For Valentine's Day, my wife treated us to a Beef Wellington dinner, prepared and delivered by a local chef. Even though she got rave reviews, we weren't really Wow'd. Having had Wellington in the past, I knew that there were a few things lacking... The cut of beef wasn't tender enough, the mushroom duxelle was a bit funky tasting, and it was missing a wrap of Parma ham inside the (greasy) pastry.
Thinking I could do better, I started thinking... and thinking... Why not transform the Wellington into an Italian version?
The idea was to design a recipe similar to Beef Wellington... but instead of using a tender loin steak inside, it would be a large, flattened Italian style polpette (meatball), wrapped in prosciutto and provolone cheese with an black olive/pesto Tapinade just inside the puff pastry. There are similar recipes in Italy called Polpettone in Crosta, but these are loaf-size meatloafs, often stuffed with hard boiled eggs or other ingredients. I wanted mine to remain a Polpette--a true meatball...
I set out to make my Polpette alla Wellington!
for the Polpette
2 pounds ground chuck
1 medium Vidalia, small dice
2 tablespoons red wine
1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1-1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon dry thyme
1 tablespoon dried basil
15 cracks black pepper (from a pepper-mill)
1 cup canola oil + 2 tablespoons olive oil for frying
for the Tapinade
1 - 16 ounce can of black olives, well drained
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons pesto (from jar or Make it Fresh)
3 cloves fresh garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
for the Pastry Wrap
4-6 slices delicatessen sharp provolone
1/4 pound prosciutto, speck or Boar Head Brand Piccolo Prosciutto
2 packages frozen puff pastry (butter or shortening type, your choice)
1 beaten egg (for egg wash)
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- In a large mixing bowl, place the ground chuck and sprinkle with the red wine. Mix well, until the wine is distributed.
- Make a well in the middle of the meat and into it place the egg, salt, thyme, save, basil and pepper.
- Now add the Parmigiano Reggiano and with clean hands, mix the meat mixture well to incorporate all ingredients.
- Add the breadcrumbs, little by little... adding a little, mixing, then checking to see that the mixture is starting to cling together when you form a small ball. Hold back breadcrumbs if needed. You don't want the mix too dry and bready. (This needs to done "by eye" and "by feel" because ground chuck can vary in moisture content.)
- Take about 10-12 ounces of polpette mixture and form a square about 1" thick, using a fork to smooth the sides to make sure there are no cracks anywhere. You should be able to make three - four of these. If you have extra mixture, perhaps make some small meatballs for another meal (I actually had enough to do this).
- Place the formed polpette on a plate lined with wax paper and then into a refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
- At this point, follow the directions on the puff pastry package to thaw the sheets. This should take about 60 minutes.
- Meanwhile, line a half sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat. You may even bake your Wellingtons on a rack fitted into the sheet pan (a good way to prevent soggy bottoms).
- Place a large frying pan on a medium heat on the cooktop and add both oils.
- When the oils are hot, fry the Polpette until brown on each side. Do not overheat the pan and don't crown them. If you are using a smaller fry pan, fry each one separately. The can be slightly underdone in the middle since they will bake in the oven once wrapped in pastry.
- When done frying, place on brown paper or paper towels to drain, then onto a wax paper lined plate into the refrigerator to set up and cool for handling.
Next, to make the Tapinade, drain the olives and place into a food processor along with the pesto, tomato paste, garlic, red pepper flakes and Reggiano. Pulse several times to get a spreadable texture... but not too smooth. You might have to scrape down the sides of the mixer between pulses.
- Remove the polpette from the refrigerator to start assembly.
- First, with a small spatula or jam spreading knife, coat all sides of the polpette with the Tapinade/olive mixture and set aside on a sheet of waxed paper.
- Next, unfold and lay out your puff pastry sheets and cut into 6' x 10" rectangles. Adjust this size depending on the size of your polpette. You need to be able to fold all sides, overlapping at least 1". Set aside any extra to use for decorations (stars, lattice, etc. You can use small cookie cutters to make shapes.)
- Taking one slice of prosciutto at a time, wrap them around each polpette until the entire surface is covered.
- Lay out 2-3 slices of provolone along the center of the pastry sheets, then place a polpette in the middle of each. Fold the sides first, pulling to stretch the dough a bit. Using a fingertip dipped in either water or milk, wet the edges of the pastry flaps still left laying flat. Then lift and wrap over the polpette, sticking the damp edge onto the layer underneath. Do this for each side, cutting off any extra with a shears if you think it will make the layers too thick in the middle.
- Carefully turn over your wrapped Wellingtons and place on the lined sheet pan (or on top of its rack.) The bottoms became the top, which you can now decorate if you wish with thin strips or cutout shapes. Brush a little water on larger shapes to help them stick.
- Dip a pastry brush into the beaten egg and coat the Wellingtons all over. This will give them a warm yellow shine after baking.
- Bake the Wellingtons on the center rack of your preheated oven for 60 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and puffy.
In fact, the second meal we served with a side of Italian flat beans and no tomato sauce. We actually enjoyed this meal much better... the Tapinade's flavors came to the forefront and the spices in the polpette were obvious. The half-sized servings were a perfect portion. I actually thought that 2 days later, after setting up in the fridge, wrapped in foil, the flavors melded and intensified a bit. We re-heated the leftover halves in loosely wrapped foil for one hour.
If we make this recipe again, we will make smaller Polpette so each person can have a completely pastry-wrapped Wellington.
Enjoy this recipe and let us know how yours turned out!