Every year in mid-January, Assisi celebrates Saint Anthony, who – according to legend – once saved the city from a plague. Traditionally, meatballs of Saint Anthony (a Piatto di Sant'Antonio Abate) is served for the occasion. The meatballs of Saint Anthony on the offering plate are a typical and very popular main dish of Umbrian cuisine.
Anthony, the hermit in the desert
Anthony the Great, as the hermit from Egypt was known, is the patron saint of farmers and their livestock. Antonius lived ascetically and was widely regarded as wise. Numerous pilgrims and even Emperor Constantine are said to have visited him again and again to seek advice. As a result, Antonius withdrew into the desert to find more peace. The hermit died of old age and was canonised after his death.
The sick horses of Assisi
Later, in 1850, when a deadly epidemic broke out among horses in Assisi, people began to pray to St. Anthony. Horses were almost sacred at the important traffic hub of Assisi and for the local farmers. At first, praying did not help. Eventually, the city authorities even dedicated the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli to Anthony. And they promised to give a warm meal to the poor. Lo and behold - the horses recovered and the poor were given a piatto di Sant'Antonio Abate: a plate with meatballs, sausages and bread. Half a litre of wine and two apples were also served.
Meatballs of Saint Anthony
For the meatballs:
- 400 g mince, beef and pork
- 150 g bread, rolls - dried, hard
- 2 tablespoon raisins
- 1 tablespoon nuts, traditionally, pine nuts
- 2 eggs
- 3 tablespoon Parmesan, grated
- 1 TS parsley
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 pinch pepper
For the sauce:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, extra virgin
- 1 clove garlic
- 800 ml tomato sauce
- 1 tablespoon basil
- Cut bread into pieces and soak in a little water for 10 minutes. Then squeeze firmly. Mix the bread with the mince, eggs, Parmesan, raisins, chopped pine nuts and parsley, season with salt and pepper. Form about 16 meatballs from the mixture. If the meatball dough is too soft, mix in 1-2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs.
- In the meantime, fry a whole, peeled clove of garlic in oil. When golden brown, remove the garlic and add the tomato sauce. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer gently for 20 minutes. Season the sauce with salt if desired. Serve with plenty of fresh basil and bread.