada (swordfish meatballs). This was for a neighborhood-wide progressive tapas party; we co-hosted with Annamaria and Giuseppe at their home, where all things offered were Italian. The dish was new to us all, and a big hit. I thought you would enjoy them, too, so here is the recipe. I hope it tempts you to get Paola's enjoyable book, which is readily available online.

Campo de Fiori in Rome - our favorite vegetable vendor.
Andiamo! To the streets!

~ David

Polpette di Pesce Spada
Paola Bacchia, Italian Street Food

grapeseed or peanut oil for frying
1 pound swordfish, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 1/4 ounces pine nuts
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons finely chopped oregano leaves
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 3/4 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 1/3 ounces bread crumbs
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1 ounce dried currants, soaked in 1/4 cup warm water for 15 minutes

Heat a splash of oil in a medium-sized frying pan over medium heat. Add the swordfish, pine nuts, and ground cinnamon, and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the fish takes on some color and is just cooked through. Set aside in a medium-sized bowl to cool at room temperature.

Add the herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg, breadcrumbs, orange zest, juice, and currants. Season with salt and pepper and mix to combine well. Roll small balls of the mixture, about 1 ounce in weight, and place on a baking tray. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the fridge for at least 1 hour and up to 3-4 hours.

Place enough olive oil in a frying pan to cover the base. Pan-fry the meatballs, turning as required, for 2-3 minutes until pale golden on all sides.

These polpette are equally nice hot, warm, or at room temperature with a garden salad on the side.

Makes approximately 25.


39 comments:

  1. Hi David, oh I love your friend Paola's website, delicious looking recipes and gorgeous pics, will definitely check out her book. How lucky for you to be a recipe tester.

    Also love the Polpette, would have never thought to use swordfish like this! Take care!

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    1. Cheri - Paola is a wonderful chef, and her book is wonderful. Testing recipes was fun, as it also tested me!

      The Polpette are really good, and very easy to put together.

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  2. thanks for sharing this recipe David and taking us back to the streets of Italy in this post. I love hearing the stories of you sharing the recipes you tested for me - and am hoping you might be able to test some recipes for my next book?? Thanks so much, it is lovely as always reading your blog. Paola X

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    1. Glad to hear you are home - those three months passed really quickly, didn't they? Also happy to hear this brought back good memories for you.

      I would be pleased and honored to test more recipes for you. Just let me know! xo, d

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  3. I love street food and these fish balls look fantastic. David, I will check out Paola's website. Thank you David and Paola.

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    1. Gerlinde - does Germany have a tradition of street food? As much time a I have spent there, I cannot think of any street vendors selling nibbles.

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  4. I'm loving this post, David. The background to the photos is fab as well.

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    1. Thanks, Liz - it's a wonderful tea towel given to me by a dear friend.

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  5. Upon landing I fully intend to find the nearest vendor and 'scarf down' a fat brat with good German mustard. I NEVER pass up local street food anywhere unless it really looks poisonous.

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    1. I am with you, Laura - some places the street food looks a bit scary... like fried scorpions. However, against all recommendations, I had one of the best tacos of my life on the streets of Ensenada, México.

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  6. Do I recognize that tea towel/linen background?

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  7. NICE!! I've never heard of these swordfish balls, but know I'd love them since I adore swordfish! This book could be dangerous (as in, I won't leave my kitchen)! Olive Ascolane are also a favorite! Good for you, David! You always do such a great job on your recipe posts! Paola will be elated, I'm sure!

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    1. Thanks, Christina! One thing I really liked about these swordfish balls is that they were sautéed and not deep fried! The book is fabulous!

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  8. I think I travel specifically to experience street food and I have never gotten sick. Of course these polpette are so elegant they defy our expectations of what humble street food can be. GREG

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    1. Yes, Greg, I should have serve them in a paper cone for authenticity... but the plate was so pretty. Looking forward to some good street food in Tuscany this fall!

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  9. Oh these sound so good and I bet they take you straight back to holiday days when you eat them!

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    1. That's a good point, Caroline- most good meals take me back (or at least away) to special places or people.

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  10. Oh, what gorgeousness is this!
    Cichetti...everything sounds better in Italian.

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    1. I sometimes think they taste better in Italian, too! :) Thanks, dear Colette! xo

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  11. I'm guessing those swordfish balls are from Sicily? They do sound delicious.

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    1. Correct, Frank - direct from the market in Palermo, according to Paola!

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  12. I like the idea of street food, but I hate eating whilst walking, unless it is gelato.
    Actually, I do not think that street food is that strong in Italy, if by "street food" we mean "food to grab on the go", like the do here in London, where street food is very, very popular (food vans cooking from all other the world).
    Paola is right though when she talks about the food one can find in fiere (fairs) and bars and, occasionally, street markets:
    porchetta/lampredotto/hot dog/arancini/torrone. On a recent trip to Sicily I have seen people selling tiny parcels of fried fish and of raw marinated anchovies (the same in Venice). I see that Paola in her book writes also about food you can find in bars and that's a totally different kettle of fish and she is right: in some parts of Italy, it can be truly good (Venice, Florence, Milan). Those (Sicilian, possibly) polpette di spada look and sound sumptuous. I would use sardines though because (mediterraneans) spada is an endangered species

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    1. ---ops I forgot to sign: Stefano (Italian Home Cooking. co. uk/qbbq is my Italian blog)

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    2. Stefano - both Mark and I feel the same about walking and eating, although it is done often here in the States. Generally, when we get porchetta or lampredotto from a vendor, we just stick close to the truck and relish it. The same with arancini in Rome. We loved that Venice had so many wonderful bàcari in which to sample cicchetti!

      I think that these could be good made with a variety of fish, and would love to know if you end up making them with sarde. Sadly, sarde are something we can't get easily in the desert, so I will need to think of other options!

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  13. David, I've never been a fan of swordfish in its usual presentation - a piece of swordfish - but this sounds quite wonderful. I'll definitely take a look at Paola's book. We don't eat a lot of street food simply because we enjoy sitting down in comfort to a quiet and leisurely meal. Love these photos!

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    1. I grew up eating a lot of swordfish, as my parents loved it. I don't get it often, and most often cook it skewered with bay leaves.

      When we travel, sometimes we like to try the street food because the likes of it aren't available in restaurants. We never walk about with it, but usually stand there and make conversation with the vendor or other customers. It's a fun way to experience a country!

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  14. What a great book--and how fun to help test it! You I think people under-utilize "chopped" fish. Since I started getting some loose salmon meat from my CSF, it's been great to experiment with!

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    1. You know, Inger, I never think of "chopped fish" as a thing, but I use it (and chopped seafood) a lot in a variety of recipes. Lucky you to get the salmon through your CSF!

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  15. Actually the street food knows a new era here in Italy. For many years we did not care about it: it was considered not cool! The only food trucks were on the street market... but today the matter is different: the street food is "in", cool, and everywhere you can find food truck with "traditional" dish. The risk is that today they are too much and some of their offer are not so traditional, if you understand me :) ciao David, it is always a pleasure to read your posts. Anna e Giovanna

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    1. I really agree with you - even here, food trucks state they are giving you authentic food, yet often times they aren't. I really want traditional foods when that is what they promise! Thanks, as always, for reading!

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  16. Wow, I had no idea Tuscon had such a big street food scene. Very cool! This book looks delicious, and your photos make me want to travel so much! And of course, the recipe sounds super tasty -- I'll probably want to eat all 25! ;-)

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    1. What I love about Tucson, Valentina, is that we have the traditional local foods, but also have traditional foods from around the world. Now fact, we even have a weekend festival called "Tucson Meet Yourself" which most of the locals call "Tucson Eat Yourself" - vendors representing the melting pot that is our city!

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  17. I have a Brit friend who is just starting a food truck for "jacket" potatoes topped with different curries. Sounds interesting to me. Next weekend will be her first booking. I can't wait to try them! They'll be mostly "vegan," which I prefer.

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    1. Yes, baked potatoes are a big thing now in England... your friend's curry toppings sound very interesting!

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  18. I've been wanting to see this post since I saw picture you posted on IG! I truly can't wait to try these! I will have to pick up her book too, sounds like a great one to add to my collection :)

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    1. I love snacky foods, Marcelle - and this book is full of them!

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  19. These sound so unusual and so good! They sound easy to do, too! Beautiful photos, too!

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    1. They make a great treat for apéro, Susan!

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