Sciusceddu alla messinese

Frankprimi piatti, Sicilia, Soups36 Comments

Scisceddu alla messinese

Sciusceddu alla messinese comes to us from Sicily, and specifically from Messina, where this unusual primo piatto is a fixture on Easter dinner tables. It has all the hallmarks of an Italian Easter dish. It’s rich, meat centric—although the meat is usually veal rather than the more typical lamb—and enriched with eggs—symbolic of fertility and rebirth—and cheese.

With all the similarities it shares with other Easter dishes, sciusceddu is unique, a sort of soup cum soufflé. Small meatballs are simmered in broth, then topped with a ricotta and egg mixture. The eggs are separated and the whites whipped before being gingerly folded into the ricotta mixture. Then it’s into a hot oven, where the topping puffs up and browns beautifully.

Sciusceddu makes a lovely presentation, fit for a special occasion like Easter. The combination of flavors and textures may be novel, but if you try it I think you’ll be delighted. So if you want to serve something a little bit different for Easter dinner this year, here’s your ticket…

Ingredients

Serves 4-6

  • 1 l (4 cups) meat broth, preferably homemade

For the meatballs:

  • 400 g (1 lb) ground veal (or beef)
  • 1-2 Tbs grated caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
  • 75 g (3/4 cups) breadcrumbs
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • A sprig or two of parsley, finely minced
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon (optional)

For the ricotta soufflé:

  • 400 g (1 lb) ricotta cheese
  • 75g (1/2 cup) grated caciocavallo, pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 4-5 eggs, separated
  • A sprig of parsley, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

Step 1: Make the meatballs: Mix all the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. (Your impeccably washed hands are the best instrument for the job.) Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes or so for the flavors to meld and the breadcrumbs to soften.

Using a spoon or, even better, a small sized scoop, form small meatballs about the size of small walnuts.

Simmer the meatballs in the broth for about 5 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and let the meatballs rest in the broth until needed.

Step 2: Make the ricotta soufflé mixture: While the meatballs are simmering, mix the ricotta, grated cheese, egg yolks, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl until you have a smooth paste.

In another bowl or standing mixer, whip the egg whites until they turn creamy, glossy and stiff enough the form firm peaks. Add a dollop of the whipped whites to the ricotta mixture and whisk to lighten the mixture a bit. Then plop the rest of the egg whites on top of the ricotta mixture and fold them gingerly into the mixture with a spatula using a circular scooping motion, just until you’ve fully incorporated them. The mixture should be light and fluffy.

Step 3: Assemble: Lay the meatballs in the bottom of individual oven-proof bowls (or in a baking dish large enough to hold them all in a single layer) and pour over enough broth to barely cover the meatballs.

Now lay the ricotta soufflé mixture on top of the meatballs, completely covering them.

Step 4: Bake and serve: Place the bowls or baking dish in a hot (200C/400F) oven and bake until the top of the soufflé is nicely puffed up and golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.

Serve right away.

Sciusceddu alla messinese

Notes on Sciusceddu alla messinese

The recipe for sciusceddu may have a fair number of steps to it, but for a special occasion dish, it’s pretty easy. If you’ve already made the broth, it shouldn’t take more than an hour or so from start to finish. You can also make it partially ahead if you like, up to where you fold the egg whites into the topping. And in a pinch, it actually re-heats rather nicely, even if the topping will lose its ‘springy’ texture.

One of the charms of this dish is the ‘surprise’ effect when you dig into the topping and find meatballs simmered in a rich broth below…

Sciusceddu alla messinese

But there is also a more straightforward variation of this dish, where the ricotta mixture is added directly to the soup as a thickener rather than a topping. (You add the eggs whole to the ricotta mixture, without whipping the whites.) In a variation on this variation, the ricotta is replaced with a thick béchamel.. This version seems easier to make and is no doubt just as tasty, but I find the soup cum soufflé version rather more appealing.

There are also some more subtle variants on the recipe. Beef (or even lamb) can substitute for the pricier veal, for example. The grated cheese can be pecorino or even Parmesan rather than the hard-to-find caciocavallo. And if you want to spice things up, some recipes have you add cinnamon or nutmeg to the meatballs, others a pinch of peperoncino.

About the name…

There are various theories about the origins of the untranslatable name of this dish. One is that sciusceddu is a corruption of the Latin juscellum, which was an ancient Roman soup (featured in Apicius) made from breadcrumbs, eggs and spices mixed together and simmered in broth. Another is that scisceddu comes from the Sicilian verb sciusciare, which means ‘to blow’, a reference to the fact you serve this dish piping hot from the oven. Yet another theory has it that sciusceddu is a corruption of the French ‘soufflé’ an allusion to the soufflé like ricotta topping.

Sciusceddu alla messinese

Total Time: 1 hour

Yield: Serves 4-6

Sciusceddu alla messinese

Ingredients

  • 1 l (4 cups) meat broth, preferably homemade
  • For the meatballs:
  • 400 g (1 lb) ground veal (or beef)
  • 1-2 Tbs grated caciocavallo or pecorino cheese
  • 75 g (3/4 cups) breadcrumbs
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • A sprig or two of parsley, finely minced
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper
  • A pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon (optional)
  • For the ricotta soufflé:
  • 400 g (1 lb) ricotta cheese
  • 75g (1/2 cup) grated caciocavallo, pecorino or Parmesan cheese
  • 4-5 eggs, separated
  • A sprig of parsley, finely minced
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Make the meatballs: Mix all the meatball ingredients together in a large bowl. (Your impeccably washed hands are the best instrument for the job.) Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes or so for the flavors to meld and the breadcrumbs to soften.
  2. Using a spoon or, even better, a small sized scoop, form small meatballs about the size of small walnuts.Simmer the meatballs in the broth for about 5 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and let the meatballs rest in the broth until needed.
  3. Make the ricotta soufflé mixture: While the meatballs are simmering, mix the ricotta, grated cheese, egg yolks, parsley, salt and pepper in a large bowl until you have a smooth paste.
  4. In another bowl or standing mixer, whip the egg whites until they turn creamy, glossy and stiff enough the form firm peaks.
  5. Add a dollop of the whipped whites to the ricotta mixture and whisk to lighten the mixture a bit. Then plop the rest of the egg whites on top of the ricotta mixture and fold them gingerly into the mixture with a spatula using a circular scooping motion, just until you've fully incorporated them. The mixture should be light and fluffy.
  6. Assemble: Lay the meatballs in the bottom of individual oven-proof bowls (or in a baking dish large enough to hold them all in a single layer) and pour over enough broth to barely cover the meatballs.Now lay the ricotta soufflé mixture on top of the meatballs, completely covering them.
  7. Bake and serve: Place the bowls or baking dish in a hot (200C/400F) oven and bake until the top of the soufflé is nicely puffed up and golden brown, about 15-20 minutes.
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36 Comments on “Sciusceddu alla messinese”

  1. What a delicious sounding dish, Frank! Soup is always a favourite on our table but the soufflé topping takes soup to a whole new level. Isn’t it intriguing how dishes were created and named? I just wonder if the chef who created it was French and it was his way of adding a French touch to an otherwise Sicilian dish.

  2. What a unique recipe, Frank! I’ve never heard of sciusceddu before, but it sounds delicious. I’m thinking it’s somewhat similar to maybe a pot pie with the soup base topped with a thicker crust. It’s not a perfect comparison for sure. I guess I’ll just have to make a batch of this one! I second your comment about caciocavallo being hard to find. I’ve been keeping my eye out for it (and we have a lot of Italian markets in this area), but I haven’t seen it yet. Either way, thanks for sharing this fun recipe!

  3. Frank, a lovely sounding Easter (or anytime) dish and one I’ve not tried. Your Sciusceddu alla messinese does sound interesting to prepare and enjoy. I think it’s a dish that when finished would be full of love. Enjoy your Easter.

  4. Unusual indeed, and what a lovely recipe. It’s one completely new to me, too. I always enjoy reading your blog, it’s one of the best around. I hope you never decide to retire it! Have a great Easter. Linda x

    1. As a matter of fact, Linda, this coming June will mark the blog’s 10th anniversary, and I have been toying with the idea of hanging up my apron at that point… but we’ll see. I do get a lot of joy from it, especially when I get such lovely feedback like yours. Anyway, Happy Easter to you, too!

      1. That would make a lot of people very sad, but I appreciate just how much commitment it takes when you have a busy life outside of blogging. Fingers crossed you stick around online for longer! Lxxx

  5. Thank you very much, Frank! As always you continue to amaze me with your unique dishes, informative name origin information and timely presentations for seasonal and festive occasions such as this. Your recipes intensify my already fanatic interest for authentic Italian food and I am grateful for the effort that you make and for your generosity in sharing. What a beautiful tribute to your Nonna! I can’t begin to thank you enough for expanding my knowledge and my love of Italian food and culture. Happy Easter!

  6. Easter pranzo soup at our house was stracciatella. Sciusceddu looks great and I agree with you that the bit of extra work it requires is totally worth for special occasions.

  7. What a unique recipe. The meatballs in rich broth covered by a blanket of decadent ricotta soufflé sounds mouth watering, a beautiful dish indeed. I’m wondering what the serving count for the recipe is. It’s a beautiful and surprising starter for any dinner party!

    1. Thanks for reminding me. Serves 4-6 people, depending on appetites, and assuming you’re having a traditional Italian meal, i.e. one followed by as second course, side dish and dessert.(And that’s basically my “go to” for all my recipes.)

  8. You find all the interesting dishes, Frank! Reminds me a bit of stracciatella. I’d love to try this sometime, but it’s looking like I’m alone for Easter this year, so it will have to wait. 🙂

    1. Sorry about that, Christina! That sucks… although if it were me, I’d be happy to make it for myself anyway. Call it whatever, but I rather enjoy cooking for myself. I’m a little odd that way, I guess… 😬

  9. It is rare to find such a different recipe on food-post pages . . .and rather wonderful ! Have never seen, had nor made anything like this with a ricotta soufflé topping and can’t wait to find the time and occasion to surprise a few friends with the soup . . . thank you !

  10. This sounds heavenly, Frank. I love the individual portions and presentation. I’ve never had anything like this and so enjoyed learning about it. I think it would be so lovely for any special occasion!

    1. Thanks, Valentina. I’ve heard from so many people saying they’d never heard of the dish… it’s nice to be able to present something truly new. Not often one can do that as a food blogger!

  11. Thanks for the recipe, Frank!

    I was wondering, if someone wanted to make the version with bechamel, how much bechamel would be needed to substitute in place of the ricotta and would it be mixed with the eggs or poured over the soup before baking?

    1. A lot… I’ve recipes calling for 2 liters of béchamel mixed with just a glassful or two of broth. Personally, I’d go for equal portions of béchamel and broth so a true soup.

  12. Neat dish! Looks wonderful too. I agree the soufflé version is more enticing than the béchamel (although that sounds pretty darn good too!). This is great — thanks.

  13. This looks absolutely lovely! Coming from African and Eastern European roots, I had no exposure to true Italian food until I was an adult and then only in restaurants. I’ve tried many recipes but your “template” recipe for minestrone soup has become my go-to when I want a delicious hearty soup with healthy ingredients. And I love the way you can vary it based on what’s available during the season. THANK YOU SO MUCH!

    1. That’s fantastic. Getting people to know and cook real Italian food is why I’m writing the blog in the first place, so your message really warms my heart. Thank you for your kinds words. 🙂

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