In Basilicata sheep speckle almost hillside, tended by a shepherd who is accompanied by several wooly dogs. They provide a timeless, pastoral image - as well as lots of delicious pecorino cheese. "Pecorino" literally means little pecora, or sheep, and is used to denote cheese made from sheep's milk. There are many varieties depending on the producer and region.
At the agriturismo we recently occupied for a two weeks' stay, the owners make several types, including "normal" slightly aged cheese, long-aged hard cheese for grating, and a unique variety all their own, pecorino with walnuts (delicious!). They also produce excellent sheep's milk ricotta, which we enjoyed plain, stuffed into ravioli, and tucked inside a sweet breakfast cake.
One evening she made polpettine di ricotta (meatballs, but without meat) as part of their antipasto plate. They were fried in oil then topped with a rich, long-simmered tomato sauce. She said they are also traditionally served in a soup, demonstrating the local flair for maintaining the region's cucina povera (peasant's cooking) dishes. The ricotta balls, once fried, are placed on top of a thick slab of bruschetta, which is made from local, hearty semolina bread. Two or three ladlesful of broth (either chicken or vegetable stock) are poured over top. A sprinkling of freshly grated hard pecorino cheese and the soup is ready to serve.
Polpettine di Ricotta
1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta
1/3 cup finely grated parmigiano cheese
1 TBSP flour
1 TBSP fresh, minced parsley
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil/oil for frying
Put the ricotta in a bowl and break it up with a fork, fluffing it. All all the other ingredients and, using your hands, dig in and blend it all together well. Roll the dough into balls about the size of golf balls.
Lightly coat the balls in flour then fry in hot oil, placing them on paper towels to drain. Serve hot.
You can serve them as stated above - drizzled with sauce or in the soup. They are also good as is, with just a sprinkling of coarsely-ground pepper on top. They can also be drizzled with pesto, with truffle sauce, or creamy mushroom sauce.