La Bombetta: Butchers do it Better
The bombetta. Little, innocent-looking morsels of joy. We came across them for the first time in a butcher shop in the pretty, white-washed town of Cisternino, in Puglia’s Itria Valley. In these parts, a butcher is not just a butcher. He’ll also grill the meat for you and you can eat right there at tables in the butcher shop or out on the street. They are known as Fornelli Pronti (literally, ‘ready ovens’). We were there for a taste of the local must-have, gnumereddi, which are basically a mixture of lamb’s organs – spleen, liver, heart, lung, you name it – seasoned with garlic and parsley and rolled up and tied with the animal’s intestines. Waste not, want not.
The Fornello Pronto concept is a brilliant one with humble origins. In the past, the butchers of the small towns of the area were able to make a little extra money by preparing and grilling their meat for customers (also a clever way to use left overs of the day’s meat). At the same time, the poor people of the area were able to save money on charcoal and wood by having their fresh meat grilled directly at the butcher, whose large wood fired oven essentially functioned as the public oven of the town. It was a win-win situation, and a tradition that was so popular that it never disappeared. Even today, although the economic situation is not as desperate as it was in the faraway past, the fornello pronto is still one of the best ways to spend an evening out with the locals. Freshly grilled meat, some tender local olives, a jug of local red house wine – what’s not to love about it?
While ordering our gnumereddi and fresh sausage, we noticed through the glass, brightly lit by the blaring florescent lights, these little parcels of meat simply labelled, “bombette.” Having no idea what they actually were, we gave a nod to the butcher, “a couple of those too, please.” He weighed up our bombette, along with the gnumereddi, just like any regular butcher, but then he asked us for our table number. The wooden tables that spread into several rooms next to and across the street from the butcher shop, were covered in paper and set with plastic plates and cups – simple, but with all the essentials.
The gnumereddi are tasty bites of an ancient, traditional cuisine that had to see to it that the locals didn’t starve, proof of how hunger creates inventive cooks. The bombette turn out to be the simple pleasure of breaded slices of veal rolled up with a delectable, melted piece of caciocavallo cheese – the kind of thing you can imagine someone’s grandmother or mother preparing at home. They melt in the mouth and are the talk of the evening.
The grilling of the bombette is an art form in itself. They are skewered together and carefully roasted in a cooler part of the roaring woodfired oven, where they don’t get too browned or burnt, but evenly roasted. It’s been difficult to track down a recipe for these simply because of the fact that not only does the recipe change from town to town (you’ll find these from Alberobello all the way to Ostuni) but, more importantly, from butcher to butcher. Sometimes the meat used is thinly sliced fresh pork neck, sometimes a slice of cured capocollo (the local answer to prosciutto) is included, sometimes the breadcrumbs go on the inside… the versions are endless.
The butchers do it so well that they’re normally bought directly from the fornello pronto to be taken home or grilled on the spot. But if you don’t happen to have a butcher with a woodfired oven near you, here is a recipe very similar to what we had at one of Cisternino’s numerous fornelli pronti, Al Vecchio Fornello.
- 12 thinly slices of veal or pork
- 100 gr of Caciocavallo cheese
- 12 slices of Capocollo or Prosciutto (optional)
- A handful of grated parmesan cheese
- A handful of breadcrumbs
- Salt and pepper
Place the slices of meat between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound them lightly (working from centre to the edge) to flatten them evenly. Place a slice of capocollo and a small piece of cheese in the centre of each slice of meat. Season with salt and pepper. Roll each slice up and set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the parmesan and breadcrumbs. Cover each ‘bombetta’ thoroughly with this mixture and skewer them together. Roast the skewered bombette on an oven tray in a preheated oven at 180 degrees Celsius until just golden. They cook quickly! You could also do these quickly in a pan with a bit of olive oil.