Classic Italian meatballs – polpette – are a must in every home-cooking repertoire. A popular treat in Italy whether served as a main course, appetizer, or eaten by the street stalls in paper cones, polpette are one of those things for which every Italian family will claim to have their own secret recipe.
And whilst it may be difficult to convert anyone from making anything different to their nonna’s classic meatballs, we may just be able to sway you with this version of polpette with added mortadella, salsiccia and a fragrant heaping of herbs. Your only concern will be who fights over the last one!
Polpette, or meatballs, appears in the cuisine of many countries in the world and Italy is no exception. The exact origins of polpette in Italy are not entirely clear, although we do know through historical records that they go as far as the Roman period, when dining was a lay-down affair (eating whilst seated on chairs did not come into fashion until the Middle Ages).
A recipe for polpette is also included in the monumental cookbook ‘Opera dell’Arte del Cucinare’ by the famous Italian Renaissance chef Bartolomeo Scappi, first published in 1570.
Scappi, who wrote of approximately 1000 recipes of the Renaissance cuisine, described a much more refined and rich type of polpette that utilised the finest cut of veal, fennel, lard, vinegar, cinnamon, and parsley.
Makes 30 meatballs
Preparing polpette is one of those things can be done in a myriad of ways whether in terms of ingredients or by way of preparation.
The recipe below is just one way they can be prepared, and the milk-soaked day old bread is a typical Italian touch that keeps the polpette moist.
The fact that there are so many variations of the recipe just shows how adaptable and flexible they can be, so don’t fret over not having the exact ingredients listed in the recipe.
Any of the meat can be substituted or adjusted according to taste, and the mortadella is a nice touch to add extra depth of flavour, but of course, can be omitted if it is difficult to find at your local store.
If other cheeses are available, feel free to experiment – provola, pecorino equally go well in the recipe.
Polpette is delicious even after they have cooled down, and is a great appetiser or snack to share with friends. Complete your aperitivo spread with some cheese focaccia and eggplant rolls and watch the good times fly with some of your favourite people.
Soak the day old bread pieces in milk for about 10 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the polpette mixture in a large bowl by combining all the ingredients except for the eggs, breadcrumbs, flour and oil.
Squeeze the milk from the day old bread, discarding the milk, and add bread to the mixture.
Combine well – it’s best done with your hands. Let the polpette mix rest for a few minutes.
Create small golf ball-size polpette by rolling the mixture in your palms.
Pass the polpette in the flour to give them a nice even coating, then coat them in the eggs, and finally the breadcrumbs. Repeat for all the polpette. Flatten slightly.
Heat the oil in a large pan, and when hot, carefully place the polpette to fry until golden brown, turning over midway.
This may take up to 10 minutes. Work in batches.
Spaghetti with meatballs anyone? A heaping of spaghetti soaked in marinara sauce, topped with delectable meatballs or polpette, may easily conjure up warm fuzzy memories of anyone who grew up in America, but this is quite unlikely the case in Italy.
This is because spaghetti and meatballs is an Italian-American dish created by the Italians who found their new homes in America – New York City in particular, in the early 20th century.
When they moved, they brought the beautiful culture of food with them, and adapted many dishes to local availability and preference. It is to them we owe the credit of the creation of this iconic dish!