La Balote (it's got nothin' to do with duck eggs)
If you're even vaguely aware of the 101 ways to eat an egg (I'm guessing that I'm very close), the title may have struck a familiar...off note? Yes I'm referring to what's known as balut or balot, the cooked duck or chicken embryo that has fascinated the minds and unsure palates of those who like living on the foodie edge. Never tried it and never will, so to stumble across the Festa della Balote came as a surprise. Boiled chicks in Italy? Not to my knowledge. The balote that I speak of here is along the same lines of being "wrapped" as the asian balut defines itself, but it is actually derived from the word palla which in italian means ball.
It's not so much different than making arancini
Sicily's stuffed and fried rice balls have already made a name for themselves among seekers of italian cuisine, so it's high time that the north gets a chance in the spotlight too. The obvious difference of course is that balote is made with polenta. Not the soft and creamy type that slides down your tongue like a dream, but the thick, stodgy version that sticks to yer ribs. The recipe that I followed called for regular yellow polenta but I used what I had on hand - polenta taragna (polenta with buckwheat flour).
Cook up a batch of polenta until thick, stir in a handful of grated montasio cheese or other relatively firm, flavored cheese, then wait a few minutes until it's cool enough to handle. With slightly damp hands, begin shaping baseball-sized orbs, tucking a chunk of semi-soft cheese in the center. These are then placed and heated in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or nonstick pan (a thin film of olive oil helps) until warmed through and lightly browned on the outside. It's the most delicious thing to want to dig into on a cold, foggy day like this.
While this dish may be the main draw at the Festa della Balote in Clauzetto (Pordenone) in August of each year, cheese-filled polenta balls are evidently rolling all over the place in northern Italy. There's gorgonzola or taleggio-stuffed pulenta balota in Laglio, Como (home to Clooney) and el balott of the lombard area known as Brianza. From what I've read, this one is strictly filled with gorgonzola. And then there's la balòta at Lake Garda on the eastern side where Veneto and Trentino meet.
The one that pulls at my heart strings though is that of Friuli tradition. This is so sweet. Custom says that when a young man went to the home of a girl with the intention of asking her hand in marriage, he brought some of these balote as a gift to the family. If the balote were put on the hearth to warm up, it was a sign of approval for the engagement.